Words by Caleb Bushner. Photos by Gregor Hochmuth.
Like many great brands, Taylor Stitch was founded as a solution to a problem. Co-founders Mike Maher, Barrett Purdum and Mike Armenta launched the company after observing that, despite having average builds, they were unable to find quality shirts that fit. Maher explains, “Barrett’s dad would always bring custom shirts back from business trips and we became enamored by the color, pattern and the fact that they actually fit. It was a revelation: shirts that fit.” Using Barrett’s father’s revelatory shirting as their guide, the trio set out for Hong Kong in search of a shirtmaker that could produce top-notch goods that matched their high standards. “We looked around but were just …over it. The manufacturing was terrible. Conditions were awful. We simply couldn’t make our shirts there.”
Still intent on finding a shirtmaker they could partner with, the trio began making the rounds at trade shows in the US. This led to their meeting a representative from Mel Gambert Custom Shirts, a New Jersey based bespoke shirtmaker that’s been in operation for nearly 80 years. “They’re old school,” says Maher. “They’re the second-oldest shirtmaker in the country and they do it right: there are a million ways to sew a shirt but single needle tailoring is the oldest. It’s the gold standard of shirtmaking and Gambert does it better than anyone. To be sure, we had to update a bunch of details to make them distinctly ours, but Gambert was the perfect partner: it’s been a teaching experience on both sides.”
After locking their shirtmaker, the trio began to host a series of pop-up shops. The success of the pop-ups inspired Taylor Stitch to open their own brick and mortar space, The Common. Located in San Francisco’s Mission District, The Common not only provides Taylor Stitch with a permanent location to take custom orders, it also allows them to showcase some of their favorite like-minded brands. Additionally, it serves as a home for TS’ collection of ready to wear shirts, all of which are manufactured in walking distance of the store. Talking about TS’ OTR offerings, Maher says, “We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel: use great raw materials and strong designs, put them in the hands of people who make great products, then you just sell them at reasonable prices.”
Ironically, this simple equation has brought the three a level of success that’s proving to be anything but. “Just keeping up is a perpetual challenge,” says Maher. “Our goal is to grow, but to do it organically and responsibly. Not just get big really quickly without being able to keep track of quality. To grow with our manufacturers, not grow past them. If we outgrow them we outgrow everything we’ve talked about. Then we have to train somebody else and lose what has worked.” Fortunately, this commitment to the people they work with has proven to be yet another thing that endears the brand to its customers. “All of our customers are awesome. I look at it in the same way as the slow food movement: slow manufacturing. You have people who do care and want to know how it’s made and know it’s made responsibly.”
“We wanted to make custom shirts democratic,” says Maher. “Normally when you make a custom shirt, the tailor makes the shirt they want you to wear. We want to work with you to understand the type of job you do and how you’ll wear it. From there it just kind of blossomed into us doing these three day pop-ups. Inviting people from all over the country. From there we made the ready-wear line and made a full store. Now we’ve hit that point where we’re trying to expand our product offerings and our e-commerce. Make Taylor Stitch something that guys will use – something that will last.” If they run their business anything like they make their shirts, lasting shouldn’t be an issue.
About the author:
Caleb Bushner is a consultant, writer and speaker on all things sustainability, branding, marketing and social media. He has an MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of the “premier Green MBA programs in the country.” He lives in San Francisco.