Categorized | Arts & Entertainment, Opinion

The Little Guys

Posted on 09 February 2012 by Gus Lopez

My fellow Warriors, I think its time for another of my calls to action, and this time, I promise not to offend anyone. Well, I promise not to try to offend anyone. My main issue here is our obsession with big brand names. Don’t get me wrong: I am a proud and happy member of the 1%, so don’t think I’ve suddenly gone off the deep-end and now hate corporations or something. I just think we all need to look at where we buy our clothes and evaluate if we’re happy with what we’re getting.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have a little extra cash after my “internship” this summer, as well as having had the great opportunity to spend some time on the East Coast (you’ll see that the East Coast has left a mark on me in terms of my style in coming columns). While vacationing at a resort on the Chesapeake, I realized I’d packed too lightly. I needed some basics, a shirt or two, some swim trunks, and a sweater, so we went to a small boutique named Khaki in Irvington, Virginia. I was immediately taken with their preppy items, which still maintained a practical aspect in keeping with the outdoor-leisurely lifestyle of the region. The flagship brand, exclusive to Khaki, is Jimmy and Sook. It is here where Khaki got me hook, line, and sinker. I needed a polo (don’t get any ideas, I had accidentally packed only oxfords) in order to hit the links with my friends. The owner of Khaki, Mr. Andy Smith, pointed me towards his most popular product, the Jimmy and Sook pique-knit polo. It is beautifully made, fits perfectly for an active guy, and the logo on the chest, a blue crab, is iconic of that area. On top of the styling, it was reasonably priced at $60. I got one in navy blue, and it is now a regular in my rotation.

What’s my point? My point is, we need to step away from the Ralph Lauren, the Gap, and the J. Crew, and look at other options for our attire. Why? Well, primarily, customer service. I still maintain e-mail correspondence with Mr. Smith, and when I asked about a crew neck he didn’t have in my size while I was in Irvington, he promised to ship it to me as soon as he had it. And he did, two weeks later, free of charge.

Andy knows that as a small business owner, his only way to compete with the big companies is to provide exceptional products at good prices, accompanied with a personal touch. And he isn’t the only one.

Rob Cardenas quit his corporate job in order to pursue an interest, he wanted to exemplify the Great Lakes style in a line of fashionable and quality products, so he founded Chicago Belt Co. He went live just a few weeks ago, but has already been featured in several blogs, and with good reason, his first handful of ribbon belts look great and when I tweeted at him a month ago in anticipation of his new products, he sent me some stickers, Croakies, and a hand-written note, thanking me for my support. I don’t think I’d be remiss in calling Rob a friend, and it is here where I go back to my original point. Customer service. Real, personal, service is what these new guys are all about. I purchased a shirt from Chicago Belt Co. and again, my order was accompanied with another hand-written note. When was the last time Brooks Brothers did that? I mean, BB routinely sends me the female catalogue instead of the male catalogue despite me being a loyal customer for years, and based on how much they tweet me, know I’m single

Another wonderful example, Nick Mannella, of Knot Belt Co. started his company after deciding a day job just wasn’t for him. His company now has over 30 ribbon belts in both D-ring and leather and a plethora of accessories available for purchase online. Nick is another prime example of great customer service and solid products. Based in Boston, Nick sends his products nationwide and has also been featured in several style blogs. Like Rob, Nick has also accompanied any order I’ve made with a note, a personal touch that I can’t stress too much.

You might think its just belts, but if quality polos are your thing, check out Cash Robinson Clothing, a horse racing inspired brand from Kentucky. Founded by Travis Robinson, Cash Robinson prides itself in small-batch apparel. Like small batch bourbon, each run is special and limited, and individual shirts are numbered within their batch. Travis started with only a small selection of colors in his polos, but has recently expanded into tee shirts and other accessories. The flagship Cash Robinson small batch polo is a pique knit and fits athletically, loose enough to be active, but loses no class. A solid product from a great company.

I stay in touch with these guys fairly regularly, via tweets or e-mail, and that brings me to my closing point. With companies like this, and many more (Chesapeake Ribbon, Southern Dignity, and Salmon Cove), the person who packs your order is the guy who started the company, the guy who runs their Twitter account. This leads to a level of caring on the company’s behalf that means the consumer gets the better deal. Maybe a belt from Chicago Belt Co. or Knot Belt Co. is pricier ($40) than one from Target. Maybe a tee from Cash Robinson means having to wait for shipping. But I promise you that these people CARE. And supporting them means supporting the dream many of us have, finishing school and starting the business of our dreams. With that said, Warriors, let’s support these guys, and keep that swagg on.

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