After it opened in May 2020, business at Inherent accelerated in a way Taylor Draper didn’t expect.
Draper had built the plan for his custom men’s clothier business in late 2019, with no inkling of the COVID chaos just around the corner — but the pandemic highlighted some unforeseen strengths in the company.
While it relies on a Downtown storefront, Inherent could also make house calls of sorts during the lockdown. And it was launched with nonprofit arm — the Inherent Foundation — which focused on men’s mental health. It seemed tailor-made for an environment where many men struggled for an outlet to express pandemic anxiety.
Draper is a Colorado Springs native who spent years in Denver, specializing in web design and brand creation. His wife is also from the Springs, so when he started his business plan, it seemed natural to locate the startup here. Draper talked with the Business Journal just as a new funding infusion from New York investors was allowing Inherent to imagine bold new moves in 2023.
Did you always want to come back to the Springs? And did your Denver work prepare you to focus on custom clothing?
My wife and I were both from here. I met her in Denver, and after we got married, she wanted to come back here. My background in web design extends back to when I was 12 years old. I remember making Pokémon web sites. The interest in clothing goes back almost as far, and the principles in graphic design I learned at Pikes Peak [State] College applied well in the clothing field. I was recruited out of the college by a Denver firm before I even finished the college’s 40/40 program.
A lot of your web development had a clothing aspect, but when did you realize, ‘There’s an opportunity for custom tailoring out there.’?
It seemed like it happened all at once, but there was really a six-month, maybe a year-long period where I fully got into studying custom menswear and where the textiles come from. The history of menswear really fascinated me, studying those 1950s Esquire magazines and textile books and just nerding out about that kind of thing. In our society, there’s not much of a teaching component for men any more. I grew up without a father, so I recognized there used to be a ritual in the early 20th century of fathers or guardians bringing their kids to a tailor, who would tell them about quality fabrics and the patterns and colors that might favor them. We don’t have that anymore. We use social media and the like, and lost that relationship with the tailor as consultant. The days when men would talk about their problems with their tailor, barber and bartender are gone. But once I learned that experience was still happening in some places in the world, particularly Europe, I wanted to try that for myself.
Do you see signs of a renaissance in treating men’s clothing as a lost art that needs to be studied more?
Men’s fashion can be very cyclical. I’m studying the coming and going of Ivy style right now, for example. It’s always been present in the background for the last 60 years or so. I’ve been fascinated with Cary Grant. You could take him out of North by Northwest, drop him in 2022, and he would not look out of place.
Do you still have to confront men’s fears that tailoring means a huge price point like Armani?
I talk about price points two ways. First, if you’re buying a suit from a place like H&M for around $200, that has a very limited amount of wear. You might get five or six wears and you’re buying another suit. If you buy a suit from us for about $1,000, it will last 10 years — and that is assuming you’re wearing it two or three times a week. And the way we style and design our clothes is meant to outlast trends. So you have a longer lifetime in both durability and relevance. When you purchase fine men’s clothes, you should look at it as an investment, and the clothes should last a really long time. The problem lies in getting people to think about quality in an era when ‘fast fashion’ companies are pumping out disposable clothes made for one-time wear.
Think about how most of the obsolete clothes from the fast-fashion industry end up in a landfill. In that sense, fashion is the second most detrimental thing to our planet aside from the oil industry. It’s tough to re-frame that for people. It requires talking to them about craftsmanship, and what that means for the lifetime of the garment. To be honest, it’s something we have to battle here in town. When we go to cities where suits priced at five figures are common, they ask us how we can make any money being so inexpensive.
With women’s fast-fashion outlets encouraging online orders for dozens of items, with the full intent of tossing many away, has that influenced men’s fashion?
It’s sad to see multiple clients coming through Inherent saying that they are used to buying a $200 suit every quarter. Why such a throwaway mindset? You should be able to give a suit to your grandkids. Many folks intend to be environmentally conscious, but simply aren’t aware. When I throw out stats like one dumptruck full of clothes gets dumped in a landfill every second of every day, or Burberry burns $30 million of clothes every year so they don’t have to put it on clearance or give it away, that blows people’s minds. It’s insane what some of the luxury brands are doing. Part of our mission of selling experience is to short-circuit the retail attitude of trying to draw someone in to spend as much on goods as soon as possible.
So how do you compete with the big retailers who talk about sustainability, and it’s really a bunch of crap?
One aspect is to show customers that we only buy the amount of fabric we need. You only need three to 5 yards of fabric per customer.
Is that easy to do with all the supply chain problems potentially creating longer lead times?
