Sure, the economy is still on a relatively slow mend, but the atmosphere is certainly inviting for bright, driven entrepreneurs to start a business and create a market for themselves. And one such market that is thriving is within the realm of fashion. More and more people are tapping into their creative genius, eliminating the middle man, and taking their product directly to the consumer. Aided by the expansive world of the Internet, small business owners are taking advantage of the renewed interest in men’s fashion. And they are offering incredibly stylish, seriously affordable merchandise for the discerning gentleman that yearns for sartorial refinement, but may not want to drop $200.00 on a pocket square or $300.00 on a tie bar. Recently, I have had the pleasure of speaking with one such small business, Modern Renaissance Man, about a wide array of gentlemanly accessories currently available on their Etsy website. Created by Tracy and Mike Xavier, accessories from Modern Renaissance Man offer an interesting spin on classic accoutrements. Here is how our conversation went.
The Gentlemen’s Standard: What inspired you to start your own business? Why did you select men’s accessories as a product to offer?
Tracy Xavier: My husband and I started this business because we felt that there were gaps in the market not being met by retailers. The trend was showing a more receptive attitude towards individual style and the acceptance of color. Television programs such as Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and Deadwood were getting the attention of men and the media. These shows really highlighted men’s fashion history. There appeared to be a drought in men’s style for so long; it was refreshing to see guys getting in the game again.
TGS: Why did you choose the name: Modern Renaissance Man?
TX: It speaks to our vision of a contemporary gentleman: A person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas. Our view of a modern renaissance man was a man who embraces all of the arts, science, music, and food; basically, a well-rounded fellow that is true to himself. Regarding fashion:
“Create your own visual style…let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.” – Orson Welles
TGS: How long does it take to procure the necessary materials before you start working on an item? From start to finish, how long does it take to produce any particular item?
TX: We have a mix of products for men. The vintage tie bars, cuff links, etc.; it is a matter of always scouting resources, looking for interesting designs, and ensuring product is in good condition. So it is an ongoing process. We grab them when we see them and add them to the store. The handcrafted products, like reinvented mag TAKS and leather brooches, we work on getting the elements ready when we can work them into my schedule. And when the creative mood hits, usually on the weekends, we crank them out.
TX: I think in general, designs of the past really offered a lot of uniqueness as well as attention to detail. I really appreciate how accessories can play a part in starting fun and interesting conversations. A gentleman is wearing a tie bar at a social gathering, and the tie bar has a little icon attached. Someone says, “What is that on your tie bar?” Maybe it is a little bulldog with a fireman’s cap on its head, or it is an actual brass civil war button. Well, let the conversation begin.
TGS: What are some of the challenges of running your own business?
TX: For one – losing access to our kitchen table, and incorporating some photography time into our schedule. We understand the importance of good photography, so attention need to be paid to the details. We do our photos in natural light, and we also utilize a lightbox when needed. We take the time to try to match up elements of silk and suit fabric in the shots to give the customers an idea of the versatility and how the piece can work well with their wardrobe. Simple put…not enough hours in a day.
TX: The choice to use Etsy was based on the time that they have been in the e-commerce marketplace, the Google search effectiveness, and the ease of setting up a shop. I had ordered products on Etsy and was very impressed with the customer service and ease of shopping from a consumer perspective.
TGS: How difficult is it maintaining an online store?
TX: The tools that Etsy offers are really intuitive and very easy to use. I love the photography aspect of the store. I have to admit that shooting all of the merchandise is very time-consuming, but is crucial in showing the pieces in an environment of style and color to aid in the experience of shopping online. While it is time-consuming, it also makes for some fun Saturday mornings playing guy stylist with the hubby in picking out the right colors and fabrics to use in the shoot with the accessories.
TGS: What type of camera do you use?
TX: That would be a Sony Alpha A100 DSLR
TGS: How do you advertise?
