Pranav Vora’s mother worked in a department store for much of his childhood, and she often would bring home shirts for her son from the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. Unfortunately, he was rather slender in build, which left hems hanging off his shoulders, sleeves falling over his hands and far too much fabric ballooning on his sides. Nothing seemed to fit.
Vora still has that slender build, and when no shirtmaker addressed the problem, he set out to find a solution.
“Since the rise of the shopping mall, mass brands have tried to make these ready-to-wear garments that can fit a large number of people,” said Vora, who in December 2009 launched Hugh & Crye, a custom-fit dress shirt designer in Washington. “As a result, men developed a sense of fit that was entirely based on whether they could get it on, button it and tuck it in. If so, it fit. But I think many guys are getting smarter about how clothes should fit.”
He explained that most clothing firms create a medium-size garment and then simply scale down linearly to a small and scale up to a large and then up to an extra large. That leaves slimmer men with too much fabric around the abdomen, shoulders and sleeves — unless, of course, they pay a hefty premium to have shirts individually tailored. Vora instead envisioned a sizing chart with two body types (lean and broad) on one axis and three height levels (short, average and tall) on the other. He later added another body type (skinny), creating a total of nine sizes based on the two factors.
After taking a couple of basic sewing and pattern-making classes, Vora dropped his consulting job in Washington and bootstrapped the launch of Hugh & Crye. Through those classes, he found several highly trained patternmakers who helped him fine-tune the design, and he later decided to outsource the manufacturing to a firm in India.
“Early on, I had hoped to manufacture in the United States,” Vora said. “But it was just too expensive, especially while we were bootstrapping and weren’t sure how much customers would really pay for the shirts.”
In April 2010, Vora brought on an intern, Phillip Soriano, who later quit his job with an accounting firm to join Vora full time. In the two years since launching their original shirts, the pair have released three product lines, opened a showroom in Georgetown and turned Hugh & Crye into a profitable enterprise. The bulk of their marketing efforts have been through word-of-mouth promotion, and about 95 percent of their sales take place online at www.hughandcrye.com.
Along with the company’s unique approach to fit, Vora and Soriano try to set their firm apart by delivering a personal online shopping experience, penning thank you notes to each customer who makes purchases online. They also spend a great deal of time naming each new shirt to “make sure it’s not just another blue dress shirt hanging in guys’ closets,” Soriano said. For instance, their latest collections include the Barack, the Gordon Gecko, the Lil League Gum and the Renegade Groomsmen.
In response to steadily climbing demand, the pair have started approaching angel investors in search of the company’s first round of outside funding. They are also considering expanding their size chart and product line to include sports jackets and other men’s apparel.
And as for branching out to include women’s products, Vora wouldn’t rule out the possibility, but says it’s not going to happen any time soon.
“It’s tempting. They’re fantastic buyers,” he said. “But we just don’t know enough about that side of the market yet.”