We have relationships with different mills, and I rotate them out based on supply chain issues. Because we have relationships with mills from Italy, England, Australia, Spain — we even have a great mill we rely on in Thailand — this gives me the ability to switch them out, since I’ve never seen all of them be down at the same time. If there’s an extra couple weeks’ lead at the factory in England, we’ll say that we’ll match the price with our Italian fabric.
Inherent was incorporated in late 2019. If the lockdown hadn’t radically changed buying patterns, would the company’s trajectory looked different?
It’s definitely a double-edged sword. Sales growth no doubt would have been greater without a pandemic, but awareness of our business model may not have been as widespread. Consultation on tailoring in a safe space made more sense than someone ordering something from Amazon and hoping that it fit. The pandemic emphasized the message that we were a relational brand, where a customer could just Zoom with us to get advice. I was expecting house calls to be critical, but the storefront proved during the pandemic, as well as today, to be our primary source of income by a large margin.
Then how crucial will it be to have multiple regional sites as storefronts?
It will be crucial for brick-and-mortar stores, as well as for our nonprofit foundation, which follows the physical footprint. There can be exceptions with our pop-up stores, but having localized stores and foundation events helps to infiltrate communities in a positive way. Our monthly events, our ‘Huddles’ for men’s mental health, require the local presence.
Less than three years since the doors opened, your national recognition has seen you named lead designer for a New York art show. Were you ever anticipating this rocket trajectory?
I never anticipated it at all. The traction started only a month after we launched, when we got contacted by designer Janie Bryant from the show Mad Men, which was almost solely responsible for the revival of the men’s suit. She said she liked our mental health model, she liked the clothing, and suggested we do a collection together. We got to work on a couple of her shows, we got to dress celebrity friends of hers like Jeff Bridges and Jon Hamm — it’s been a blur of one opportunity after another. The mental health aspect spurred the interest even more. We have treated the aspect of intentional purpose and mental support as being our top priority. The experience is No. 2, and the actual clothing comes third. This is deliberate. I’ve always believed in keeping the product you sell secondary to your relational experience and your intentional purpose. I’m convinced that in the next 10 years, we will see fewer for-profit companies, and more social impact businesses. Part of that is a generational changing of the guard, as Millennials and Gen Xers move into middle age. For some companies, it may be as simple as devoting a percentage of profit to charity, but some social goal is becoming a necessity. ... With the next generation of college students, we are rapidly hitting the point where all businesses will be run that way.
How was it even possible that a Mad Men tie developed so soon without a massive marketing budget?
Good business plans can attract good chances. As soon as we opened in May 2020, we sent out a big PR blast nationwide. I see a lot of opportunities for collaboration moving forward, but I honestly haven’t seen many copycats, even though I’d been expecting it from Day One. Even if someone else were to combine men’s clothing and mental health, it only legitimizes us and helps more people. I’ve even been approached by people like restaurant groups, who want to get the mental health event into a restaurant. People want to play host to any of our events — the monthly Huddles are always in-house, but quarterly and annual events are at outside venues. We’ve even had competing suit shops who want to hold Huddles, and allow us to have pop-up shops in their stores.
Does that extend to the formal behavioral and mental health community?
We’ve had a really good response from Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention and [National Alliance on Mental Illness] — mutual references and posting on websites. And this can extend nationwide. I actually think the [Inherent] Foundation model might outpace our retail model. At the same time, we have a ‘Purpose’ collection that can only be purchased at Foundation events. And the broad array of people coming to Foundation events was one of the factors that helped launch our ready-to-wear line. It helps allow starving artists and blue-collar workers to support the work. Meanwhile, ready-to-wear follows a scarcity model, where there’s only maybe 25 units in each size with a particular design.
What will benchmark your future growth?
Well, we just received a significant investment from 460 Huntington Capital ... specifying a New York store opening in 2023. The investment will be used for a threefold plan for growth. First, there will be a store rollout plan with four different store models. We’re looking at flagship stores of greater than 6,000 square feet with our entire portfolio; then a Tier 2 store like our Colorado Springs store; a pop-up store of three to six months’ duration; and a specialties store, with our luggage collection, grab and go, things like that. Second, we are looking at high-level partnerships, such as a current discussion with a Formula 1 racing team. Finally, we are looking at adding a resort piece to our Foundation, doing weekend-long events or retreats with a pop-up store in the front of the hotel or event center. The flagship stores might be in New York, Chicago, L.A., Miami, and eventually London, Monaco and Milan — all following a haute couture model.
So specialty stores could be anywhere from airports to sports stadiums.
Yeah, it could keep us busy for years. And we could add services. The Colorado Springs store already has a barber in the back. We could add manicurist, café, cocktails, you name it. Almost none of this was in the 2019 business plan. We’ve done some pretty unexpected expansion.