How Getting Pulled Over in Thailand Inspired One Entrepreneur to Revolutionize Men’s Shirts

 

There’s a new company on Kickstarter that could change the way you wear your shirts forever.

Teddy Stratford, founded by entrepreneur Bryan Davis and shirt-maker Carl Goldberg, brings you the Zip Fit shirt, a shirt that holds the secret to being the best fitted button-down you’ve ever worn.

Bryan is a New York entrepreneur with a diverse background, but his latest passion falls with Teddy Stratford and creating beautiful, 100 percent cotton shirts made right around the corner from Manhattan’s Garment District. But his shirts are like nothing you’ve ever seen before — the buttoned-down look hides a zipper designed to give you the best look possible when wearing a dress shirt.

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We had the pleasure of chatting with Bryan through email where he tells us how he discovered the ingenious way he designs Teddy Stratford shirts and how he led a now massively successful Kickstarter campaign that has so far raised over $82,000 dollars of it’s $20,000 goal — and it all begins in Thailand.

While traveling in Bangkok a few years ago, Bryan was driving a friend’s car when a roadside police officer motioned for him to pull over. As the officer walked over to ticket him, Bryan noticed that his shirt looked super fitted and really sharp. Trying to talk his way out of a ticket, Bryan asked his friend, who was Thai, to ask the officer where he got his shirt.

“The guy took a pen out of his pocket and instead of writing me a ticket he wrote down the address to his tailor!” Bryan told me. When he went to explore the tailor, Bryan discovered the secret to such a good-looking shirt. He explained, “ … even though they looked like a button down shirt … They zipped. It occurred to me that the zipper allows you to wear a closer fitting shirt without gaps between the buttons.”

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Bryan calls it the “bratwurst effect.” It’s when your buttoned shirt fits too tightly around the chest, exposing gaps between the buttons as if you are about to burst out of your shirt. While it might make you feel like you’re turning into the Hulk, it’s not a good look for the modern and professional gentleman. Teddy Stratford’s shirts also include patent-pending designs to fix another major problem with men’s shirts — the “John Travolta collar,” which according to their campaign is “the gradual spreading open of a shirt collar, which, if left unchecked, leads to the wearer looking like a 70s fashion victim.”

Being the entrepreneur that he is, Bryan decided to take the process to the United States and start making great fitting shirts himself, but there was only one problem — Bryan had no experience in the fashion industry. That’s when he met Carl Goldberg.

“One day I was getting my skates sharpened (I play hockey in the winter) and across the hall was a door that said CEGO Custom Shirts. I went in, met Carl and he made me some prototypes. I happened to really like Carl and he liked the idea so we ended up becoming partners.”

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As if by fate, Bryan and Carl partnered up to create Teddy Stratford in 2009. After years of perfecting the shirts and selling to customers all over the world, Bryan decided to take production up another level by starting a campaign for the Zip Fit shirt on Kickstarter.

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I asked Bryan what his biggest challenge to developing a product in the fashion industry is. He tells me it’s a tedious process of trial and error.

“Fashion production can turn into a big game of ‘Telephone.’ A pattern can get completely changed when it goes from our shop to the graders (where they scale the pattern for different sizes) and then to the factory.  When you are doing a fitted shirt, every tiny little error can make a massive difference and change the size and shape of the garment and completely ruin what you have worked so hard on perfecting.”

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For a first-time fashion entrepreneur, Bryan got it nailed down. He tells me, “The only way to solve this is to be exacting about details, which is not my forte generally, but it is the only way and so now I am a madman with a measuring tape making sure everything is done exactly right.” Any entrepreneur looking to go into fashion better have great attention to detail.

After five years selling online, rather than finding a private investor, Bryan decided to put his idea on Kickstarter. He explains to me the benefits of raising money through crowdfunding:

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“ … it allows us to raise money for our project and that is huge but the deeper benefit is that it allows us to pre-sell our shirt and make it to order. Inventory can be a killer to small businesses and this way we know that we have already sold what we make. Just as useful is that it allows us to prove concept. We didn’t know if people other than our friends would buy into a shirt with a zipper.”

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His campaign is almost at a close, but after raising four times his initial goal on his first attempt, you’ve got to ask: How did he do it? Bryan explains the simple process of learning how to crowdfund.

“I spoke to other campaigners in the fashion space who ran successful campaigns and looked at the way that other campaigns structured their rewards and their videos …  I also read some blog posts by people who blew their funding out of the water and followed their guidance. Tim Ferriss had a great post by the guys who did SOMA water filters and they provided invaluable information.”

