One idea launched this young brand out of San Francisco: An American-made shirt that fits better.
It started with a shirt.
Taylor Stitch might be based in the Mission District of San Francisco but everything about the young upstart American brand (which made limited edition shirts for the Nothing Major shop earlier this year) calls to mind clichés about New Englanders: Impeccable manners, reliability, an honest product for a fair price, straight talk, all that Yankee values stuff—but filtered through an unhurried, confident West Coast point of view, perhaps with some tech start-up verve thrown in.
So its not so shocking that the idea for Taylor Stitch really started while its founders (Michael Armenta, Barrett Purdum, and Michael Maher—all hailing from the North East) were still in college—Purdum and Maher studied entrepreneurship at Babson College in Massachusetts, in fact. And while the fashion business might not have been in the original business plan for a young Michael Maher, he was affected by the changes in manufacturing he saw affecting his neighbors growing up in New England. “Shoemaking in Maine was the industry. I watched four or five towns get decimated by the closing of factories,” he recalls. By the time he finished college, the trio had decided to go into business. “It was all about starting a company. We were interested in building a brand and being passionate about something. We really wanted to be part of this resurgence in American manufacturing,” says Maher.
Maher had been coveting Purdum’s dad’s tailored shirts, brought back from trips to Hong Kong, which Barrett kept stealing and wearing. The group looked around in the States and found the custom shirting experience “unapproachable and expensive” as practiced by high-end department stores—they saw a business opportunity. They looked into doing custom shirts in Hong Kong, but were “disenchanted by the manufacturing over there,” says Maher. Next it was off to the old man trade shows and tailors, with a simple request. Taylor Stitch told them “We want to make a slimmer, tailored, button up shirt.” Dialing in that shirt pattern wasn’t easy—custom tailoring had become the domain of a 60 year old, wealthy client—often sporting a prodigious belly. Pattern makers were coming back to Maher’s requests saying “Guys, this is ridiculous,” they’d never made a shirt so fitted. But the push paid off. Taylor Stitch found a family business to work with (New Jersey’s Gambert) and was soon making custom shirts in America, and they fit.
“It’s about cutting closer to the body. It really made for a better looking shirt,” says Maher. The online only bespoke shirt brand gave way to pop-up shops around San Francisco and eventually a store on Valencia in the Mission District and its first line of ready to wear button shirts. “Our first shirt was based off a custom shirt Barrett and I had made for ourselves,” says Maher. The trio also got rid of superfluous details like pleats to create a more versatile shirt. The fits of the first line of Taylor Stitch were based on 1000s of patterns from the custom line, and still made, somewhat miraculously, in San Francisco.
Next came a jean—Taylor Stitch’s idea of perfect jean, that is. The brand has slowly expanded its selections since but eschews the idea of seasonal collections and trend-riding. “We want to stand for a stable of products, not trying to do everything in the world,” offers Maher.
While Maher admits the brand has made a few missteps—it briefly moved shirt production to Los Angeles, only to find that it missed the ability to make factory visits and running a space called an idealistic retail space called the Common found the crew serving coffee and cleaning up after concerts. It has since retired the Common and its ready to wear shirts are now made just 10 blocks from their shop—a bike ride away if there are any issues to be settled.
Shirts are still the main draw.
Fans come from all walks—because the garment is essentially a casual, no frills shirt that can function in the office or at the bar. “Some friends have described it as armor for work. It’s all about dressing like an adult and not happening to be too formal.” He says.
And it still deals in bespoke. Taylor Stitch offers custom suiting (made in Massachussetts by Southwick, a family business since 1929), and its custom shirts are cut by hand in Newark, New Jersey. Maher is also doing his part for the New England shoe industry—Taylor Stitch partnered with Rancourt & Company for its custom shoe line.
Upcoming in 2013: Fine-tuning the details of the existing products and some new offerings—launched only when they’re fully baked—such as a utilitarian, undressy blazer. It’s all about learning on the job and not rushing it. “In the past, we fired from the hip a lot, now we’re focused on what Taylor Stitch does as a whole.”
Recently, Taylor Stitch offered custom suiting through a pop-up shop in Jackson Square and started Good Acre with a friend, to launch a line of Northern California-style chore pants.
Partnerships are a part of the Taylor Stitch approach, but it looks at them in a decidedly non-corporate way. “It’s all about working with people we enjoy working with… It’s Do we like the people? Do we want to have beers with them? That’s the guiding light for the brand.”
That and “Everybody needs a good button up shirt.”