A fashion outsider is reinventing the men's button-down shirt -- by giving it a zipper.
Bryan Davis was driving a friend's car in Bangkok, Thailand, when he was pulled over and ticketed by a police officer whose close-fitting uniform top Davis noticed fit the man extremely well.
He paid the ticket -- and the cop led him to the tailor who'd made his uniform, where he discovered that a zipper, hidden behind a faux placket of buttons, was responsible for the tailored yet comfortable design.
That initial fine is now paying dividends as Davis brings the design -- for which he has two patents -- to the masses via his direct-to-consumer clothing company, Teddy Stratford. Davis doesn't claim to have come up with the idea -- police uniforms around the world have used zippers for decades -- but his innovation is in the application of the technique to button down shirts for non-cops.
"It was a revelation for me. I had never seen this before," Davis said. "I met with a shirtmaker, pitched him my idea, and we made a prototype and low and behold it worked."
Davis' approach is different than that of other shirt makers. He starts with an archetypal male body type and contours the shirt to its shape.
"We kind of reverse engineered the way that we approach the shirt. Most shirts take a person of average proportions and they fit the shirt to that average guy and what happens is it results in a shirt that is averagely proportioned so it fits a wider swath of men," he said. "We studied the idealized proportions for a male torso and built our shirt around that idealized form."
Athletes love it, because it fits them in the chest and back and is still tapered at the waist. So, too, do non-athletes who find that it can help make them look athletic -- even when they don't frequent the gym.
"The interesting thing about our shirt is if you put it on a guy that doesn't have an athletic shape body, it makes them look more athletic. So if a slim guy wears our shirt, he looks a little more athletic than he would in a shirt with average proportions, and the same thing happens with a guy who needs to lose 10 pounds. It gives them a 'V-shape' and allows guys who aren't in great shape to wear the shirt, too," Davis said.
Teddy Stratford also appeals to the celebrity set -- actor Chris Pratt recently wore a shirt during his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.
His advice for entrepreneurs aspiring to start fashion companies? "Don't," he says only half-jokingly. That's because Davis is acutely aware of the challenges of launching a fashion brand, despite his fledgling company's success.
"It's extremely difficult and only makes sense to do if you have a real point of differentiation that makes it different from the rest of the products on the market," he said.
The sole differentiator can't be the price, either. "If that's all you are bringing to the table," Davis warned, "then a company like H&M will come along and eat your lunch."