By Roger Harris. Photos by William Heuberger.
Building his own factory was a risky move, but the gamble has paid off for men’s clothing designer Todd Shelton.
At the end of 2011, even though sales were up and momentum was strong, Shelton (Knoxville ’97) put the brakes on growth and did what few clothing designers do—invested time and money building a factory to make his clothes.
For three years, Todd Shelton LLC focused on developing a manufacturing process that would set it apart from the competition. Momentum slowed, and customers wondered what the company was doing, but Shelton knew long-term, sustainable growth depended on controlling production.
“We were operating the way every other fashion company does. We outsourced production. We did that for years, and we were running into production issues. It got to the point we couldn’t live with somebody else making our products,” Shelton says.
The decision to open the factory in East Rutherford, New Jersey, has more than paid off. Sales are growing again, and Shelton has the company on the road to becoming a national brand.
“Our aspirations are not small,” says the 40-year-old Johnson City, Tennessee, native. “Our goal is to become the most respected in our industry at what we do.”
Shelton’s company designs and manufactures made-to-order jeans, shirts, pants and T-shirts for men. The company targets the upper end of the menswear market. Its jeans sell for $180 to $240, and dress shirts are priced at $180 to $220.
It’s a niche market, but Shelton’s customers are willing to pay for custom-fitted clothes. A service that sets the company apart is the “Fit Kit,” a unique garment kit that lets customers try on multiple fit options at home.
As a young teenager, Shelton knew he wanted to design his own line of men’s fashions. An early influence was the J. Crew brand. “I loved getting the catalogs in the mail and seeing the designs and the cool lifestyle the catalog represented,” Shelton says.
When he got to UT Knoxville, Shelton majored in retail and consumer sciences because it offered the best path to achieving his goal. His father and brother also are UT alumni.
In 2000, Shelton moved to New York City and began developing his menswear brand. He enrolled in Parson’s New School for Design to hone his fashion skills and spent a few years working for a catalog company to learn the business of selling direct to the consumer.
Shelton launched his brand in 2002, designing and selling T-shirts on the street in New York City. He soon expanded his product line and began selling pants, jeans and other products through his website.
“I’ve always been fascinated by how clothing can help men’s psychology,” Shelton says. “Wear something that fits well, and you feel a little more confident. Nothing expresses who we are more than clothing.”
For more information, visit toddshelton.com.