Welcome back to the Gentleman’s Gazette! In today’s interview, I’ll be talking to Dan Trepanier from Articles of Style. Dan was formerly known as The Style Blogger, He first became well-known because he became Esquire’s best-dressed man in 2009. He’s originally from Canada, a small town and he came to Columbia University for basketball and now he lives in LA. Dan, Welcome!
Dan Trepanier: Thank you, Raphael! You look awesome by the way.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Oh, thank you! You too, good style and I could see a lot of garments here in the background, that’s impressive.
DT: Thanks for having me. I’m in my workroom so the set up is not as nearly as elegant as yours. You’re outshining me on the background here.
SRS: Oh well, you know, when you work, I know how it is. It just depends on where you are right now and thanks for making time during your work day, I appreciate it.
DT: Thanks for having me.
SRS: Just tell us a little more about how you became this well-known person running Articles of Style. Obviously, there were a lot of turns along the way and it’s interesting to learn more about that.
DT: It’s hard to go back in time, you know, I mean, 2009, I had plans probably to, cos after I graduated from Columbia, that was my junior year in college when I won that contest. I was planning to go back to school, I’m Canadian and I didn’t have a work visa at the time so it was either go back to the farm or stay in New York if I went back to school. I’ve been working with Michael Andrews and learning a lot from him and I wanted to continue to learn and so I went back to school. I went to a fashion institute, at that time, I was probably planning to go to the fashion institute and say that’s my next step because It’s really the only way I can stay in the United States and it was a passion that had already been, you know, beginning for me. So I wanted to learn how clothes were made, what the ins and outs were and if I was going to be in this arena and be an “expert”, I really needed to know my style. I wanted to be able to make suits from scratch and understand why one factory does one thing and another, just another thing and have a better knowledge of the industry so, I don’t know about this either, but I knew I wanted to learn more about it at that time.
SRS: Okay, that’s great! We all have goals and goals are important to drive us, at the same time, we will not always reach them and sometimes we just have to take a different path than we imagined and it may still work out
to be great. I think that’s a good example that you said “Hey, I want to do this!” but instead, you mentioned Michael Andrews. Tell is the story of your first bespoke suit.
DT: Like I said, I went to Columbia and I did an internship on Wall Street. The summer between junior and senior year, that’s the summer when you get a job, that’s when you’re supposed to get a good internship, one of these banks, one of these high-paying jobs and then close the deal for your senior year so that once you graduate, you got a good job lined up. Well, it was 2008 and the banks were tanking and I was an intern on this trading floor and people are getting fired and crying and leaving every day. So I kind of knew I wasn’t going to get that job and I just started noticing tailoring more than ever because these guys wear really nice men’s wear, I mean, talk about a sea full of custom suits, look at a trading floor of young 30-year old guys making millions of dollars. I became enamored with this idea of a customs suit and getting something just for you.
SRS: You were in this kind of trading environment and the purpose of internship, most people would say “learn about trading and your future job” but you were just more interested in the clothes right? Which is just a good signal.
DT: I didn’t even think about it that way, it’s funny you say that. You know a senior banker would come over and give me a stack of papers I was supposed to study and I was just looking at his cuffs and his watch and being like “Man, that guy is creating a story in my head about who that guy was”, you know. That’s the real power of men’s wear and clothing, right? It’s transformational, it tells a story to people, so I was so taken aback by the way these guys are putting themselves together that the banking stuff would just go away over my head. Actually, on that internship, I met with a guy, his name is Chris Totman, he went to Columbia before me and he was one of the traders and he sat me down and had a very real kind of one on one conversation with me. It was a life-changing conversation, he said “Why are you here?”, I was wearing eBay designer suits at that time in my internship on Wall Street so I stood out like “Who’s this guy?”, Way over-dressing, obviously way into fashion, so he sat me down and said “It doesn’t seem like you want to be a banker, you should explore fashion. We had a lot of long talks, he told me all about the custom clothing industry and he was the one who introduced me to Michael Andrews, he said, “Listen! I think you should go see this guy, Mike. He’s doing something exciting, he’s got an up and coming business and he’s an ex-lawyer who kind of fell into the business late in life and could probably help you understand a lot of it.
