Millennials are accused of “killing” a lot of stuff –– home ownership, diamonds, cereal. Dressing up for work is another casualty. Most workplace dress codes are some version of casual, if they exist at all.
But there are still plenty of people who can’t wear hoodies to work. And lots of guys up their sartorial game when they’re at play. When I’m downtown on the weekend, I see people who wear sweatpants Monday through Friday going out to dinner on Saturday wearing cufflinks.
Looking put together is still alive and well.
“It’s an aspirational way of dressing,” says Allyson Lewis, CEO of The Tie Bar, a Chicago-based retailer that’s carved out a not-so-small niche in the menswear market. “About 2014 or 2015, we saw offices get more casual. Everybody was going after this really casual lifestyle –– jogging pants, untucked shirts, things like that. We saw other companies walking away from the customers who have to dress a certain way for work every day.
“We thought it was a perfect space for us to play in –– and own it.”
For The Tie Bar to own the space, Allyson says, it’s had to evolve. Here’s how the company is making it happen.
Let customers lead
“We started as a tie company, which is what we’re best known for today, but that’s changing,” says Allyson. “Our big move was in 2016, when we introduced dress shirts. We pivoted into apparel because when we talked to our customers, we found that they actually didn’t think of us as a tie company. They see us as a menswear brand.”
The Tie Bar prioritizes a close relationship with its core customers, surveying them after every purchase, engaging them on social and testing out new products in their flagship Armitage Avenue store. In the past few years, they’ve launched several other brick-and-mortar shops in Chicago’s Loop, Boston, New York, Philly, and Washington, D.C.
“We like to look at our brand through the lens of our customer and let him tell us who we are –– which is a trusted style adviser and partner,” Allyson says.
Offer something extra
“For those who don’t know what it is, a tie bar is a little clip that clips your tie to your shirt,” explains Allyson. “It’s like a functioning piece of jewelry.”
The brand story is perfectly encapsulated by this, she says. “It’s about taking that extra step to set yourself apart. The Tie Bar guy might wear a basic blue shirt and a basic tie, but then he’ll put on neon-colored tie bar. It’s that one element that really pops his entire outfit and makes him look different from every other guy in the room.”
The Tie Bar customers can also add that pop with socks, pocket squares, scarves, lapel pins, belts, and just about any other dapper accessory you can imagine.
“It’s what our customer associates with our brand –– that extra element, that extra piece of style that sets you apart,” Allyson says.
Find the best fit –– for customers and for the business
With an established base of tie customers, “shirts were a natural extension for us because everybody who wears a tie has to wear a shirt with it,” explains Allyson.
Allyson explains that they design each shirt as “the canvas for your tie” –– pocket free, versatile enough to work with a variety of tie styles, and a longer length “so when they’re tucked in, they stay tucked in and don’t get bunchy around the waist,” she says. Plus, The Tie Bar’s shirts drive repeat purchases of its flagship product –– ties of every color, width and fabric at an addictive, sub-$20 price point.
As workplaces became more casual, another advantage emerged. “Maybe our guy isn’t wearing a tie every single day. When he’s not, we can offer him a way to still wear that The Tie Bar look every single day,” she says.
Shirts were the company’s first sized apparel category. Last year, it added dress pants to the mix. “We have another new category that’s launching soon,” says Allyson. “I can’t say exactly what it is yet. But we really want to be known as a head-to-toe outfitter that can provide you style from your shirt to your pants and all the accessories to go with it.”
Offer confidence as the value proposition
“Nothing makes me happier than hearing from a customer who says, ‘I don’t know anything about style or fashion, but your clothes give me so much more confidence,” Allyson says. “Nothing makes me happier, because that’s the goal, right? Dressing a certain way is all about how you carry yourself –– how it makes you feel. I like to think we’re not just making clothes. We’re making people’s lives better because they feel more confident when they put together a look wearing our products.
“We want to help you find the best version of yourself.”