Two years of walking the streets of New York in a dress shirt and suit jacket left Justin Baer feeling a prisoner of discomfort. Then one day, an idea hit him that just might set him free from his “Midtown Uniform.”
Problem was, no one had invented it yet. Solution was, he could invent it himself.
“I hate the long-sleeve dress shirt; it’s hot, it’s itchy and I don’t want to dry clean it,” Baer said. “I thought it would be nice to get a T-shirt or polo shirt that works like a dress shirt—a dress polo. I kept talking about it and eventually my 7-year-old daughter said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to do a TikTok video!’”
Standing on a chair and ranting against the oppression of long-sleeve dress shirts, Baer became a social media sensation. The owner of a text message marketing business was about to put his money where his mouth was and become a fashion mogul, too.
Eighteen months since Collars & Co. opened for business on Shopify, the simple idea of a golf shirt people could throw a blazer on top of without looking like they just came to dinner straight from the golf course, has done $1.5 million in sales and blossomed into an entire outerwear line. Today’s increasingly casual return-to-office climate could put even more wind in the fledging brand’s sails.
Baer knew his idea was a winner, but with only one employee that he hired just two months ago, what he needed was help and guidance.
“Growing up, my dad was my main mentor, but he passed away about 10 years ago, so I feel like I’m doing this all on my own—I don’t have that backboard to bounce things off of,” Baer said. “And I’ve never built a fashion brand before.”
Where better to find that than on ‘Shark Tank’?
“We’re looking to raise money to grow really fast building out our team,” Baer said of his pitch to the Sharks on ABC’s long-running entrepreneurial game show. “I need marketing, inventory and, mentorship, really—advice.”
Friday night, at 8 p.m. EST, all of America will get to see how Baer’s pitch to the investors went. He’s precluded from discussing any details of the show until it does, but he’ll be watching it with friends and family from a country club outside his home in the Washington, D.C. area.
If Baer’s business sounds a bit further along than that of the typical ‘Shark Tank’ contestant with a quirky protoype they made in their basement, part of that has to do with the time it takes to get on the show.
“The Shark Tank interview process is pretty long. I applied a fairly long time ago and sales have been rockin’ and rollin’,” Baer said, reminded of how he barely recognized himself in teaser footage ABC released to promote his episode. “The crazy thing with the show is, it was a good thing I memorized what I was going to say in the beginning, because the words were coming out of my mouth but my mind just goes blank.”
However Baer’s swim in the ‘Shark Tank’ turns out, business for Collars & Co. is booming, growing at a 25 percent clip, the founder says.
Much of the early success can be attributed to the endorsement of celebrity athletes in former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber and British golf legend Sir Nick Faldo, both of whom have modeled for the website.
“Nick Faldo’s agent actually reached out to us and said he’s a big fan of the brand, could we get him some shirts?” Baer said. “I sent them to him, he sent them to Nick and Nick loved them.”
A month later, Faldo was headed to Baer’s neighborhood to do color commentary for a tournament on CBS. Baer asked Faldo’s agent if he would be up for a photo shoot, and not only did he say ‘yes’, but Baer wound up picking Faldo up at baggage claim and having dinner with the six-time major championship winner.
“We kind of created a new category of shirt—maybe similar to the way Untuckit did; we created this new category of a firm-collared dress shirt that you can wear casually,” Baer said. “It’s somewhat of a new, inventive product in men’s apparel which doesn’t always get much in the way of that.”
Baer said he is currently carried by select brick-and-mortar retailers and hopes to be in more by 2023.
“As a kid, I was always coming up with ideas,” he said. “I had a lot of bad ideas, too, but a couple of decent hits.”