It’s a man’s world out there: it’s no secret that menswear–particularly of the well-made, timeless variety–has been taking the fashion world by storm over the last several years. Yet, in many ways, it’s left the parallel of well-made, timeless womenswear in the dust.
Gentlemen, you may scoff, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find, say, a black cotton cardigan sans bells and whistles. Part of the problem is the longstanding preeminence of the business of women’s fashion, where sales are driven by this season’s bells versus last season’s (horribly outdated) whistles.
Enter Tradlands. Established in 2012 by Sadie and Jeremy Roberts, the company upends expectations in a few ways. They focus their brand. Like, really focus. Like, women’s button-up shirts only. And they eschew dramatic trends in favor of timeless, consistent design.
Sure, there’s new and seasonal fabrics, and patterns are constantly tweaked, but Tradlands is carving a niche alongside the ones held by Brooks Brothers, Gitman Brothers, and even Rogue Territory. Such brands build cult followings because people go through life with their products: a customer can come back to a certain item season after season and rest assured that the cut and materials have either stayed consistent or, simply, improved.
Speaking of classics, the “trad” in Tradlands derives from the term to describe traditional mid-century American menswear: a notion of finding inspiration in a set conception of style, and making it even better.
“Lands” is a nod to their San Francisco roots: Golden Gate Park was originally known as Outside Lands. Though they’re not natives to the Bay–Sadie hails from Rhode Island and Jeremy calls Illinois home–it’s the city where the Tradlands dream began to take shape.
Pinned down to desk jobs that they knew weren’t the end-all-be-all, Sadie and Jeremy began to brainstorm possibilities for a shared endeavor that would bring them closer together and allow greater freedom. The structure took shape before the content was decided upon.
“We felt stifled and had a yearning to facilitate what we wanted our life to be. I didn’t want to do something for 40 years that my heart wasn’t in,” says Sadie.
With her education and work experience in textile design, Sadie noticed the disparity in quality between men’s and women’s shirts, and she was growing tired of tailoring more reliably classic, built-to-last shirts from the men’s department.
“We wanted to focus on something and really make it the best that it can be. I think there’s really something special about that, and it’s really hard to stay in that place and do it really well. I want to stay true to the commitment that we made, to make really phenomenal shirting for women. It took me a really long time just to do that.”
Tradlands as a brand doesn’t call out any particular city or state as home; it reflects an all-encompassing sense of “America.” This is in keeping with the Roberts’ desire to realize a professional dream that’s an authentic extension of their own lives.
Sadie and Jeremy have committed to finding a sense of place in many different corners of the US over the last handful of years. Since San Francisco, Maine, Illinois and most recently SoCal have taken their turns as Tradlands World Headquarters. Like many startups, the business began as an after-hours endeavor, with Sadie and Jeremy working to build up Tradlands while winding down their desk jobs. They’ve been all-in for the last two and a half years, and the business is primarily Team Roberts, with trusted partners for more specified needs.
As Sadie describes, it’s also been an incredible exercise in growing alongside another person: “There’s someone supporting me that makes me the best small business owner I can possibly be… It helps you focus on what’s important.”
The two have learned to home in on their abilities and interests in complementary aspects of the business: Sadie heads up design, sourcing, social media, and customer engagement, while Jeremy takes the lead on general operations, web development, and production.
Sadie’s desk job was an illuminating look into the vast world of apparel production. The experience helped her to see that she could bring her own business into being. It was also an education in the different ways to do business.
“I was able to see close-up what overseas manufacturing often looks like. Communication was always challenging, quality could be very spotty, and it seemed like timelines were really long, much more flexible than I think is healthy for a business.
“And talking about the human aspect, the quality of the conditions for workers, really seeing what that looked like firsthand helped me to realize that I only wanted to be working in an environment where I felt really good about the conditions the people I was employing were in – that they were paid well, that they were as happy as they could be.”
To be sure, Sadie clarifies, there are plenty of things produced outside of the US that are made in responsible conditions. And conversely, there are bad manufacturing practices in our own backyards. “It’s tough when you know competitors are making something for much cheaper, but it’s not actually all the same.”
For Tradlands, stateside is the way to go, because it allows the Robertses to sit down with their manufacturer (in Chicago) and address a whole range of manufacturing priorities and concerns, in person and on an ongoing basis.
A hurdle for many small businesses is being able to meet the minimums required across the whole process of production, from ordering fabric and other raw materials, to working with the most established and respected sewing contractors.
Finally finding their Goldilocks fit, Sadie and Jeremy have built a strong relationship with a manufacturer in Chicago, led by a mother-daughter team. “We’re a huge part of each other’s business and it’s been a great partnership.”
And it’s those challenges that provide so much more room for growth, progress and discovery. There’s a whole world reserved for young entrepreneurs in terms of creativity, exploration, and downright hacking it.
The flexibility and responsiveness required of building a business from the ground up makes for new opportunities. For example, instead of using global market research and in-house fabric printing capabilities to choose next season’s prints, Sadie surveys customers about their style preferences.
This sense of involvement, of giving of a hand in the design process, has established trust and loyalty between Tradlands and its customers. And, in turn, it has helped the brand to find success. With surprising frequency, Sadie and Jeremy receive inquiries about when they’ll start producing mens versions of their shirting. The answer? Sorry guys. It’s a woman’s world.
Learn more about Tradlands on the brand’s website.