I first met Tommy Dant late last spring. He was a recent (or very soon-to-be) Ball State University graduate, all bright-eyed, bearded, and beyond enthusiastic about the prospect of launching his very own menswear shop here in Indianapolis. I’ll confess that, at the time, I didn’t put much stock in his idea. My reasoning for this is two-fold: one, that over the course of my two years working with Pattern, I’ve grown accustomed to great enthusiasm and fantastic ideas, most of which never come to fruition (this isn’t a bad thing; simply an observation and a natural part of being involved in a relatively young, growing industry), and two, that, quite frankly, fashion retail for men is highly neglected and relatively untested in the local market. But as summer stretched into fall and Dant continued to persist, loyally participating in every opportunity to build brand exposure and diligently researching the real estate market to identify the best neighborhoods for a retail location, I began to believe. And, in mid-February, a little under a year after we first met, he opened the doors to James Dant, A Store For Men, in Irvington.
“In the world of fashion, it’s alway been women first. I couldn’t find a store that accommodated my needs: a store just for men, where I could feel comfortable and not like all they’re doing is selling to women,” he said. “Once I started researching and found out that there’s money to be made, that guys really want this, but everyone’s too scared — or maybe not scared, but cautious — that’s when I really started to push forward.”
Dant caters to a contemporary, urban, indie demographic — not hipsters, per se, but men with a healthy appreciation for classic, vintage-y staples and a carefully groomed, nicely edited look. “We have something for everyone. We’re obviously trying to hit a certain, younger demographic, but it’s more about a modern man’s lifestyle here,” he said. “The business and I have very similar personalities: this is the type of stuff I like to do and the lifestyle I believe in, but at the end of the day, it’s a place where men walk out looking good and feeling good.”
A Store For Men is an appropriate tagline for the space, which is white and bright, with black accent walls and nice rustic elements throughout the store, like shelving and clothing racks made from old piping. Dant’s background in construction played a huge role in the shop’s aesthetic, as well as the quick turnaround of the store after Homespun vacated it February 1st. There’s a series of cubbies up front that showcase a rotating selection of t-shirts and accessories. Over 1700 corks cover the top of a table that Dant himself fabricated; they’re the perfect backdrop for Dant’s large selection of graphic and vintage-inspired shirts. The brick cash wrap is a nice touch, and was completely hand-laid by one of Dant’s family friends.
“We did everything the old fashioned way,” he said. “We filled about a thousand holes and then started sanding, polishing, painting, staining the pallet wood to give it more of a den or lodge-type feel. I wanted [a vibe] like an old school general store, where we always have customers’ favorite products in stock and custom ordering options available. We want to do something that makes people happy, and customer service is a big part of that. It’s something you won’t get at the mall, and it’s a place where men can be comfortable.”
Comfort is definitely key at James Dant, from the leather sofa in the back of the shop, to the cozy jackets from Superdry and Zak up front.
“Almost everything we buy is American-made or made at a comparable quality standard,” Dant said. “Quality is very important to me. I find stuff that isn’t sold elsewhere and then I find local stuff that complements. Anything we bring in from outside the US stems from necessity: either I can’t find it American made or at the right price point.”
That means selvage denim from Brooklyn for only $147. Other favorites include leather-soled, American made perforated leather shoes and suede boots for under $200 and Ark Industries’ vintage flannel work shirts cut down to fit smaller, trimmer men.
Accessories, too, are well-curated. He offers a selection of really amazing skull and nature-inspired jewelry, Jack Heinz wallets, Joshu+Vela toiletry bags, Proof sunglasses, and Komono watches, in addition to grooming supplies like beard oils and Scullery soaps. One of my immediate “wants:” the amazing gold bike from State Bicycle Company or the gorgeous Brooks leather-accented one from Indy Bike Garage. Dant hopes to have a regular rotation of bikes available for purchase in the near future.
This Saturday, another aspect of Dant’s dream will fall into place, as he launches his very own private label coffee and beard oils. Eventually, he’d like to have his own private label of clothing, and he hopes to one day take some fashion construction courses to further his progress towards that goal. Another goal? To be picked up by Vans for a special edition series of James Dant sneakers.
“Eventually, I’d love to have more than one store in Indiana, possibly even in Indianapolis,” he said. “I want to stay here because I love the support from the locals, and I think it’s a destination point. Irvington was the perfect location out of necessity, because a lot of spaces aren’t looking for startups, but Homespun took a chance on me. I also got to come here and do my research: hang out at Homespun, eat at Jockamo. I saw what the area has been growing into, and it’s basically a small Mass Ave. Hopefully it continues to develop that way. There’s a great community vibe here that I really love, which is perfect for the shop.”
Based on his accomplishments thus far, I’m excited for what the future holds.
James Dant is located at 5624 East Washington St., Indianapolis, 46219. For more information, including hours of operation, please visit their website: jamesdant.com. For more details on the James Dant Private Label Launch Party, check out their Facebook event.
Photography by Whon Photo.