Originally published on NJ.com
Todd Shelton has always had a hand in formulating his style.
As a child, he would have his mother make the clothing he designed. In his teens, Shelton became intrigued by catalog shopping. When it came time for college, he set his sights on seams — specifically, as they relate to direct-to-consumer men’s fashion.
In 2000, after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a degree in retail and consumer sciences, Shelton moved to downtown Jersey City.
Two years later, he launched the Todd Shelton line, with a focus on customized items men wear most: T-shirts, jeans, pants and dress shirts.
To finance his line, he worked full-time from 2000 to 2009 for a women’s fashion brand based in Weehawken.
“During this time, I spent nearly every night and weekend developing the Todd Shelton brand. I never wanted to sell through stores, so I sold my clothing through my website and on weekends, I’d load my car with clothing, drive to Manhattan and sell on the streets of Soho,” Shelton, 40, says.
In 2009, Shelton felt the time was right for him to dedicate all of his energy to building his brand.
“I was confident in my knowledge and experience and the brand had advanced to where I sensed momentum. I wasn’t starting from scratch, I was prepared at that point,” Shelton says.
He began working on the brand full-time and used savings as financing for the next two years. Sales increased, as did the demand for production.
“That’s when I began to notice problems within my supply chain. The manufacturers that made my clothing could never satisfy me completely and I craved more control over production,” Shelton says.
The fix? A factory.
“I knew building a factory would be expensive and time-consuming, and I would need financial help to pull it off. A friend who had followed the brand since the beginning and believed in our future agreed with me that the factory was necessary,” Shelton says. “He financed us during those years.”
After narrowing the list of potential locations for his factory, Shelton had to choose between Los Angeles and New Jersey. Los Angeles had the stronger apparel manufacturing infrastructure, he says. But New Jersey had his heart. It had been his home for 11 years.
“Ultimately, I chose New Jersey and it was a life-changing decision. Once you build a factory and add employees, you plant your flag,” Shelton says. “Today we embrace being a New Jersey brand.”
Shelton, who took courses at Parsons The New School for Design in New York when he moved to the area, says he launched his line in hopes of helping people find the right fit.
“The biggest problem in American fashion is bad-fitting clothing. It’s mainly due to a lack of effort when people buy clothing,” Shelton, 40, says. “It’s also due to a lack of knowledge about how to evaluate clothing and fit.”
WHY WE LOVE IT
Shelton aims to provide hassle-free customization.
“My clothing offers custom fits, but without the intimidating process and pretentious air that traditionally accompanies ‘custom clothing,'” Shelton says. “The brand’s innovative fit programs make custom-fit clothing easy and fun.”
The “Fit Kit” — a free at-home try-on program offered by Shelton — allows men to evaluate garments and identify their size before ordering through toddshelton.com. An example: Shelton will send out a package of unfinished mock-ups of jeans, allow a customer to test several different fits and sizes and then return the fit kit using a prepaid shipping label.
Adding to his Garden State appeal: Shelton may not be from New Jersey, but his designs are.
The company operates out of its East Rutherford factory with a staff of eight who oversee production, customer service, marketing and day-to-day brand operations.
BRANDS HIS LINE IDENTIFIES WITH
Shelton says his line is similar to the Swedish clothing brand Acne and American Apparel, the latter of which he says “is a good Made-in-the-U.S.A. story.” (Shelton is also a board member of American Made Matters, an organization which supports American manufacturing).
“I respect designers that have a cerebral and consistent creative vision. I see Swedish brand Acne as a leader here,” Shelton says. “Acne consistently pushes creative limits right to a line, but they never cross the line, and that takes intelligence and discipline.”
Shelton’s business model, which relies on internal manufacturing, is similar to that of American Apparel.
HIS TARGET AUDIENCE
“The target customer pays close attention to how his clothing fits and he’s willing to engage in a clothing discussion,” Shelton says. “Our customer wants a long-term partner that can provide easy access to great fitting clothes.”
WHERE YOU CAN FIND IT
Online at toddshelton.com or at the Todd Shelton factory in East Rutherford.
Local customers can visit the showroom to place orders or to try on clothing in person. To schedule an appointment, email email@example.com. Jeans start at $155. Dress shirts start at $175. Production takes 7 to 14 days.
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