Shopping for clothes can be a frustrating experience for tall men thanks to outdated sizing charts. Fortunately, new menswear brand RFM, headed by John Reynolds and Kevin Flammia have found a solution. Tall men everywhere rejoice! Meet John Reynolds, Co-Founder and CEO of RFM.
Let us start with where you are from and how you ended up in New York.
I am from South Carolina and went to Princeton to play basketball; I am six feet ten. After school I went to LA to do banking like every other Lemming, jumped off the cliff for about a year and a half and once I got tired of doing that, I joined the marines for four years. After the marines, I went to business school which is where Kevin and I met and became good friends. It has been a lifelong challenge and pain to get clothes and there are many, if not most guys in the collegiate ranks who experience the same because of our heights. I was complaining to a friend about having to wait four to eight weeks for clothes to get tailored or made to measure and he commented that I should quit complaining and go figure it out, which was like a slap to the face, so I took that and went with it. I called a lot of people including a friend who had started a successful menswear company in South Carolina, asking a lot of questions trying to figure things out. That is how it all started and why we are now in New York.
But were you ever interested in fashion growing up?
In the sense that I did not have the option; the question was why can I not have the experience of creating my own look? That is fashion, an emotional tie to something and expressing yourself. Mine was very driven by constraints; like this fits so I am wearing it. I will say that I would have been, but I was very limited. Also when you are stuck in the world of playing sports…
When was the “aha” moment?
It was during business school, which we started in 2013 and finished last May . The day Kevin and I got back from our summer internships, we went out to grab a beer and I said to him that I think there is an interesting business around clothes not fitting. He looked at me and said that his clothes do not fit either and Kevin is about six foot three. We were asking why it is the same for someone who is six foot ten, as it is for someone who is six foot three, which was the let us figure this out moment. The next morning we started working on it and did not go to class. The “aha” moment came in our last year of business school after repeated trips between Boston and New York, trying to get advisers to help us out and going around the garment district like idiots, asking if the sizes could be made and being told no, this does not exist. It was when we linked up with a guy called Ed Gribbin at Alvanon, who is now one of our advisors, that we understood that these sizing standards originated from World War II and the industry basically pulled it. That was incredible to us because for a tall size, they would just tack on an extra inch or two to the body or shirt. We thought there had to be a better way to do this, so we bought a body scanner machine. The scanner takes depth perception images of your body, kind of like converting your body into an avatar and in about fifteen seconds, takes about four hundred data points and one hundred and eighty-five measurements. We were interested in overlaying composite images of guys from a range of heights and suddenly, we were able to see a distribution curve of measurements building up. If you chop off the outliers, a robust, quantitative, finite picture became apparent, of what guys look like at any given height and more importantly, what changes in reality as you increase or decrease in height.
Ok so walk me through the process. You have now collected all this data and working on a brand, how did you use the data to develop a new sizing chart?
So two things: one is we either licensed, purchased, locked down, bought or did the scans ourselves, then put them together. Ed Gribbin is a big researcher at Alvanon, which is one of the industry leaders in this space and are thought leaders in incorporating data into sizing; they have been a huge resource for us. We understood how a guy at six foot five has roughly the same chest measurements as a guy who is six foot two or six foot eight. So we took all this data and did a lot of running regression analyses and staring at Excel sheets, which is a really exciting life, at least to dates, as I am sure you can imagine. Second, we started working together on this with Alvanon, who became our advisors and said here is what we think the issue is, does this sound right and they said yes, it is a big challenge. We realized that for every four inches in height, you can effectively wear the same thing as a guy who is four inches above or below you. A guy who is six foot four can wear the same body length or shirt as a guy who is six foot eight.
So why the decision to start your own line as opposed to a data business and saying this is what the new sizing chart should be?
One is why not, right? Maybe we were just dumb enough and risk seeking. I guess the important thing in this conversation is that we are not a tall brand, we are a menswear brand and we care about and tell the story about tall athletes. We understand that life, what is means to be built a certain way, care about the way you look and care about this idea of being a person who embraces their own sense of discipline and self. We are first and foremost a menswear brand and top of mind for us is that we can help fix the fit and sizing and it just so happens that it can also fit taller athletes.
This was going to be my next question, the brand image and who your guy is. Is it the tall guy or are you going to position yourself as a menswear brand?
Yeah, every brand has its ideal customer profile and for us it is the guy who six foot six, former division one basketball player. He is also a shooting guard in college, goes to the gym regularly, travels on weekends, and works in the city. Certainly this is a great market with an incredible amount of influencers in general.
