How many menswear-inspired button-downs can one girl have? In my case, 10, and that's after a recent purge (I worked at Esquire, after all!) But if I'm being totally honest, most are either too baggy or poorly made, so when I heard there was a company out of San Francisco making tomboy-style shirting for women that's actually flattering and built to last, I knew I had to check them out. Tradlands, which launched a year ago in February, is the brainchild of husband-and-wife co-founders Sadie and Jeremy Roberts. Their button-downs are not trendy, nor are they trying to be. "We think of them as something a mother could buy and wear now, then pass down to her daughter, and that's possible because of how well they're made," says Sadie who has worked tirelessly with Jeremy over the last 18 months to build a brand based on what their customers actually want, avoiding fads and focusing on quality: Their shirts that won't fade or fall apart and are designed and sewn by hand with trims and fabrics sourced in the United States. We spoke last week about how they got their start, what it's like working together, the importance of manufacturing in the states, and how she and Jeremy are managing supply with such huge demand.
Special offer: Tradlands is offering 50 States of Style readers a 10% discount (excluding packages and gift cards) on their website through July 14th with the code 50STATES10.
What sets your button downs apart?
When women put on our shirts, they say 'I feel like myself," and that's something we strive for. That's how I feel when I put on a pair of jeans, boots, and a great button down. We aim for the best universal fit.
Where are the shirts manufactured?
At the moment, everything is being sewn in San Francisco, but we're going to be moving some of our production to the East Coast. I'm from Rhode Island originally, and there's a big manufacturing history around there, especially in Fall River (Mass). It'll be nice to be bi-coastal and support two different American cities.
What inspired you and Jeremy to start up Tradlands together?
We were both working desk jobs and we felt like there was something missing. Jeremy was reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, which is about self motivating, starting up your own business, and working for yourself. It's not for everybody, but that book was very much in line with what we were feeling at the time.
What's it like working with him?
I can't speak for Jeremy, but I love it. He's a hard worker and he encourages me to be the best entrepreneur that I can be, because I tend to be a little bit hard on myself. He brings out the best side of me every day. We both balance each other out. We take on different roles and stay out of each other's hair.
So how exactly did you land on button-downs?
We weren't sure exactly what we wanted to do, so we spent months brainstorming. Every weekend, we would go to the same coffee shop in Hayes Valley and we'd sit there and make lists of the things we liked. One idea that popped up in the beginning, that we ultimately came back to, was men's-style shirting for women. I wear button-down shirts all the time, and I love menswear-inspired plaids and heavier fabrics that you don't find as easily in a women's store. It's something I've said time and time again, and I knew we could deliver on it because of my experience in fashion.
Logistically-speaking, was it difficult to make such a massive career change?
We decided to stop going out to eat and traveling as much in order to save up money and give it a go. And we were lucky, because after about a year, we were able to completely leave our other jobs and this is now what we do full time and we love it. I can't imagine it any other way.
Can you share a little bit about your process from concept to launch?
We immediately started our blog and social media presence, and we went out and purchased pretty much every button down shirt that we heard anyone talk about. We started comparing them and looking at the details that we thought mattered, and then we started polling people; asking everybody we knew what they looked for in a button down. Then we crafted our shirt. We went through a year of prototyping and trying it out on friends and women of all different sizes and shapes.
What would you say has been the secret to your fairly rapid market acceptance?
The relationships we've developed with our customers. We have a great open dialogue with them. We send them follow up emails asking if they're still happy with their shirts, what they would change, etc. We do get constructive criticism, and we have a place where we keep all that information so we know what we can work on in the future.
How did you go about getting press early on, or did they come to you?
It's funny because I wouldn't have even been able to tell you how to go after press in the beginning. I just thought, "If we get on (Lizzie Garrett Mettler's) Tomboy Style blog, that will be huge for us," and then Lizzie emailed us maybe within two weeks of us launching to say she wanted to feature us, which was amazing.
That's crazy! Did the feature have a positive impact?
Yes, it helped us get a bigger following than we could've imagined, and we got a couple of other features right after that including a write-up on CNN.com.
What are your goals for the next couple of seasons?
The focus for us is scaling. We're trying to make more shirts for fall. We definitely want to grow, but only so long as we can continue to put out great products.
Yeah, I have noticed your shirts tend to sell out very quickly which is impressive and also I'm sure unintentionally great for generating buzz.
Our Farallon Islands shirt recently sold out within six hours. We've implemented wait lists, and the way they work is that we send out a notification email giving our customers a 24-hour head start. We didn't create that sense of buzz on purpose, it just kind of happened that way.
You have such a devoted following!
We do. It feels like our customers are our friends to be honest.
Can you share what's coming up for fall?
We're trying to go deeper into the quantity that we carry so people won't be waiting so long for us to restock. We're doing a buffalo plaid in a red and black check with large buttons, and we're doing a black oxford, which is something our customers requested. And we're coming out with some more shirts from our collaboration with Tomboy Style.
Okay, last question: Would you ever go overseas or is manufacturing in America very important to you?
If I was living in Italy and I got to know an artisan there and they were making something really great, then sure, I'm not against it. Initially our choice to be in the US was a bit selfish because we knew if our shirts were made here we could easily oversee them and not have to worry about crazy long flights or a language barrier. It costs a lot more to get them made here but there's a reason why: that person gets paid enough to support their family. I want that for everybody.
Thank you so much, Sadie!