When he started, Tom Nascone set out to create a brand with soul – a brand with grit. Something uniquely American, inspired by our heritage and the stories of generations past. It’s became a living tribute to the well-dressed American gentlemen who came before us. Tom took an interest in clothing from an early age. After teaching himself to sew, he began making his own ties and pocket squares to have some fun with his high school dress code. Interested in growing his knowledge and passion for clothing, Tom spent his summer and winter breaks from school working at America’s oldest clothier, Brooks Brothers. He soon developed the vision for his own brand and decided to start Ben Douglas Clothing Co.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO START IN THE MEN’S SHIRTING INDUSTRY? IT’S A VERY SATURATED MARKET. WHAT DO YOU OFFER THAT OTHER BIG RETAILERS DO NOT?
Shirting is the basis of any good wardrobe. It’s what sets the foundation for your outfit, so naturally it seemed like the most logical place to start. It’s definitely a very saturated market, but I am currently focused on local NJ customers, so we don’t have much competition in this area.
Customers are looking for personalized assistance and useful knowledge, which is where a lot of large retailers miss the mark. I like to start slow and small with my customers, well within their comfort zone. I look forward to building a loyal relationship, and hope I can assist them in developing and expanding their own personal style over time.
AS AN ENTREPRENEUR, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE BEN DOUGLAS YOUR FULL-TIME PRIORITY? CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THAT EXACT MOMENT? WHAT WERE YOUR EMOTIONS, YOUR FEARS, YOUR DOUBTS, AND OF COURSE, EXCITEMENT?
From an early age I had hopes of starting my own clothing brand. I knew that having good taste and an eye for design was important, but if I wanted to really start a successful brand, a business education would be most important. My plan was to graduate business school, get hired by a major brand like Ralph Lauren, work there for a while, then start my own line.
This plan changed on a night about 2/3 through my sophomore year at school up in Boston. I finally hit a point where I was sick of school and was fed up with putting my ambitions on hold. I was ready to just jump in and start. All I could think about was building my own line. So I went for it. I was never fearful, but there’s definitely a whole lot of doubt when you take a total U-turn on your plans… although there’s also no better feeling than when you finally take that leap and embrace it. The excitement comes from constantly looking to making progress, chipping away at your goals one step at a time.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS? WE’VE READ THAT YOUR GREAT-GRANDFATHER LED YOU TO YOUR ETHOS AND VALUE, BUT WHAT KEEPS YOU MOTIVATED AND CREATIVE TO PUSH THE BEN DOUGLAS BRAND FARTHER? IS IT YOUR ENVIRONMENT? THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU? YOUR TRAVELS?
In my head I have a final picture of what I hope the Ben Douglas brand evolves into – and I know it will take years to get to that position. So my daily inspiration is the blank path ahead to that final vision. What am I going to do today to take the next step towards improving and succeeding? It’s not so much an outside source, but a constant desire to improve both myself and my business.
A MEN’S DRESS SHIRT MIGHT BE CONSIDERED BORING TO SOMEONE FROM AN OUTSIDE POINT OF VIEW, BUT WHAT KEEPS BUILDING MEN’S SHIRTS SO NEW AND EXCITING? WHAT KINDS OF RELATIONSHIPS HAVE BEEN BUILT THROUGH YOUR BUSINESS?
Men’s shirts have remained relatively unchanged for over a century. Some may view that as boring and non-innovative, but I view it as a tradition. It’s a garment that is so practical, and so necessary.
Since we are a made-to-measure brand, every shirt I create with a customer is new and unique. They have full control over the final product, like an artist with a blank canvas. Even if two customers pick the same fabric, the final shirt designs can be totally different. I think that’s exciting.
WHAT DOES “MADE IN AMERICA” MEAN TO YOU AS A PERSON? DOES IT GO AGAINST YOUR MORAL OBLIGATION TO PRODUCE YOUR GARMENTS OVERSEAS?
My desire to make our shirts in America boils down to a few things. Firstly, it’s about pride in the world’s greatest nation. It ties in nicely with our back story and the fact that we are a small American brand – wouldn’t it feel awkward to have such a uniquely American inspiration only to have our products made overseas? Secondly, our factory is America’s largest custom shirt maker and it happens to be located right here in NJ just 35 minutes from our headquarters. Having the ability to visit the factory and see our product being made is very reassuring.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS THE TIME YOU SPENT AT BROOKS BROTHERS IN THE FORMATION OF BEN DOUGLAS? WOULD YOU TELL SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO START HIS OR HER OWN BUSINESS TO LEARN FROM SOMEONE ALREADY ESTABLISHED?