What are your thoughts on the industry? Was it new and very different from what you were used to?
It was a big shock to the system. We actually hired a woman who has been doing this for twelve years; she is an adjunct professor at Parsons and joined us full time, but yes, absolute big shock. We were asking why in the world are lead times so long and what in God’s green earth is this person wearing? Then you realize that these pieces sell for thousands and thousands of dollars, but you also realize that there is an intelligence and emotion to it. You have to draw a line in the sand and be proud of it and own it. I think there is something really remarkable about that, like you do not give a damn what other people think; here is what we do and here is what we stand for.
I absolutely agree with being true to yourself and owning it. So who designs?
It is a bit of a hybrid process; we started with this idea of the casual blazer because it is not super sexy to start building a brand with a white button down shirt. We looked around at what the biggest issue was, which you hinted at when you stuck your arm out – the casual jacket. That is a huge white space and it is a problem that we have as well. We started with that and I think we want to really own that category, so that when people think of us they think about this cool thing you can wear that is also pretty trendy to go out.
The current setup in fashion is runway shows and presentations during fashion weeks, is this the direction you guys would like to go or will you do something completely different? Do you think shows are going out of style?
I do not think fashion shows will go out of style at all; I think they serve a beautifully perfect purpose in the system. We are young enough that I do not know that this is where we will be over the next year or two, but it certainly is an interesting avenue. To go back to your question about design, we go out and find the things we like and the details we want to incorporate into our designs. We then bring it back and Jodi puts our ideas together. We will see three or four different samples and say yes, let us do the function cuffs or do some cross stitching here, or whatever the case is. But in regards to the fashion shows, I think yes, it would be interesting to explore. We have not looked at it too much because we are young and trying to go into the market in a responsible way. Right now, there is demand, so we are looking to fill this massive blank space and then grow into this really cool menswear brand.
Will you expand into other product categories?
Absolutely, no doubt about it! Like Henlies and V-necks for the warmer months. We are thinking summer months now and we really want to stay focused on the aesthetic, which trends on the edgier New York concrete vibe.
Are you looking at more of the downtown or uptown guy?
So then are you the downtown guy?
I think I am a hybrid of everything, California, the south-east, Boston, New York, so I do not think I necessarily would fall into any category like that.
As an entrepreneur, what is next for you? Will you stick with RFM or is there an exit plan?
We intend to build this brand; we care about it very much and are in the middle of fund raising right now. We are going after our seed series of fundraising, so that is the plan and the goal is to build a really beautiful brand that continues in perpetuity.
So let us talk about you and your day. Do you have a typical day?
I think it is organized chaos and depends on where we are in the cycle. It is a lot of jumping back and forth between our office and showroom in SoHo and the garment district. We have only been here in New York since June but it is a lot of meetings. You know, telling the story.
How do you relax and destress?
I am trying to go to the gym a lot more because I am starting to get the start-up body at this point. On the weekends, I try to see friends who are not going to be asking about business or how Kevin and I are doing, they just leave you alone. I am also a former marine and try to get around my buddies because I really enjoy talking about what is going on in the world and foreign policy. You know, in vino veritas, so the more beers I have, the more honest I am apparently. Reading is probably my biggest stress reliever.
Any particular spot in the city?
I actually spend a lot of time when I go out at Mother’s Ruin or Dead Rabbit down in Financial District. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have a seven block radius near my apartment here in SoHo with places I can go.
What is something you want most right now?
I would like to build a brand, so I would like to have the right person to come in here and help us build this brand responsibly. I want to figure out the line in the sand and I know we talk about it, but you have to put your finger on the pulse of the brand.
Is there any brand out there right now that you would like to model your brand after?
Yeah there are few. The Equinox brand is interesting because there is a really hard line and committed message. Rag & Bone, Vince, Lululemon are similar. We admire that strong message of identity about who the customers are and you are either on the ship or off. I think those are really interesting brands that are unapologetic about who they are, who their customers are, and what they want and I think that is really interesting.
Is that always a good thing though? Mike Jeffries of Abercrombie and Fitch comes to mind here.
No, not when you do it in a way that is… actually, unequivocally no. It is not designed to alienate people, it is designed to say who we are. If you go overboard and your language becomes perverse, offensive, insulting, it is not a great idea, but there is something to saying here is who we are and we are proud of it.
Agreed. Are you a beer, whiskey, or wine guy?
I am a beer and wine guy and I once drank too much rose…
Tell me about that
I can tell you it did not end well. So yeah, beer and wine and probably vodka, it just really depends on the day. I do not trust a man with no vices.