By Shaun Garcia
Todd Shelton is an American designer with guts. He manufactures his high end custom made jeans, dress shirts and tee shirts in his very own factory in his home state of New Jersey. He started his own factory because of a less-than-stellar overseas manufacturing experience, which included long wait times behind larger orders. The distance between Shelton and the factory also minimized his ability to control the quality of his product. If clothes arrived with an imperfection, it could possibly take weeks to get the shipment corrected. The overseas system is one that benefits larger companies with high volume orders pumping out substandard clothing to non-discerning consumers. Todd Shelton does not create those kinds of clothes.
Todd Shelton is geared toward a very discerning individual. The kind of man that not only cares what he wears but how it fits and how it is made. Todd Shelton is changing the game one customer at a time with their innovative “fit kit,” a custom-tailored guide for how your clothes should fit. The process starts with a questionnaire about your current clothing profile, asking what brands you wear and how you like your clothes to fit. Then, they send you a mock up of a dress shirt or pair of trousers with built-in sizing options. Essentially, you are given all the tools to customize your own garment, which Todd Shelton will then produce.
Todd Shelton is a testament to the argument for quality over quantity. There is no reason to buy new, inexpensive things as often as they come out (in the world of fast fashion, this is every month!). There is, however, a good reason to buy items that will last the test of time. Items that may be the last you will ever buy. After years of wear, when an item is in its most broken-in state, it becomes a part of you, it becomes your identity and there is nothing wrong with identifying with quality.
There was a time when most of our clothes were made right here in the USA. Now, only a staggering 3% of all clothing and 2% of all shoes sold in the United States are actually made here. Todd Shelton knows that he is taking a chance. He’s taking a chance on us.
Shelton was kind enough to answer a few questions on what he does and why he does it.
Shaun Garcia: In the growing community of American-made clothing, specifically menswear, how does Todd Shelton stand out?
Todd Shelton: There is really no other brand doing what we’re doing, and that is manufacturing exclusively within our own headquarters and selling directly to the consumer. We have in-house technical expertise that separates us from brands that rely on marketing to differentiate themselves. Our differentiator is product and innovation, and both are a result of manufacturing in-house and talking to the customer directly about their needs.
SG: In a past article, you said that you were halfway to selling 500 items per month, how much closer have you gotten?
TS: That article was published only a few months ago. June, July, and August are the 3 slowest months in men’s clothing. However, we have seen over 100% growth during these months compared to the previous year. By year end, we’ll know how well we performed to our goals.
SG: You have your fit system in one store now. Any plans to expand?
TS: The Fit Kit in Hoboken was good for proof of concept. It’s successful. Now we’re discussing if we want to expand the program. The debate here centers around the management of the program, which is a distraction from our core focus, direct-to-consumer online.
SG: Can you describe your typical day?
TS: We’re structured in how we work, we try to eliminate chaos or freestyling during the day. Our team has daily and weekly tasks which make up 90% of the work day. The other 10% is centered around new ideas, product development, or process improvement. Personally, my day starts with a production meeting and that is with the entire production team, next is a communications meeting, then a customer service meeting. After that, the remainder of my day centers around working with team members during the 10% of their time they’re focused on development and improvement.
SG: I read in an article that you were into the J Crew brand when you were younger. Are there any brands or designers that you are inspired by today?
TS: Unfortunately, there are not many brands that are doing inspiring work. Most of the brands are simply marketing companies, separating themselves with images and ad spending, not their product. I would be inspired if more brands were manufacturing their product, that’s when inspiring work can happen.
SG: What about artists?
TS: I prefer art that is structured and disciplined. I recently discovered the Swiss painter, Niele Toroni, I find his work inspiring. I find architecture inspiring, I live close to the World Trade Center and Santiago Calatrava’s train station project at World Trade is inspiring. For years, I have leaned on design philosophies from Austrian architect, Adolf Loos.
SG: If you weren’t creating clothes, what would you be doing?
TS: My other dream was to move to a deserted town in the Southwest United States, and spend my life trying to bring the town back to life. I think that would’ve given me purpose on a daily basis. I’d still like to do that.
SG: I read that you are thinking of doing women’s jeans and I know that there are inherent difficulties there that are not the same with men’s, especially in fit. How do you intend to approach and overcome these challenges?
TS: The women’s project has been ongoing for a year now. To create something really unique for a women is the challenge. Just like with anything we do here, it’s going to take a lot of thought.
SG: Is there hope for American Manufacturing?
TS: I don’t know, the men and women in government will decide. Policies have to be created that support manufacturing. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic that government employees will think deeply and independently enough to create hope. But if there is a hope, it’s that a leader emerges with a strong vision and character to prioritize American manufacturing.
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