My experience at Brooks Brothers was extremely valuable and helped me develop a sense for the industry. Retail, as grueling as it can be, is definitely the best starting point for anyone interested in going into fashion. It’s where all of the work of the designers, buyers, merchandisers, and business execs comes together. You start to pick up understanding of product design, sales techniques, customer behavior, and business management. Applying my work experience there while I was still in school also helped me gain a deeper understanding of business concepts.
IF YOU HAD TO GIVE ADVICE TO SOMEONE LOOKING TO BUILD A SHIRTING WARDROBE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THEM AND WHAT 5 SHIRTS WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO THEM? (IE. BLUE OCBD, CORNFLOWER BLUE BANKER STRIPE, MICROCHECK, ETC.)
For the most versatility, I would say the following: 2 OCBDs – solid blue, and either a solid white or a blue university stripe. 1 solid white pinpoint oxford with spread collar. 1 light blue micro graph-check with either a button-down or a spread. The first 10 shirts you own should be the most boring – lots of blue and white. Gotta set up the foundation.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT A CRISP, WHITE COLLARED SHIRT THAT IS UNQUESTIONABLY MASCULINE?
The crisp white collar frames out the face and directs the focus upward. Think about the Arrow Collar Man – the advertisement is there to sell shirts, but your focus is on the sharp, handsome face. That’s the power of a well-made, proper-fitting shirt.
TAKING A LOOK AT COMMUNITIES, SUCH AS STYLEFORUM, NYFWM, AND A GENERAL INCREASE IN YOUNG MENSWEAR BRANDS, IT IS CLEAR THAT THE MENSWEAR MOVEMENT HAS GROWN EXPONENTIALLY OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS. HOW HAS THIS GROWTH AFFECTED YOUR BUSINESS AND YOU IN GENERAL AS A MENSWEAR CONSUMER? DO YOU FIND YOURSELF BEING A LITTLE MORE CONSIDERATE ABOUT WHAT YOU PURCHASE?
There is definitely a boom in men’s fashion. That is a good and bad thing. It’s great to see new perspectives and interesting designs – but at the same time, there is a lot of copycatting and sacrificed quality just to be #menswear. My personal taste has definitely been shaped by resources like Styleforum and some lesser-known, dedicated menswear bloggers. Good quality has become a major consideration for me, and it’s something I include in every decision I make for my brand. I want to make great clothing that lasts, and gets better after years of wear.
CAN YOU GIVE OUR AUDIENCE A FUN FACT ABOUT MEN’S SHIRTS THAT THEY MIGHT NOT KNOW? PERHAPS A BIT OF KNOWLEDGE THAT’S A COMMON MISCONCEPTION ABOUT MEN’S SHIRTS IN GENERAL?
I get a lot of guys who are annoyed with translucent fabrics. It usually happens with white shirts. They usually think it’s a low quality fabric issue, but it happens with higher quality fabrics too. My advice is to look for an mid-quality (100s – 120s thread), and stick to a more textured weave such as twill or herringbone – it won’t cure the problem, but it will improve it. The unfortunate truth is that you’re almost always going to get some translucency unless you’re dealing with a heavier fabric like oxford or royal oxford.
IF YOU HAD TO PICK AN ICONIC MOVIE OR MOMENT IN HISTORY WHERE YOU SAW A MEN’S SHIRT AND SAID “DAMN!” OR “WHY DIDN’T THEY WEAR THIS PATTERN?” DO YOU HAVE ONE? MAYBE IT’S JUST A MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT YOU CAN REMEMBER IN YOUR OWN LIFE?
I can’t think of any specific moments, but I know there have been a few. I know it definitely happens while browsing Paul Stuart or RL Purple Label lookbooks. They always have some wild shirting rigged up that you would never expect to work so well. Really makes me wish I had some horizontal striped shirts with steep contrast cutaways.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST MEN’S STYLE PEEVE? WHAT DO YOU SEE IN PUBLIC THAT MAKES YOU CRINGE?
One of my biggest pet peeves is clothing that fits terribly – either too big or skintight. Both are just as bad.
DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING ELSE YOU MIGHT WANT TO SAY TO OUR AUDIENCE?
Thank you so much for the interview. If your audience is looking for a great fitting, American-made shirt, feel free to stop by our website and send us an email.