The ongoing “casualization” of men’s apparel might seem a poor fit for a retailer with a flagship store on London’s Jermyn Street, the traditional heart of bespoke (read: expensive) tailored shirts. But since its founding in 1986, Charles Tyrwhitt has thrived by offering a combination of high quality and British charm at reasonable price points.
The company was founded as a catalog retailer by Nicholas Wheeler (Charles Tyrwhitt, pronounced “tirrit,” are his middle names) when he was still a student at the University of Bristol. “Many of his fellow students were wearing ill-fitting, scruffy shirts because that was what was affordable for their budget,” said Joe Irons, CMO at Charles Tyrwhitt in an exclusive interview with Retail TouchPoints. “He knew that there must be a better way to dress men at a price point that worked for their budget.”
Today the privately held retailer operates more than 40 stores worldwide, including 12 U.S. locations, as well as a web site that accounts for two-thirds of the company’s total business. Charles Tyrwhitt now offers a complete menswear range, and the company has grown and remained relevant for more than three decades by providing increasingly personalized product offerings and technical innovations, including: Tyrwhitt Cool, a lightweight fabric for hot days that wicks moisture and dries quickly; Charles Tyrwhitt Smart Chinos, which are designed to stay crease-free throughout the day; and Travel Pants that stretch in all four directions with iron-free fabric.
Irons revealed how the brand’s move toward increasing customization and new fitting parameters is keeping it relevant even as “business casual” has become the norm for menswear.
Retail TouchPoints (RTP): What’s your definition of ‘business casual’? Does it present new opportunities given today’s workforce trends, such as Gen Z entering the workforce, the ‘gig’ economy, shared workspaces, etc.?
Joe Irons: The term ‘business casual’ to us means the added opportunity of bringing more style to the workday ahead, however that is defined for an individual. The rules of menswear are changing and the days of blue and grey suits are gone.
Men of all ages are spending more time focusing on what to wear to work and thinking about the workday ahead to dress accordingly with their own personal touch, so we develop dressing options for every situation that make our customer look and feel great with simplicity — whether that’s a suit, tie and pocket square for a boardroom meeting, chinos and a casual shirt for an everyday schedule or casual options with colorful socks for a Friday afternoon where drinks with friends follow the work day. We want to make it easy to dress for any situation.
RTP: What are Charles Tyrwhitt’s key points of differentiation in the market?
Irons: Charles Tyrwhitt’s British heritage influences the product style we produce and allows the brand to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. Additionally, customization is a big differentiator for our brand. When customers come into our store, they expect a personalized process because it is a part of the Charles Tyrwhitt experience, and they found these services at a lower price point than other alternative options. Personalization, both in measurements and style, at a reasonable price point have continued to gain traction for our business and have become an industry trend at a macro level.
For example, to deliver maximum comfort for all body types, this year we introduced a new fit philosophy for our trousers. Befitted trousers offer ‘build’ as a third measurement, beyond inseam and waist, to accommodate the shape of men’s thighs and bottoms across styles and fabrics. The response has been very positive since launch and we continue to innovate our products to serve the changing needs of the workday.
For our shirts, we offer a range of collar and cuff styles, as well as multiple formal shirt fits in a wide variety of fabrics. We just launched Charles Tyrwhitt Custom, our custom-made service for suits and jackets, in which we invite men to get fitted by an expert tailor in-store and create a suit or jacket from up to 50 fabrics, including personal details.
RTP: What do you see as the key menswear trends for 2020, and how does Charles Tyrwhitt plan to take advantage of them?
Irons: We’ve noticed a trend in men having a hard time finding the perfect fit for their body, yet wanting a solution that is easy. That is why we developed our new Befitted Trousers and CT Custom selection — to offer stylish clothing that fits the body properly.
Knowing fit is incredibly important so that men can also feel comfortable in their clothes at work, we developed our shirt range to be incredibly tailored to the individual — whether that be fit, sleeve length, cuff type or collar style — Charles Tyrwhitt has over 20,000 shirt options! Through 2020, we expect to launch our custom shirt range, allowing men to further personalize their shirt while we’ll also continue to focus on what’s most important to customers — product quality, fit and range.
RTP: What are your plans for 2020, particularly as they relate to the U.S. market? Do you see continued brick-and-mortar expansion here?
Irons: Charles Tyrwhitt’s purpose is ‘making it easy for men to dress well,’ which means being accessible to our customers, and retail plays a vital role in that. Charles Tyrwhitt has 12 storefronts in the U.S. and will continue to expand its footprint. Retail locations are a great way for customers to fully experience the brand — physically having product in hand shows our premium quality, sales associates are product experts and fully embrace our British heritage, and Charles Tyrwhitt has a unique sizing scale for which we offer complimentary in-store fittings. Our future growth plans include continued international expansion, the introduction of more versatile product offerings to keep up with the ever-changing work wardrobe and a more customizable experience for customers to enjoy.
RTP: The last 30-plus years have seen monumental changes in retailing, from consumer expectations to technological advances. How has Charles Tyrwhitt maintained its growth during this time?
Irons: We constantly listen to our customers to understand what’s on their minds, how we can help and what we can do better. That underpins everything we do — whether that’s giving them advice on how to dress for an interview, listening to what they think about the product or hearing about an experience they had on our web site or in our stores.
Our founder, Nick Wheeler, makes a point of reading every single customer service comment —good or bad — keeping the brand very honest and always moving forward. Additionally, having a differentiated brand in the market and constant innovation is critical to the brand’s success. Our incredible shirt proposition is what has built this brand — and we’ve overlaid that with award winning customer service. Value for money is of course important — but having a shirt that the customer loves is what made us famous. Charles Tyrwhitt never stands still. I’m sure our brand will continue to expand and potentially look different in the future — but our founding purpose of ‘helping men to dress well’ will always remain.