SRS: That’s awesome advice! He saw you and saw that maybe this was more interesting to you and led you to this role model who also made the switch from something they were probably supposed to do to something they actually loved to do.
DT: Exactly, that was sort of, I learned on Wall Street that I wasn’t cut out for it and I’ve made a great relationship with someone that would be a mentor to me so then I had to go meet Mike. After that internship, I became obsessed with this idea of a custom suit. I needed to have a custom suit! I needed to experience, I wanted to learn how it was done, all this, all that.
SRS: I know what you’re talking about. It’s like, once you’re at that certain level, you had nice brands that you got from eBay and then you kind of are enamored with this bespoke idea and how much better and perfect it is. Literally, you know bespoke has its own downfalls but you’re so focused and think this is the holy grail, right?
DT: Yeah. it’s kind of the top of the food chain in men’s wear world so I just needed to experience and learn more about it so I ended up selling everything I had. All of my Jordan sneakers, all of my Gucci dress shoes, all my designer clothes, everything I bought on eBay and thrift stores in New York or whatever, I sold it back on eBay and I had, maybe 3000 bucks which felt like a ton at the time. With that, I made an appointment with Michael Andrews, went in there to buy my first suit and I had the longest appointment in company history. I was there for like 6 hours, they bought me lunch and they bought me dinner and then we had drinks after that, all during my appointment where I was just asking a million questions.
SRS: That’s customer service, wow!
DT: That’s called having a nightmare client too! It was nice to meet him, answered all my questions and I ended up buying 4 suits that day, which was way more than I budgeted for one, but you only put 50% deposit down on your first, when they measure you, when you first do your appointment. So I convinced Mike to let me give him 2500 bucks, not quite the full 3000, just for the first half of the deposit. I said when I come back for my fittings, don’t worry, I’ll have the rest. So, that didn’t quite work out that way. Eventually, I came back weeks later for my fittings and I didn’t have the money. I figured I would hustle and get some money but it was the middle of basketball season, I hadn’t any time for a job.I went into my fitting, suits were awesome, I was thrilled but I had to break it to him that I don’t have the money so, eventually, I kind of went on a work release program and kind of helped Mike with a million different things around the shop just to sort of pay off my suits in that way.
SRS: You didn’t just walk away, that’s great. Sometimes, we make mistakes and assume we can do something and we don’t but then we just say “Hey, you know. how can I make it work?” and that’s a great way to do it.
DT: Yeah, in those situations, I mean, Mike was a great guy and we hit it off and I said “Listen, I’ll sweep the floors, get lunch for the tailors, prep the alterations and I’ll write the tickets and whatever else you need me to do so I was going to school for men’s wear design at the same time so it was a perfect kind of combo, learning the suit making while doing whatever needed to get done in the suit shop. Eventually, I moved into sales, helping clients with fabrics and design suits and eventually moved into fitting and learned the measuring and pattern making so, like I said, it wasn’t exactly a plan, I just was enamored at the idea and passionate about the process and the old school tradition of tailoring and so I went in to learn more than anything and came out with a lot of things learned but also an opportunity, you know, I think.
SRS: That’s awesome! You probably didn’t just learn clothing, you also learned sales, customer care, right? All these things, more than you kind of bargained for in your dreams in the beginning.
DT: Yeah, Michael Andrews at that time was like 4-5 people and we did everything together, we shared responsibility, whether it was answering the phone, meeting with clients or fittings. It was really, a business of that size, you can learn every side of it.
SRS: Okay, and how did you get into blogging?
DT: Blogging was again, another hobby, very much a hobby. I was kind of the, I played basketball in college and I lived in a house across the street from Columbia’s campus, between broadway and Amsterdam, there’s a fraternity road, they’re all frat houses, our basketball coach basically bought the frat house so that all our team members could live together , it was sort of the team building idea that became our house. We got very close to all my teammates and I was always sort of into fashion even back then, again, buying stuff on eBay, doing online research, you know how that goes so I was sort of like “The Style Guy” on the basketball team.
SRS: People come up to you and ask you like “Hey does this work?/ Does this suit work?”. That’s the same thing, I went to made to measure appointments with people to make sure they got the right thing.
