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Todd Shelton says bringing production back home has increased the quality of his luxury menswear

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Todd Shelton: “Manufacturing has an image problem in this country.”
Todd Shelton: “Manufacturing has an image problem in this country.” - ()

Todd Shelton is all about setting higher standards and standing out from a crowd.

So when he wasn't getting the quality or control over his luxury menswear line that he desired, he knew it was time to make a change.

“We were using the same production model as other brands — initially outsourcing to Asia and then later re-shoring to U.S. manufacturers,” Shelton said.

“But brands that commit to manufacturing have a higher-end vision for their product and their company.”

So Shelton — founder, CEO and designer of the Todd Shelton brand — decided to take control of his supply chain in 2011 and build a factory in East Rutherford.

It was a three-year project that put the brakes on the company’s growth.

“We didn’t understand how big of a project manufacturing was going to be and how it was going to defer resources away from things such as marketing and branding,” Shelton said.

“It was a harsh reality because our momentum slowed, but so much was happening behind the scenes.”

This year, the Todd Shelton brand is back — perhaps better than ever.

“With that big rock moved into place, we’re making a much more consistent and efficient luxury product than ever before,” he said.

The brand certainly has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2002 in Shelton’s Jersey City apartment.

“The idea behind our custom-fit, direct-to-consumer business model is to enter into long-term relationships with our clients,” Shelton said. “We’re willing to go through some heavy lifting for that.”

Priced at $175 for shirts and $195 for jeans, Shelton recognizes his market is quite niche.

“Since we’re direct-to-consumer, there’s a certain level of service that we’re offering,” he said.

“Since we’re made in America, there’s craftsmanship associated with our product. We’re not looking to compete on price or scale. We provide special experiences for our customers and we need to find guys that appreciate that.

“Our clothes are for the high-profile man that wants to reduce chaos in his life.”

Not so much for Shelton — if anything, he just made his life slightly more complicated.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Over 98 percent of fashion brands don’t manufacture their own clothing,” Shelton said. “If you’re just designing a product and letting someone else make it for you, you’re acting like a marketing company.

“No brand has chosen to manufacture a complete line in the U.S. and exclusively sell direct-to-consumer. We’re one of a kind in the U.S.”

It’s a move Shelton admits he wasn’t entirely sure about.

“There was a time when I was willing to relocate the brand since L.A. still has the strongest infrastructure for American apparel manufacturing,” he said.

But established business relationships — and Shelton’s eagerness to establish a New Jersey garment district — kept him here.

“Manufacturing has an image problem in this country,” he said. “It’s up to the government to step in and create change.

“We need the government to invest in and help set up strong infrastructure in a consolidated area to send a message to New York City.”

The garment district in New York City, Shelton said, is getting priced out and relocating to Brooklyn or Queens.

“Is New Jersey trying to court these companies? We make perfect sense here,” Shelton said. “We’re just as far as Brooklyn or Queens, we’re less pricey, and we have enough industry here to rally support — if we can get the government involved.”

Creating a New Jersey garment district is simply one of Shelton’s ambitions.

On track to double last year’s sales, Shelton hopes his custom fit clothes will be America’s answer to European luxury brands — and also the answer to some of retail’s biggest woes.

“Retail stores may buy two of each garment in each size,” he said. “Once they sell out of that, they’re stuck with sizes that don’t sell.”

Shelton’s concept takes the burdens of inventory off of the store by sending Fit Kits to each retail location.

“Our Fit Kit allows us not to have any inventory in a store, but the store can make a sale and we ship the garment within 10 days to the customer.

“It’s the future of boutique retail.”

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

Biz in brief

Company: Todd Shelton
Founded: 2002
Headquarters: East Rutherford
Employees: Nine
One more thing: Shelton knew at age 14 that he wanted to start a men’s clothing line after perusing a J.Crew catalog. So after majoring in retail and consumer science at the University of Tennessee, he worked at a catalog house in Weehawken while building his own personal brand.

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