When you think of cities that hold top fashion companies the first that come to mind are New York, LA, Paris, London, or San Francisco. Jamie Davidson wants to add Little Rock to that list with Strong Suit.
Strong Suit launched in 2013 with the goal of bringing high quality, affordable suits to market. In that time the brand has experienced phenomenal growth as an emerging leader in suits for the 25-35 year old market. Most of that is built on creating a high quality product that people love and at a fair price.
“I knew from the beginning that there needed to be a level of sophistication about our product,” Davidson says. “I believe that guys do not want to dress like their dads, but they do want to dress like their granddad. My grandfather didn’t have 30 suits, he had 7 or 8. He knew how to put that together and it fit him really well. So we tried hard to focus on fit and feel with a level of sophistication with design and fabric at a price that created a good value for people.”
Davidson got his start in the business at Mr Wicks in downtown Little Rock in 1994. He worked there for seven years focusing on tailored clothing before launching his first wholesale brand, selling through stores such as Neiman Marcus, Barney’s and others. Eventually Dillard’s hired Davidson and his eventual Strong Suit partner Leslie Dennis to design and develop a sportswear brand, which they did for 10 years. Davidson eventually felt called to get back into tailored clothing, this time targeted at a younger generation.
“I really loved tailored clothing, which was my background back at Mr Wicks. I felt like this younger generation wanted to dress in a more sophisticated way, but there were no suits that contained the type of value they were looking for, because good suits had gotten so expensive,” Davidson says. “Also there really needed to be a brand available that had a quality story behind it, and was a good value.”
Davidson and Dennis left and started Strong Suit in 2013 with that passion in mind. He then quickly leaned on his previous work in fashion to build the connections they needed to produce the best possible product.
“Leslie and I took our experience in sourcing and started looking at factories and fabric that could handle the type of quality we wanted. I started immediately looking at Italian mills that I had relationships with,” Davidson explains. “I had to convince them to sell their product to us at a point where we could sell our entry-level suit at less than $600. I was lucky enough to get a few people to buy into this vision, and we got traction quickly enough to allow us to build up a volume to the point that people started to pay attention.”
People started to pay attention and Strong Suit began to grow. After the initial suit launch they moved into other items such as dress shirts, ties, and tuxedos. Their main suits are available in standard sizes for $595, while their custom tailored suits, their made to measure line, are available for just $795.
Building on Quality
Strong Suit often measures up against much more expensive competition. In fact many of the fabrics Strong Suit uses are also used in much higher priced suit brands, and the craftsmanship of the suits is of equal quality. A Strong Suit should last a wearer for the rest of their life, according to Davidson. When building the brand he paid special attention to the type of manufacturing used for the suits.
“Our suit factory is in Mexico, it is in a town called Mérida on the Yucatán Peninsula. We selected the factory because the people who work in our factory because they were old world craftsmanship,” Davidson says. “We make sure the people have really good jobs and we want to make sure there are no sweat shop conditions and no one is exploited to make our products. Our custom shirts are all made in Nashville, TN and our ties are all made in Italy. 95% of our fabrics come from Italy as well, we are using the same fabrics that the top suit companies in the world use.”
Basing Fashion out of Little Rock
The decision for Davidson to build a world-class fashion brand in Little Rock is unconventional, but it has been a rewarding move for Davidson. Tradeoffs like lack of access to media are easily overcome by the quality of life, something that Davidson says is the biggest factor in why Strong Suit decided to launch here and why they will continue to use Little Rock as home base.
Other tradeoffs like the lack of access to capital funding, however, have been harder to overcome.
“When you walk into retail stores that carry us like Nordstrom, we are the only company on the floor that is only 3 years old,” Davidson says. “Everyone we are up against is a long-standing billion dollar company.”
In fact, when it came to building a fashion brand in Little Rock, the lack of access to capital has been the most difficult part of the business.
“The biggest issue (for startups in Little Rock) is the lack of access to capital. It is a very hard environment for startups, it feels like we lack a dynamic community full of momentum and cohesive plans,” Davidson explains. “People can get their first round of funding here. The first $100,000 to half a million that they need to get going is possible. Once the business really starts growing and you need $5-10 million, it is just not here. So that has been our biggest handicap.”
The struggle has only made Strong Suit better though, according to Davidson. Their lack of large capital has created a company culture of making the most of what they have.
“We compete against billion dollar companies with relatively little backing,” Davidson explains. “I can only imagine what we will be able to do as we grow and funding opportunities open up, it is really exciting.”
Strong Suit Store Front
Next for Strong Suit is launching their first retail locations, something that Davidson says could happen any day.
They want to build the first concept in Little Rock, the place where it all started. Davidson says they are actively looking at a number of places and hopes to sign a lease soon, but only if the space is right.
“The neighborhood that we go in needs to be the right place, the building needs to be the right space, and the neighbors need to be exactly the right people we want to surround ourselves with.”
As for the space, Davidson wants to be more than just a clothing store. He is looking for a destination spot that reflects the brand well.
“I think us having our own stores in the right markets. They need to really fit our brand. We really want to make it an experience and a destination, maybe a things like a barbershop in store,” Davidson says.
Eventually they will open up more locations in strategic markets, but they do want the overall number to be limited to keep the personal feel of the stores.
You can check out Strong Suit online, or swing into their showroom/office space in the River Market, above Gusano’s at 319 President Clinton Ave #202.