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However, according to Bryan, there is really one major factor that serves as an indicator to whether or not your campaign will be successful:

“ … But the most important part of our campaign so far has been our friends and family. That is where it starts and if you can speak to them and get them to support you with backing and also spreading the word, the rest of the KS community starts to take note and get behind you.”

So what’s next for Teddy Stratford? Bryan hopes to design Zip shirts for the modern and professional woman.

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“We are going to launch a women’s line by the end of 2015. The reaction from our female friends and family to the shirt has been massive. When you think about it, the gapping problem is particularly ‘painful’ for women because it always happens at the bust and exposes their bra. I have friends who simply won’t wear button-downs because of this and I don’t blame them.“

Check out the Zip Fit Shirt on Kickstarter or at Teddy Stratford.

You can read out full interview with Bryan below.

Tell us about the story behind your shirt.

“Its pretty random but I was in Bangkok a few years ago and was driving a friend’s car when a cop stepped out into the street and motioned for me to pull over. As he was walking to the car I noticed that his uniform was awesome — specifically the shirt, because it was super fitted and looked really sharp. In the process of trying to talk myself out of a ticket, I asked my friend (who is Thai) to ask the cop where he got his shirts.  The guy took a pen out of his pocket and instead of writing me a ticket he wrote down the address to his tailor! When I got to the tailor (who agreed to make me a uniform-probably because nobody would ever mistake me for a Bangkok policeman), I discovered why the uniforms were able to fit so closely: because even though they looked like a button down shirt …They zipped. It occurred to me that the zipper allows you to wear a closer-fitting shirt without gaps between the buttons.”

What kind of background did you have in business prior to starting Teddy Stratford?

“I have done a number of things over the years. I’ve been in the restaurant/bar business and spent some time as a trader in the late ‘90s, early 2000s. I have also worked as a DJ on the weekends for the last number of years. But most recently I started a company called Bungee Virtual Lost and Found (you can Google it if you are interested).”

Tell us about how you partnered with Carl Goldberg and launched TS in 2009.

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“When I returned from Thailand having discovered the zipper on the police shirt, I had it in my mind that it would be something, if translated properly, that could be relevant to regular guys (i.e. not policemen), but I had no true experience in fashion and I knew that I needed an expert in order to pull it off. One day I was getting my skates sharpened (I play hockey in the winter) and across the hall was a door that said CEGO Custom Shirts. I went in, met Carl and he made me some prototypes. I happened to really like Carl and he liked the idea so we ended up becoming partners.”

What was the greatest challenge in growing TS and what did solving it teach you?

“Fashion production can turn into a big game of ‘Telephone.’ A pattern can get completely changed when it goes from our shop to the graders (where they scale the pattern for different sizes) and then to the factory.  When you are doing a fitted shirt, every tiny little error can make a massive difference and change the size and shape of the garment and completely ruin what you have worked so hard on perfecting. The only way to solve this is to be exacting about details, which is not my forte generally, but it is the only way and so now I am a madman with a measuring tape making sure everything is done exactly right. I gained a tremendous amount of appreciation for how much work and exactitude goes into everything we wear.“

Why have you decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign?

“Kickstarter is the perfect platform for someone who has a new product that they want to bring to the world but not a lot of money to do it. Yes, it allows us to raise money for our project and that is huge, but the deeper benefit is that it allows us to pre-sell our shirt and make it to order. Inventory can be a killer to small businesses and this way we know that we have already sold what we make. Just as useful is that it allows us to prove concept. We didn’t know if people other than our friends would buy into a shirt with a zipper.  Sure we think it’s cool and innovative, but will people actually like it and, more importantly, will they pay for it? We have been really encouraged by the reaction so far and have sold shirts to people from over 15 countries around the world so far.”

What kind of research did you do to decide whether or not to crowdfund and what do you believe are the most essential factors in a successful campaign?

“I spoke to other campaigners in the fashion space who ran successful campaigns and looked at the way that other campaigns structured their rewards and their videos. We tried to take elements that we liked from each one and do them in our own voice. I also read some blog posts by people who blew their funding out of the water and followed their guidance. Tim Ferriss had a great post by the guys who did SOMA water filters and they provided invaluable information. But the most important part of our campaign so far has been our friends and family. That is where it starts and if you can speak to them and get them to support you with backing and also spreading the word, the rest of the KS community starts to take note and get behind you.”

Other than your Kickstarter campaign, do you have any plans to launch any other businesses?

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“We are going to launch a women’s line by the end of 2015. The reaction from our female friends and family to the shirt has been massive. When you think about it, the gapping problem is particularly ‘painful’ for women because it always happens at the bust and exposes their bra. I have friends who simply won’t wear button-downs because of this and I don’t blame them.“

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