DT: Yeah, guys were looking for advice. Like I said, it was probably good timing, fashion was becoming more mainstream especially for men. Athletes look to Lebron James and these guys they started dressing better so naturally, my teammates wanted to follow in those guys’ footsteps, all the influencers and the entertainers were dressing well and starting to care about fashion and so I became the guy for all of those questions. “We’re going out on Saturday night, what should I wear?” or “Can you help me pick out an outfit?” or “I just got some money for my birthday, can you help me come shopping?”. Eventually, I just said “Guys, I can’t come to like six of your rooms on a Saturday night, I’m just going to write this stuff down, I’m just going to start a blog. These simple tips I’m giving you, I’m just going to write them down.” If you’re going here, wear this. If you’re looking to shop for this, look out for this and this. It was pretty simple at the time.
SRS: At what time did it turn into a business?
DT: It kind of turned into a business gradually over time. Our first sort of business was when we started selling ads. That was when I first started to make money, I would get side things like a little styling thing or speaking at an event. Very small paydays, small gigs. When we started site advertising, it seemed like something we could scale.
SRS: Something I noticed or I was always wondering about is that you had a lot of rebrands like first you were the Style blogger, TSP men, Articles of Style, what was the rationale behind that?
DT: We started as The Style Blogger which was a great URL and did really well for us with SEO and that kind of stuff. I liked the name style blogger for a long time, it really nailed what we were doing. I think our first rebrand was actually to get away from the word “blogger”, I think it became, what we were doing was not really blogging. We always had this vision of doing something greater and getting into eventually the product space, luxury branding space and “blogger” seemed very colloquial, very casual.
SRS: I know, when you tell people, “Oh, you’re a blogger.” and they think like, you’re someone who casually, in their spare time, writes about their outfit which is not at all true. On the one hand, it’s good because people don’t see the potential in it which just makes more space for us, on the other hand, it’s sometimes disrespectful and people are like, “So, what’s your real job?” and you tell them well, this is what I do and they look at you like “Are you nuts?”
DT: That is blogging, though. I think what we do is not blogging, you know. If you look at the vast majority of bloggers, it’s like an Instagram, it’s a personal diary and you’re called Gentleman’s Gazette and that’s much more a name of a newspaper, right? For us, we wanted to go Articles of Style because we’re creating editorials and articles, so the first rebrand was really that. It was really about telling people I run a blog and they say “Oh, so do I and so does my mom.”, you know and it really didn’t have, didn’t really explain what we’re doing. Especially from a photography and editorial standpoint and now with products, we have that problem now. We’re in a very interesting place where we’re about to make a big shift again, hopefully not another rebrand, we definitely don’t need another one of those.
SRS: Articles of Style works, it’s articles in terms of posts, articles in terms of items, I think it works well.
DT: Yeah, so we went from Style Blogger to TSB men to sort of get away from “blogger” and then TSB men, no one really knows what it meant and then it was back to the Style Blogger to explain it and then you can say it on the phone. I would say like “Yeah, I’m with TSB men” and “Who?/What? TBS?”, so that didn’t really have that ring you know, and then the most recent Articles of Style was because mainly, now we have the products so blogger, TSB men doesn’t work but we do articles, written articles and we also do articles of clothing so you know, we’re happy with that name and I think we’re ready for a big shift again, well, we’ll talk about that later.
SRS: Okay, alright. So you mentioned advertising, we talked a little about it but obviously you don’t like it in print and didn’t want to do that yourself but having a team, it’s not free, you have to pay, pay for your website, you need to make money and you came up with products and wanted to create your own product, did you experience a backlash from people saying “Hey, now you’re just going to talk about your own stuff and you totally lose credibility”?
DT: Yeah! We definitely heard that! I mean, people don’t like change you know, anytime you make a big shift like that, you’re going to get a lot of backlashes, I was personally concerned about it for exactly that reason, we threw that back and forth, whether having out own products makes us inherently biased because now, we’re only going to be talking about our own products, we’re not reviewing others but at the end of the day, it’s about the user experience. Are you creating a better user experience and brand for someone or are you not? I mean, to me, being able to participate and buy the products from someone who’s telling you how to wear them, showing you where they’re made, full transparency and being able to participate in editorial is a more valuable customer experience or reader experience than not selling products but selling branded advertisements that you can’t participate with, that isn’t your actual message and it’s just kind of this weird, washed down message brought to you by such and such. So, to answer your question, you’re not really unbiased either way, whether you’re selling a product or selling an ad, there’s an agenda there somewhere right? SO you might as well make it the original reason that you started, trying to help guys, trying to advise them on building wardrobes and buying the right things, why not just do that for them?
