We caught up with co-founder and CEO of Knot Standard, John Ballay and how Dubai inspired him to bring custom made suits stateside and why trusting your intuition is key to a successful business.
Where did you see a void in menswear and what helped you decide to start Knot Standard?
It seemed strange that for all the brands and luxury services in the United States, we somehow lacked access to custom clothing and custom tailors. In 2008, I moved from New York to Dubai to work for a government investment fund, and I met my co-founder Matthew Mueller, who had spent over a decade in tech startups. During our time in Dubai, there were dozens of old-world custom tailor shops, modeled after shops in Europe and Asia. When friends and family visited Dubai, we would take them to these shops that hosted clients and made custom clothes in a matter of days – all receiving incredible feedback. The customers absolutely loved how they felt when the clothes were delivered, to have something completely custom at a reasonable price. It seemed an easy conclusion to build this out as an experience for the U.S. market, and that was the seed that kicked off Knot Standard.
Describe the role technology plays in fashion and specifically Knot Standard.
On the fashion technology front, it is helpful to break things down into two different areas of need. First, you have the consumer-facing technology, which is what we see in the news – technology that improves the customer experience while interacting with the brand. Second, you have the back-of-house supply chain aspect of the business, where technology helps the business execute and deliver product. At Knot Standard, it was in the supply chain where technology first made the biggest impact for us.
With a mass customization on-demand business model, advanced production technology for Knot Standard is a “need to have” instead of a “nice to have.” Early in the inception of the business, we built out digital pattern algorithms that linked to an electronic digital cutting process to make the custom shirts, suits and blazers. Without this, the business would not have had the opportunity to scale.
With this process in motion, over the last three years we have been focused heavily on the consumer-facing technology. This spring, we launched the Knot Standard Style Wall in all showrooms, an interactive screen experience that provides inspiration, past order details and customization options in a visual way. This is where most technology is integrating into fashion – with the goal of acquiring, keeping and growing customers.
What have you learned from launching your company and what is something you wish you had known at the beginning?
I buy into the school of thought that no business problems are new and unique, and at some point, everyone has seen most business problems before. However, that comes with a large caveat when you cross into new territories with the business model, and for us, much of Knot Standard’s made-to-order, no-inventory attributes were new pathways for the industry. During some of the early stages of this growth, we trusted outside advice more than our internal instincts – and the path to solutions (specifically on production) would have been shorter had we followed our own intuitions.
Describe the feeling you had when you put on your first custom made suit and how does Knot Standard bring that to people?
I remember my first custom suit was made from this gunmetal grey fabric that I chose with the help of one of my coworkers at a custom shop in Dubai. I also had a white custom shirt made to go with it and putting it on was this irreplaceable “a-ha” moment that changed the trajectory of the next 10 years of my life. The drive to share that same experience with everyone else is why we do what we do.
What is your wind-down routine and how does sleep affect your work life?
I love my early morning routine and will protect it at any cost, and obviously the biggest factor into a successful launch of the morning routine is a full night’s sleep the night before. So, to get personal, I will share some of the in-home routine elements that help me each day. Every night, I am going for the magic number of 6.5 hours; if I cheat it, my AM routine is knocked off its axis, which will happen at least once a week. During the evening wind-down, I have a few (mildly obsessive) things that I do each night: I preload the coffee machine, lay out each piece of my workout clothes (socks and shoes included) and move my phone to its charger outside the room and face down on silent. I then stretch for 60 seconds and jump into bed for 10 minutes of Kindle reading (not on the iPad, which has limitless distracting apps), and I am out.
What city do you find you sleep best in and why?
No doubt Miami. Anytime I am there, the combination of hot weather and outdoor activities always leads to a heavily air-conditioned bedroom, and it helps massively that the city is light on noise pollution when it’s time to sleep.
What does the future of Knot Standard look like?
Our core mission is to help men be better tomorrow than they were today and to facilitate one piece of that equation by helping with their outward appearance in their daily wardrobe. We are looking to help on the path to personal improvement – whether that is striving for a promotion, being a better dad, boss or colleague or just looking to feel better about his wardrobe each day. Therefore, our biggest goal is to help as many customers access our product as possible. Showroom expansion is our top priority – we’re planning a heavy brick-and-mortar roll-out over the next several years to reach more customers in more cities. In addition to new showroom openings, we’re exploring partnerships with like-minded brands to expand our reach at a local and national level, helping more customers learn about the brand. We are also working hard to make it easy for our repeat customers to re-order on the go, when there is no time to visit a showroom. All of this ladders back to our mission to interact with customers and help them each and every day.
Do you have any advice to other entrepreneurs starting out?
Often overlooked is that entrepreneurship as a career pathway is a family decision, as the majority of business outcomes will be a 5- to 10-year quest. Ensure you have the right mindset in place personally and from your significant other to give your business a decade of your heart and time – great things exist on the backside of these efforts.