Brian Guttman | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Brian Guttman

Background:  

Jeremy Argyle sells men's dress shirts with subtle detailing that can be worn loose or tucked-in, as well as sweaters and ties.

The Mistake:

I launched Jeremy Argyle in May of 2009 with the opening of our flagship store in SoHo in New York. At the beginning, a huge part of my business was the retail store. It killed me when guys came in who weren’t huge guys, but couldn’t fit in an extra-large — it was just too tight. They would put on the extra-large and literally be busting out of the seams. Our extra-large is not that big of a size, but I was told by many different people that you should cut it off there.

I felt like I had become a part of that terrible mindset that fashion is for skinny guys. And it killed me, because that’s not who I am, that’s not who I wanted our company to be. These guys would try on the extra-large and it would just be too tight, and I thought, "You know what? I’m going to take care of this. We’re going to create a prototype that will fit you." The irony is, that size is way more popular than our small right now.

Sometimes you have to push back on what people tell you fashion is, trust what you feel inside and create a great product for everyone. Fashion is about making people feel great about what they’re wearing. That was the lesson I learned from my first six months of being in the store every day. It’s a crushing, terrible feeling, watching a guy try everything on and it just doesn’t fit him because it’s too tight.

I learned one more lesson in the first year of the operation. Being in the store all the time, I got tons of feedback. I was listening to all the feedback and reacting to the feedback. So, we made cuff links. We made French cuff shirts. We made scarves. We made pocket squares. Stuff that didn’t really fit the brand but that people were asking for.

Fashion is about making people feel great about what they’re wearing.

The best example I can give is my father-in-law story. My father-in-law is a really nice guy — a great guy, I'm very lucky that he’s my father-in-law — but I like to call him "the American tourist in Europe." He’s the kind of guy that rocks a fanny pack; if he’s got a shirt that has a pocket, he puts his glasses in there. So he was telling me that I was alienating the 50-year-old guys. Because it gets really hot in the summer, he said I needed short-sleeved shirts. Trying to be a good son-in-law, I thought, you know what, I’m not in my 50s, and it’s always good to have feedback from people that are from a different generation. So I created short-sleeved shirts. And sure enough, no one bought them. Because it was just non-brand. It wasn’t our customer.

The Lesson:

You have to have a clear direction of what you’re trying to accomplish, but you also need to understand that there is a customer at the end of the line that needs to feel great about what they’re buying. My vision was to create a unique shirt that fit really well, that worked for many different body types and was not flashy or loud, but was not a mass market shirt that didn’t have any detailing.

I got convinced in the early stages of my business career that sometimes you do things that you don’t actually believe in, but you think could be a good idea. In reality, sometimes you have to just trust your gut.

 

Follow Jeremy Argyle on Twitter at @JeremyArgyle.

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