Online Shirt Maker Jack Robie’s Co-Founders Discuss Cary Grant’s Style and Striking Off on Their Own
If you know your Hitchcock movies, the name “Jack Robie” should ring a bell. Played by Cary Grant, Jack Robie is the debonair retired jewel thief in Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief.” He’s the polished expatriate who traipses across continental Europe to clear his good name following a string of jewel heists, all the while wooing Grace Kelly with his infectious charm. Thus, Cary Grant’s suave and mild-mannered character is a natural fit for naming an upscale online retailer dedicated to outfitting white-collar, upwardly mobile Bros with colorful and versatile dress shirts that make an impression.
The vision for Jack Robie belongs to Brad Corona and Brian Nicholson, two entrepreneurial Brown alumni who fled the daily grind of the finance for a loft on New York’s Lower East Side, where they operate their online-online, ready-to-order dress-shirt company. We recently caught up with Corona to discuss their shirts, style, and approach to entrepreneurship. Check out the Q&A below.
BroBible: How did you come up with the idea of starting Jack Robie?
Brad Corona: It’s was a combination between wanting to do something with a little more creativity and an element of wanting to be our own boss. It was also just a good marriage between personal interest and ideas. Brian and I were friends at Brown but after we graduated, he moved to San Francisco and I moved to New York where we were both doing banking. We caught up when I was in Saratoga for a wedding. We had dinner and he was telling me about his experience in e-commerce because his banking clients were in technology. At the time that was right when Bonobos was getting started. He was following their progress and said, “I think it could be really interesting to do something similar, but more of an online men’s store.” He didn’t really have it in idea form.
So why shirts?
I’ve always been interested in clothing and fashion so when we were talking, so I came up with the idea of creating a shirt business. When you’re wearing dress shirts to work every day, you kind of see the whole spectrum. We were always interested in finding better shirts. I think most guys who work white- collared jobs get their shirts from Brooks Brothers. Some guys do the whole custom thing and spend a lot of money on designer shirts. Personally I had a wardrobe with a fair amount of cheap stuff and stuff I didn't care about. I had some shirts that were really expensive and I loved them, but I also couldn’t afford them. The original idea was to create a fantastic dress shirt for a reasonable price.
Our shirts aren’t cheap, but they are a luxury item and, for our price-point, they are a great value. We just set out to create the best dress shirt for our price-point and beyond. I'd say our shirts tread water with anything $225 and below. It’s when you get to Italian-made shirts that maybe you’ll start to notice the difference. As a derivative of that, we came up with casual shirts that you can either wear out or to work, depending on your job.
What makes Jack Robbie stand out from competitors in the e-market place?
You don’t really have too many people doing ready-to-wear dress shirts. We stock ten sizes, so if you live in New York City, you’ll get your shirt the next day after ordering it. Most companies who are only online are only doing custom shirts. We are also the only ones who have stock and are ready to ship. We are trying to create something new. You go to J. Crew and all of their stuff is made in Asia and if you go to Vineyard Vines you have to buy a shirt with whales all over it. We didn't want to wear that, so we are creating cool shirts that we want to wear and you can't find anywhere else.
What has been the biggest challenge in getting this off the ground?
Well, fundraising is always a challenge but our banking background helped us put together a coherent business plan and meet with people to talk strategy. You need money to get any company off the ground. It was a challenge but we were able to get it done. Right now it’s being able to strike a balance between being a young company, seeing what people have bought, and trying to adapt and take a direction. We’re putting more hooks in the water to see what bites. We are still so young, but we think we have a good idea of who our customer is. We want to go beyond what works and experiment with new stuff. From a pure business standpoint, another challenge is getting stuff in front of people when you’re online. You need to do things like Facebook and Twitter, which can feel like you’re wasting time but the challenge is really just getting in front of people.
What is the story behind the name Jack Robbie?
It’s actually named after a Cary Grant character in “To Catch a Thief.” Cary Grant is a style icon, but in this particular film it had more of a connection than just being well dressed on screen. He is an American living in Europe. Our shirts have more of European aesthetic but they are made in the US. We are very proud of that, so the idea of an American influence by Europe resonates with us.
What other style icons inspires your look?
There are a lot of people who inspire us as far as well-dressed guys. I kind of tend to be more on the traditional side like Paul Newman, but I don't think there are too many modern-day celebs blowing me away in terms of their style. People talk about George Clooney because he wears shit that fits great and sticks to classics. He isn’t running around wearing leather jackets and riding motorcycles; he’s wearing classic suits that fit well. He reminds me more of an actor from the '60s. I really like that.
If there was one celebrity that could get one of your shirts in front of millions, who would it be?
I would want it on someone more inclined like George Clooney… I think we’d actually put our shirts on Christian Bale or Clive Owen. Nothing wrong with George Clooney, but that would really be to sell shirts.
What was the best advice you received when you started your business?
People told me to listen to your customers. That was the best advice. You have to be able to make decisions based on what your customers want and that is what we are trying to do. We want to make a company that takes advantage of being online and what our customers want. The bottom line really is to do what your customers want.
How do you see your brand growing?
We’re going to be focused on just shirts for the remainder of 2010. Based on the popularity of our sport shirts, that line will be further developed. I think on the dress shirts we’ll look to introduce more fabrics that you can’t find anywhere else. Everything we have now is premium fabric but there are some styles that are not uncommon. Before we were designing shirts based on what we liked and thought made sense. We aren't fashion designers and I don't think you have to be you just need to have taste.