Making it to the five-year mark as an independent clothing retailer is no small feat in our market. Tommy Dant opened his store, James Dant, within a year of graduating from Ball State University. Known as “Indianapolis’ first casual store for men,” Dant clearly is doing something right. Read my conversation with him below!
Polina Osherov: Congrats on the success of your store! Talk about what you’ve learned in the intervening years about running a successful store.
Tommy Dant: My biggest take away from 5 years as a small business owner with hundreds of life lessons learned and dozens of personal mantras gained is – ‘to be rather than to seem.’ It’s in-fact on one of our brand’s hidden tags and the motto of North Carolina. But everything we’ve done over the years can be summed up with that saying. We’ve seen stores come and go, had personal ups and downs, but through it all one thing remains. If you underpromise and overdeliver you will never be led astray from your vision. It’s so easy to seem “cool” or seem “hard-working” in today’s screen-to-brain world. But, brands truly being who they say they are and delivering on the promises they make are few-and-far-between in 2019.
PO: What’s been the most surprising thing about running your own store?
TD: I think the response has been most surprising. I definitely expected there to be a market for this, but seeing people respond outside my target market has been amazing. Nothing is quite as satisfying as when someone in their 60’s laments about how this store reminds them of a shop they used to visit in their youth. On the other side, it’s pretty damn satisfying to have an 18-year-old choose James Dant over fast fashion. To make a conscious effort to buy from a local business with the knowledge that what they’re buying is not only sustainable but immensely helpful to their local economy.
PO: Your store was always focused on menswear and goods for men, but your recent rebrand has made some adjustments to who you hope will shop your store. Can you tell us about the thinking behind your new direction.
TD: So we’re obviously still focused on men’s clothing and accessories because that’s what we love. For us, gender fluidity doesn’t mean things can’t be gendered. It’s more about having the confidence to break down those barriers and gender stereotypes in your mind. This includes not letting the tag of “men’s goods” stop you from buying a shirt if your sex isn’t male. We think this world of makers and modifiers classified as “better men’s goods” resonates with everyone. We purvey men’s goods. How you choose to rock them is up to you!
PO: What was the rebranding process like? Who was involved and how did you settle on your final look.
TD: It was honestly pretty painstaking. It was about three years from the time we decided to rebrand to completion. Trying to find a logo/name/symbol that expresses what you are as a brand is really difficult. For a while, I tried to design it myself, as I did the first logo. I even took a handwriting course last summer to try and get a better grip on the idea. But, it was something that I was too close to. Too involved in to truly see it for what it was worth. So I saw Dan Sheridan’s work and decided he would be the projector through which my vision was shown. He crushed it, to be frank. It’s everything I always wanted and could never get down on paper.
The gargoyle is our symbol for several reasons: Irvington’s spooky history, its role as a protector, the link between the Japanese and American brands we carry, etc… The animal itself is directly inspired by Japanese statues that guard temples and torii gates. They’re referred to as Komainus or “lion-dogs.” The rest of the detail including its stance – inspired by my dog Edie – wings, typography, and script are inspired by the American & English roots of the store.
PO: What are some of the brands that you currently carry?
TD: The list is so long it could fill up the whole page. In terms of our favorites Chup, Freenote Cloth, Peregrine, Naked & Famous, LM Leather Goods, Oxford Pennant & 3Sixteen come to mind.
PO: What’s one product in your store that you really love and recommend to just about anybody who walks into the store and why?
TD: I think the answer has to be our Selvedge Denim. I wear it every single day and I truly believe it’s such a value upgrade for anyone who wears denim on a daily basis (almost everyone). The denim is so much sturdier and ultimately ages better than anything else on the market. We’ve created quite a few denim heads, and wouldn’t mind creating a few more.
PO: What do you hope the next five years will hold for you and your brand?
TD: It’s crazy to imagine getting to 10 years even after five, but I honestly just hope for a slow and steady evolution. The ever-changing fashion market makes evolving easy, but our evolution is store-wide from interior design and customer experience to the product we carry. So we promise to never let that stop evolving. We also can’t wait to release new James Dant product and continue to create inspiring content. Cut-and-sew garments are right over the horizon, we just have a little more work to do! The future is bright.