SRS: How long was this time period from inception to actual offering?
DT: Well, we launched in October last year. We started our first, like test clients, we were developing for probably a year and a half before then. It took a while because our process is unique, as a new client, we send you a basted, fitting garment that’s already custom-made for you. Two sides of it is, we have to get the proper information from the client for the try on and we also need the factory that could turn around the try on in ten days or so, ship direct to customer and that’s tied to our online fitting platform, where you upload photos of yourself and answer questions and then we send, do the fitting digitally, where we’re reviewing these photos. So, it’s a pretty intensive process, it’s not something that can be created overnight. It’s something we’re still refining, there’s still little things that we can always be improving and just the start up process, you know.
SRS: What would you say in the entire process, what were the biggest challenges that you had to overcome?
DT: There’s a lot! (laughs) First, you have to have a workshop with incredible attention to detail, we are giving them up to 1/8 of increments and if they don’t nail the fitting garment and the final garment, then our fitting process is out the window. Second was timing, since we’re doing an extra fitting, we needed to be able to turn that around fast, guys don’t want to wait too long for their garments. I think that we still have to do is the user interface, that’s something that right now, drives me nuts. We’re working with a very basic, start up, a kind of beta version of the actual technology that wee need to do this properly and that, I think is probably the biggest area of growth, we’re really nailing the manufacturing, the fitting process right now but it’s a little bit more cumbersome than it should be for the front end user.
SRS: Developing always takes longer and cost more, right?
DT: It’s unbelievable, unbelievable! It’s constant over promised and under delivered. Every time we go onto one of these projects, let’s have twice as much time and twice as much money than they quote us and then let’s expect to get three-quarters of the features we’re asking for. So, this whole time, we’ve been boot strapping this whole thing too, we’ve been using the money we’re making to build and taking very small friends and family investments this whole time, so it’s basically a shoestring budget up to today and now, we’ve proven the concept. That was kind of the hardest part, was can you prove that people will buy this? Can you prove that you can actually do these fittings from people’s homes? A bunch of other things, we’ve proven the concept, now we’re bringing this to bigger players in this business and say listen, we have something special here, but we need to build this the right way. It need to be very innovative, user-friendly, and right now, it’s a blog with this weird back end so, again, it’s constant iteration and it’s time for us to spend some real money to make a real digital product.
SRS: That’s amazing! You can find people who believe in you too, that’s the hard part, right? If people give you money, they want to see results, they may like the idea of clothing but at the end of the day they want to see they want to see a return of investment and if you are at the point now, where you can show that, that’s pretty awesome!
DT: Yeah, the good news is that we’ve proven that there’s money to be made but also, our clients are thrilled, you know, in our pitch deck, a big part of it is, we’ve tested this with a handful of guys and they love their product. We get messages from guys that never had such a great experience buying online and that’s what we’re pitching to our investors. This is a new, resolving the fitting problem of online. Right now, it’s only for custom products but this could be applied, there’s no reason down the road we can’t go, we can start producing casual wear as well. We already have the guy’s entire measurement profile so we want to be called a one-stop shop for all these men’s wear needs.When you meet with investors, they have some tough questions and you have to stand behind what you do and have the right answers but it’s a process, it’s a constant grind.
SRS: You know, you mentioned the versatility of Articles of Style, I was curious to know if somebody would come to you and say “Hey Dan, I need a bare bones wardrobe, what would this wardrobe look like from Articles of Style? What pieces would it include?
DT: It would start with a dark suit, probably a navy or a charcoal gray suit and a white oxford shirt. There are certain basics that we don’t sell like a straight leg pair of jeans, a slim pair of jeans, penny loafers and captoes. People think I’m like really forward thinking on these things. You know, it’s really classic American stuff, it’s really just about the right ones, the right outfit, and the right fabrics so, our starter package I would say would be a tailored dark suit, a white oxford shirt, and a trim top coat and if that suit’s a three piece, you can already mix and match that a little bit, you know and that’s I would like to start guys slow and train them and say “Listen, don’t just think of this as a suit, think of it as a trouser, as a sport coat, as a layering piece, the top coat can be worn with or without the suit. So, the wardrobe can go as deep as the guy wants but the key is just curating it the right way so he’s getting the most out of his purchase.
