Luckily for the latter, Knot Standard stepped on the scene in time to satisfy the burgeoning need for tailored threads when off-the-rack options just couldn’t cut it.
And while the custom-suit company caught the “Mad Men”-inspired trend on the upswing, this is no one-hit-wonder: Earlier this month, Knot Standard was named the fastest-growing menswear company and the 10th fastest-growing retailer in the United States by Inc. magazine.
Make no mistake, the days of sloppy sweats are over, and modern men increasingly care about what they wear. It’s not for nothing that Knot Standard started life in 2010 as an online-only entity and has since grown to include showrooms in New York City, Washington D.C., Dallas, Houston, Austin and Dubai, with more on the way in the coming months in Chicago and Los Angeles.
“What surprised me about the business is that we thought the customer was going to be about 5 percent of every city; now it’s 25 percent of every city,” said Knot Standard’s president, John Ballay, a former investment banker who co-founded the company with Matthew Mueller, a tech exec, while the two American expats were working in their respective industries in Dubai.
“We were getting these $600 suits and coming back to the states with them and people were saying, ‘Wow, you must be doing very well for yourselves over there!” and we would say no, this is a reasonably-priced great garment; it’s just very fitted,’ Ballay explained. “That was the ‘aha’ moment: If we can get this overseas for this price, could we create a way to produce these things in mass scale with European fabrics?”
So the two started working with local tailoring facilities in Dubai, learning the craft and the back-of-house of what it takes to make a custom suit. “A side hobby,” Ballay called it. “All of a sudden,” he said, “it became very apparent that the U.S. market had been a complete laggard. There was nothing available there for under $1,500 for an eight-week turnaround. We couldn’t understand why this service didn’t exist in our own home country.”
Backed by the likes of Sagamore Ventures (Under Armour CEO Kevin Plan’s personal investment arm), Knot Standard is not just custom suits anymore. Today, the company also offers made-to-measure shirts, blazers, trousers and more, crafted by experienced tailors from high-quality fabrics sourced from such revered English and Italian mills as Holland & Sherry, Vitale Barberis, Reda, Loro Piana and Zegna.
Consumers have two ways to shop: online or at one of the showrooms. The first option is straightforward—a shopper plugs in his measurements, customizes one of 80 suits available and receives his order in less than four weeks—but the in-person alternative is a little more special.
“You get to sit one on one with an individual and instead of 80 options you have more than 5,000. They will put you onto guardrails for what you’re looking for based on your personal style, based on your personal taste, your budget,” Ballay said. “It’s a lot more interactive. That process will occur over a 60 minute appointment time, the last third of which they’ll measure you, you will pay half down, put all your details in the system, and the order will come in four to five weeks.”
Once guys have seen behind the curtain, so to speak, and perused all the fabric swatches and samples on offer, they are more inclined to continue to order in person. “They might buy the basics online but they’re more likely to look for specialty items,” Ballay added.
Prices start at around $500 online and range from $800 and up in the showroom, with the average customer spending around $1,000. Where exactly the garment is made depends largely on the tailor’s proximity to the fabric mill.
“We have tailors in multiple facilities—80 percent overseas, 20 percent here,” he said, noting that if a customer requested their clothing be made only in the U.S., Knot Standard could cater to that, but, “It’s all about the optimization of the turnaround time. You know where the fabric is from; you know what the fabric mill’s history is; now it’s our job to make the most custom, unique garment we can. We take the reins.”