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IN CONVERSATION WITH KNOT STANDARD CEO JOHN BALLAY
DIGITAL TAILORING, EXPANSION PLANS AND A NEW L.A. SHOWROOM
Written by Ivan Yaskey in Interviews on the 29th December 2018 / In Conversation with Knot Standard CEO John Ballay
Where did you get your suit? If, at one point, you said “online,” you’d be met with incredulous looks: Why spend so much on something that’ll look poorly out of the box and require serious tailoring? But, it’s nearly 2019, and the suit off-the-web is starting to shed its shoddier, cheaper, tawdrier implications. Online tailoring – through stylist appointments, apps helping you find your fit, and thousands of fabric choices right at your fingertips – is revolutionising the concept, with Knot Standard leading the way.
Although their physical presence consists of multiple showrooms across the United States, department store partnerships and the occasional pop-up location, Knot Standard’s roots go back to Dubai. There, now-CEO John Ballay worked in finance, and during his stay came across small tailoring shops whose quality far surpassed anything he could find in the U.S. To introduce that craftsmanship to a larger audience, Ballay partnered with Matthew Mueller to put together a portal that would connect customers across the globe with such quality. Conceived in 2010, the platform officially launched in 2012, and its brick-and-mortar showrooms followed not long after.
But these places aren’t your High Street retailers or your Men’s Wearhouses. Rather, Knot Standard views its showrooms not as traditional storefronts – there’s no inventory, stockroom, or racks filled with pre-made products – and instead, the experience is strictly customer centric, with the stylists and staff focused on providing superior service and, ultimately, a precisely tailored suit. A second key aspect – but by no means secondary – is the technological component. Their 'digital bespoke' product involves entering in a man’s measurements to create a 3D image that, then, serves as a digital pattern for a laser cutter. As well, Knot Standard’s supply chain isn’t restricted to one or two locations; rather, customers have access to roughly 7,000 fabrics from the world’s top mills. What results is thousands of custom combinations – and a finished product, ready in four to six weeks, that’s just as precise.
This business model – which has since brought more casual fare like chinos into the fold – proves to be working. For 2019, the company announced an auspicious expansion plan, one that has involved updating their website, partnering with the New York City Football Club, expanding their San Francisco store and introducing a new showroom in Los Angeles, right at the corner of La Cienega and Melrose in West Hollywood. Yet, a chain store it’s not. Its location, character and outlook might as well be summed up as 'peak L.A.,' with offerings geared toward the West Coast’s warm-to-hot seasons, an outdoor patio, and a space adjacent to luxury storefronts and a farmers market. As the company goes through the next stage of its plan and opens in Los Angeles, we had a chance to speak with Ballay:
What is different about your new L.A. showroom, in relation to the other Knot Standard showrooms?
“At the corner of La Cienega and Melrose, Knot Standard is joining a neighbourhood full of complementing luxury shops, bringing a new vibe and dynamic menswear offering to the block. The showroom has an outdoor patio for customers to enjoy, is dog-friendly, and is just a short walk from the Melrose Place Sunday farmers market. At the core, the showroom is similar to our eight other locations, in that we have a team of expert Style Advisors available for appointments. Clients will walk through more than 70 customisations, 7,000 fabrics and 28 measurements to ensure the best experience and the best product possible.”
In the press release we received, you mention a “gap” in the L.A. menswear market. What’s L.A. missing, and how does Knot Standard meet that?
“Los Angeles was missing a premium, 100% customisable, bespoke menswear brand, and we believe we’ve filled that gap with Knot Standard. Our product offering ranges from custom chinos and casual button-down shirts for a day on the West Side to black tie tuxedo looks for awards season, and everything in between. There’s nothing quite like the Knot Standard experience – with the highest quality fabrics sourced from the top mills in the world, in-depth research and design, and unlimited customisable details, each product is unique to our clients’ personal style, aesthetic and comfort.”
Why did you decide to start Knot Standard? Over the years, how has your business evolved?
“I started my career in finance in New York and moved to Dubai in 2008 to work for a UAE government investment fund diversifying into private equity, business development and small growth companies. That’s where I met my co-founder, Matthew Mueller, who has a 20-year track record in global business, tech startups and product launches. During our time in Dubai we grew passionate about custom suits, and by 2011, the idea to transport a more innovative custom process to the U.S. began to solidify. There was a fragmentation of old-world tailors here in the U.S., but that’s all there really was. That’s when we began market-testing the idea on what would ultimately become Knot Standard in its current state. Knot Standard started as digital-first brand, but as the business, product and expertise evolved, we realised we needed to expand into brick and mortar to achieve rapid growth. We opened our first showroom in New York in 2012 in the Flatiron District and we’ve opened eight more locations since then across the U.S., from coast to coast.”
Your business model combines the traditional menswear tailoring experience with modern technology. When a customer decides to get a suit through Knot Standard, what kind of experience should he expect?
“Knot Standard is changing the industry through innovative technology and applying new thinking to a history-rich practice. We merge the best of online and in-person retail, creating a content-focused, video-supported online experience and leading clients to showrooms to meet with Knot Standard’s expert Style Advisors. With a focus on movement throughout the new web design, clients can see how pieces fit in a new, engaging way, before they arrive at the showroom, that was previously unavailable in the menswear category. When our clients come in and are measured, each individual pattern is saved and archived, so they can easily place future orders – even via text.”
You’ve also expanded your San Francisco showroom. What changes and improvements have you made?
“We recently moved locations within the city to join the Jackson Square neighbourhood. This new, two-story, 2,000 square foot Knot Standard showroom has a clubhouse-inspired vibe with the first floor serving as a lounge space, with a bar and couches where clients can relax and gather with friends. The second floor is reserved for fittings, where our experienced stylists guide clients through the process of customising a wardrobe.”
For 2019, what’s in store for your expansion plan?
“2019 will be an exciting year, with showroom expansion as a top priority. As a direct-to-consumer brand, we’re betting on our brick-and-mortar locations in a big way, pushing our customers into our showrooms whenever we can for the full Knot Standard experience. In tandem with each showroom opening, we are exploring more partnerships in 2019 with like-minded brands to expand our reach at both a local and national level. We have a current autumn/winter collaboration with luxury slipper brand Stubbs & Wootton across our showrooms, which has been a huge success for us.”