Seph Skerritt bought his first custom shirt in Shanghai, during an internship after college. It got him thinking why the same service wasn’t available to a wider audience. “I told them exactly what I wanted, and that’s what I got,” he said.
So, in 2008, Mr. Skerritt started Proper Cloth as an online shop specializing in custom-made shirts for men. Last month, the company opened a 12,000-square-foot showroom in SoHo for customers who like an individualized retail experience.
Did you always want to do something in fashion?
I always had a passion for design, men’s wear and branding, but I had an engineering background. I was like, how do I use that? That’s what I studied, and I worked as an engineer for three years after school. Then I went to business school, and when I was there, I did an internship in Shanghai. I approached it more as a tech company that provides a service than as a fashion brand.
Do you feel as if you’re a fashion brand now?
We thought if we really want to do this, it needs to be a brand. It can’t just be “custom shirt dot com.” It has to be aspirational, it has to tell a story, it has to be cohesive. We had already built a technology platform that let us make custom shirts, helped with the logistics and the supply chain to produce them. Then we started layering other elements on top of that: look books, a full collection, custom fabrics, really getting into the details.
How do you achieve a custom fit online?
As an engineer, I thought, “How can I use technology to solve this?” One thing I kept thinking is that most people are used to ordering shirts in off-the-rack sizes. That’s a pretty good start. But if I could know a little bit more about you, I can make the fit even better. We created this proprietary software called Smart Sizes where the customer answers 10 questions — how tall you are, how much you weigh, what size pants you wear, what shape you’re in — things that average guys off the street can answer, no measuring required. That has been a big driver for us.
Is there something that always sells?
A white shirt. We have fun designing the patterns, the seasonal collections, the tonal plaids, but white delivers.