You need to be constantly keeping up with what your competitors are doing. Make sure they’re not implementing new products and services that are relevant in your industry before you do. I personally refuse to be outworked by my competitors — I even go as far as driving past one of my main, local competitors every day to and from work. If their lights are on when I go to work, I make sure to leave earlier the next morning. If when I’m driving home after work and they’re still there, I turn around and go back to my shop to put in more hours.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Richards Jr. He was born and raised in Nashville, Tenn., where he attended Brentwood Academy. He went on to receive a degree in Business Management from the University of Mississippi, and, after graduation, moved back to Nashville to work for his family’s company, Richards & Richards Office Records Management.
From an early age, Richards was passionate about men’s fashion and suiting, in particular, and always dreamt of creating a clothing line. After three years of working in sales for his family’s business, Richards decided to follow his passion by starting his own bespoke clothing company. He apprenticed under custom tailor Johnny McCutcheon in Athens, Ga. until he was ready to venture out on his own.
After a year of extensive training, he founded Richards Bespoke. Richards has grown the company into one of the most respected men’s fashion brands in Tennessee, winning numerous awards and obtaining some of Tennessee’s highest-profile clients, as well as some of the most known celebrities around the world including Patrick Mahomes, Tua Tagovailoa, and A.J. Brown.
Richards has also been recognized on a national level for designing and creating Patrick Mahomes’ ensemble for the 2019 NFL Honors when Mahomes received the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Since then, Richards has continued to be Mahomes’ personal clothier, along with other known athletes and celebrities. Richards was also recently featured in Sports Illustrated for creating Tua Tagovailoa’s 2020 NFL Draft suit, which is one of the most well-known draft day outfits due to the custom pictures of his late grandparents on the inside of his jacket. When Tagovailoa was drafted fifth overall pick, he flashed the inside of his jacket on live TV.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been passionate about men’s fashion — suiting in particular. Since I was 5 years old, I’ve always looked for any excuse to wear a suit. Something about wearing one gave me confidence that nothing else ever did.
I grew up working summers in a family business (completely unrelated to fashion) here in Nashville and after I graduated college, I moved back to town to work full-time in sales. I was required to wear a suit every day and being 23 years old on a very tight budget, I did what most guys my age would do — purchase cheap suits off-the-rack and had them tailored. These suits were of poor quality and wouldn’t last more than a year, thus forcing me to start the process over again. One year, I received a nice tax return check (before actually realizing that receiving a tax return check wasn’t in fact a bonus from the IRS, but that I had overpaid…) and decided to buy my first custom suit. I fell in love with the process of picking out my own fabrics, selecting design options such as lining, buttons, etc., and purchasing something that was fit to my measurements and no one else’s.
Fast forward a few years, I realized I wasn’t happy with how my life was going and knew I needed a change career-wise. I had a mentor that asked me a simple question: “What is it in life that you would genuinely enjoy doing every day that you knew you could do better than most people?” The answer was custom clothing. I was introduced to someone who started their own custom clothing company in Athens, GA and after apprenticing under him for a little less than a year, I founded Richards Bespoke.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
Last year, my client’s wife reached out and said her son had been interviewing for jobs over the next few months and once he was hired, he wanted to save up for a custom suit like his dad’s. She explained how he loved men’s suiting (particularly the 1920’s era) but has always had a hard time finding things that fit him off-the-rack due to his unique body size. Fast forward about a year later, she reaches back out to inform me he has saved up enough for a suit. When we met to get his measurements/design everything, I realized just how hard it was for him to find anything off-the-rack.
He was born with Down Syndrome and is 48” tall, has a 42” chest, and his neck is 18.5”. The beauty of my business is we can literally fit anyone. After taking his measurements, we started to pick out fabrics and begin the design process. I’ve never experienced so much joy when assisting a client with picking out a suit. He had an eye for style and color coordinating that I’ve never seen before. After his suit was created and he came in for the final fitting, he couldn’t stop smiling ear to ear.