SRS: For his kind of needs, okay.
DT: It depends on the guy too, so much of it is personal. Once of our clients, we have a client who sells hose for a living, garden hose. He’s not a guy to be wearing suits, he’s not a suit and tie guy but he bought a tweed suit that he can wear a million different ways so for him, his capsule wardrobe is something very different than what wall street banker guy would be so to properly answer your question, I think we have to take a step back and say “What are your goals?” and that’s a service we provide, we get to know our clients and say you know, do you have an event coming up? A wedding? Are you a suit and tie everyday kind of guy? What message are you trying to send? What’s already in your closet that you like? It’s a very personalized thing, I think.
SRS: I know, it’s the same approach that we do. When people ask about certain ties, I say you know, what do you look like? What’s the surrounding? And then you can make a much better recommendation and I think that provides better value to our customer.
SRS: Okay, Necktie or Bow tie?
DT: Necktie for sure. No offense, I love your bow tie,
SRS: No, that’s certainly fine. Belts or suspenders?
DT: Side adjusters.
SRS: Very good! Undershirt or no undershirt?
DT: No undershirt.
SRS: Something that we get asked very often is about style mistakes, what would you say is your pet peeve in terms of style mistakes?
DT: I think trying too hard which is difficult because I think everyone goes through that, you know, myself included for sure. There are many pictures of me online of that phase, or those phases but I think when guys first get into fashion, they want to wear this badge that tells people that they’re into fashion. It can be a little too much, you see that a lot with like, over accessorizing or too many patterns or I think if you’re not comfortable wearing something yet, you should probably wait til you get there. I always say that getting dressed is a skill, it’s a very valuable skill, it can bring things your way that you can’t predict but like any other skill, you can get better at it and the way you get better at it is just with practice. The more you practice and get people’s feedback, the better you become and usually, as you do it more and more, you begin doing less. So, a kind of “eeeehh” moment for me is seeing a guy who’s new to fashion, who;s really trying to let everyone know that he’s really into it and just trying to do a little too much.
SRS: What would you say is the best piece of advice that has ever been given to you?
DT: My mother always told me, don’t do something that’s going to cause you to look over your shoulder so I think the message there is, to be honest, to be upfront and not try to hide things from people.
SRS: That’s a good approach. And then, last final question, What would be a thing that most of your fans and readers would be surprised to learn about you?
DT: That I like to go back to the farm and live a much simpler life. (laughs) It’s one of the things that bothers me, there’s so much misconception online, I mean, we put ourselves out there and it’s kind of on people to make of it what they wish. So maybe it’s that I’m a down to earth person, I think a lot of people think I’m like this guy who thinks his **** don’t stink and like he’s whatever, whatever, when really I’m just trying to help people and create a good brand.
SRS: Yeah, you grew up in a small town right?And you’re just like, you’re not this stilted, arrogant guy. You’re just a regular, normal guy and that makes you great!
DT: Yeah, you take pictures of yourself and you put them online and you say that’s good fashion. Obviously, you open yourself up to a lot of ridicule, to a lot of assumptions to yourself. I’m just kind of a regular guy, a small town guy, just grinding, trying to build a brand.
SRS: Absolutely. Like I said, it’s always easy to criticize and when you do something, you will always have people who say “Oh, this is bad or not good or how can you?” but they are not the ones doing stuff and it’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. What I could see as a colleague, you’ve done great work, your articles are in depth, your photography is good and I hope that this new system will really take off and help bring more quality to men in general and more value. I can see it, I can see the concept and now let’s hope it’ll all work out well and investors see it and I’m sure there will be struggles but at the end of the day, I hope it’ll work out.
DT: Thank you, Raphael, I appreciate that. Thanks for having me too, it was nice to answer some real questions.
SRS: Yeah, I think that’s good and I hope our readers appreciate it too. If you want to check out Dan’s website, head over to Articles of Style, here. It’s definitely worth the read and you should probably go find it.