TX: We do our best to reach out to the market with Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. I have created several boards for the gentleman market covering tie bars, cuff links, men’s grooming matters, men’s Etsy finds and one of my favorites…men’s fashion history – always good for a good chuckle.
TGS: What type of gentleman purchases your products?
TX: Surprisingly, it has turned out to be a mix of men and women. Most of our products are suited for men that wear suits. However, knowing that some gentlemen want to add a bit of style, but do not have the everyday need to wear a suit. That is why our mag TAKS and pocket scarves are doing quite well. It allows the non-suit fellows to still add a bit of interest and style to their apparel by wearing a sports jacket even with their jeans and add some great color and print to the pocket or lapel.
TGS: What type of response have you received to your products?
TX: We have enjoyed quite a few re-orders. Based on my men’s Pinterest boards, the interest in the type of accessories as well as the reinventing of products that are more suited to men’s lifestyles today, seems to be making sense and catching on. It is one thing to appreciate a concept with prices that are really out of reach for most, and another to find a resource like Modern Renaissance Man that offers these types of product that fit most budgets. The bottom line is: we want men to have a variety of great style items and wear and enjoy them.
TX: I would say it is a combination of the vintage tie bars and the new mag TAKS. Favorite, they are all such special finds. I am falling in love with the leather brooches and have some really fun new designs in the pipeline.
TGS: The leather brooches really caught my eye. What inspires the designs and color?
TX: Nature, natural shapes. We go through a process with our leather flower layers to create a natural curving of the petals and tinting of the edges to try to recreate a natural look. We like to mix macho tobacco color leathers with a pop of color just to make it fun and fit well with the mix of colors and textures in the clothing that they will be worn with.
TGS: But, can a gentleman really wear a brooch?
TX: Absolutely. I think that the brooch offers a bit of versatility that men have when they want to dandy things up. There is really such a variety of men’s needs. For the guy that is really not into suits, but still wants to embrace his style. Go for the denim jeans with either a great t-shirt or button down shirt. A sport jacket is also an option. For accessories: Either a pocket scarf for a bit of color and pattern or a lapel pin (Mag Tak or brooch). For the gentlemen that love suits; try a tie bar or Mag Tak with a pocket scarf for a killer double dose of style. The mission is: Add a bit of style – always.
TX: We utilize a combination of vintage rolled hem scarves when we run across some gems in our hunt. Some are actually printed, vintage necktie fabric that we add contrast thread stitching to so that they have a great, fun finished edge.
TGS: Do you have any plans for expansion?
TX: Funny you ask. We are going to be launching a mag TAKS line for women, to be worn as a lapel pin and to use with scarves…reinventing the scarf clip…stay tuned.
TGS: Why do you think there has been a resurgence of interest in menswear?
TX: I think it all started with one of my favorite shows – Mad Men. That was the point of overall awareness. Then came Boardwalk empire that really pushed it over the top. So for about 30 years, for some reason, things were a bit boring and generic. When you look back at men’s fashion history, the gentleman gave quite a bit of attention to their attire. Good to see it appreciated. Plus the fact that I think that men are understanding that it really serves them on so many fronts to dress well. It makes them feel good and feel successful. And women really love it.
TGS: The Internet has made it possible for small independent companies to carve out a viable market for themselves. Why should a consumer shop with a smaller company rather than an established, larger company?
TX: Customers service number one. Also, the larger companies seem to hold back on creativity and innovation which creates the perfect environment for the small independent companies to succeed. For a customer that really is looking to reflect their personality and unique take on fashion, it is the perfect avenue to shop.
TGS: Is there anything you would like to say in closing?
TX: Thank you so much for the opportunity to share our story as well as our passion for creating doable men’s accessories. We really feel lucky that we have discovered something is great fun for us, and seems to be enjoyed by the dapper gents and ladies as well. We have created a new section in our store, so that men can do a bit of creative shopping for their gals.
For more details, please visit Modern Renaissance Man for more information.