For the first time in his life, he was able to feel as confident as possible wearing something that was made specifically for him. I posted on social media the picture of him in his suit smiling and it went viral. It was shared tens of thousands of times, viewed by millions, and commented on more than I could count. I never intended for this story to go viral to boost my business, I simply wanted people to know that no matter what their circumstances were, you can still feel confident in what you wear that’s made for you. His story is one I’ll never forget.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on in my career, I made a suit for a client and friend who was an ex-college football player that was 6’8”/400lbs. When taking his measurements, I mistakenly put his finished bicep measurement as 22” instead of his body bicep measurement being 22”. I was already nervous for him to try everything on because this was my first time making a suit for someone that size. After he put on the jacket, everything seemed to fit perfectly until I noticed his jacket arms were skintight…. Thankfully he understood and was patient with us having to remake the sleeves. Mistakes haven’t always been funny, but regardless, it helped me realize early on how meticulous I have to be when taking someone’s measurements.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’ve made suits for people on all journeys of life. From NFL MVP’s, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Country Music Hall of Famers, four-year-old groomsmen, everyday business people, and everyone in between — it doesn’t matter their age, size, background, etc., we can fit anyone that walks through our doors looking to purchase something specifically made for them.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Never get comfortable with how well your business might be doing. The moment you do, I can guarantee your competitors will have been putting in more work than you.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
For the past several years, I have volunteered at numerous high schools in Middle Tennessee through Junior Achievement to speak about my journey through entrepreneurship. I also taught a class at a local high school in Nashville for an entire semester where high schoolers start actual companies and learn how to grow and scale these companies throughout the year.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can’t” — Jerry Rice
Starting your own business can be incredibly lonely. If people don’t understand the sacrifices you’re making on a daily basis and ridicule you for spending so much time on your business, they’ll soon understand why you put in so much work before so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor later.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
Without going into too much detail, I can say that 3D measuring and design is at the forefront.
Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Be Passionate
· If you’re not passionate about your business, you’ll inevitably burn out. For me personally, I never imagined I would ever start my own business and if it weren’t for my burning passion for this industry, I wouldn’t put in half the work.
2. Be a Step Ahead of Your Competitors
· You need to be constantly keeping up with what your competitors are doing. Make sure they’re not implementing new products and services that are relevant in your industry before you do. I personally refuse to be outworked by my competitors — I even go as far as driving past one of my main, local competitors every day to and from work. If their lights are on when I go to work, I make sure to leave earlier the next morning. If when I’m driving home after work and they’re still there, I turn around and go back to my shop to put in more hours.
3. Constantly Study Your Craft and Ask Questions
· I make it a point to learn at least one new thing about the fashion industry every day. I also ask my mentors or non-competitors questions as much as possible to better understand how to grow and scale my business. Never have the impression you know everything… because you don’t and you won’t.
4. Make Sacrifices
· I’ve made countless sacrifices since starting my business. Understand that you’ll need to sacrifice time with loved ones, going out with friends, and just about everything else that keeps you from putting in more work on your craft. If your family and friends can’t accept the fact that you’re trying to build something and will have to make sacrifices, then they’re not fully supporting you throughout your journey.
5. Leave Your Pride Aside
· Many entrepreneurs are too fixated on what other people think about them and their business. They want to make it appear like their business is successful from the beginning, so others won’t question why it is they took a leap to start their own business. When I first started Richards Bespoke, I wasn’t making nearly enough money to survive on, so I had to find other sources of income. I drove Uber for over a year and a half because it was the only job that I could create my own schedule around building my business. I was so embarrassed to admit I was an Uber driver until I finally decided to leave my pride aside. I had to do whatever it took to survive in the beginning stages of building my business.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
I think the fashion industry can improve itself by using a more sustainable approach to making clothes. Too many brands are worried about quickly producing garments at a low cost with cheaper materials just to stay ahead of the competition. If there’s anything I’ve learned through starting a clothing company, is people are much more concerned about the quality of life of a garment and not how cheaply or quickly they can be made.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
“Confidence through Compliments”
I’ve never “dressed well” to receive compliments but something that always makes my day is when someone tells me they like something about my outfit. Realizing how much joy and confidence this brings me, I’ve started to reciprocate by telling someone I like something about what they’re wearing, their hairstyle, etc. The overall idea would be to spread joy by giving someone confidence through compliments.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!