Pranav Vora - Hugh & Crye

DC is known for many things, but being a hotbed of men’s fashion is not one of them. The guys at Hugh & Crye are trying to change that, one fine fitting shirt at a time.   Pranav Vora and Philip Soriano left the business world a few years ago, took some sewing and design classes and never looked back.  The result is men's clothing company, Hugh & Crye.  Their goal is to get good fitting shirts into the hands of the masses, offering only a few, slim fit far the guys have clearly found a market.  With a constantly expanding line of shirts and an eye for much more, H & Chas become one of the hottest fashion things going in D.C.  Using the power of the Internet, they are looking for even more.  Do you want a hip new style, cool colors and a shirt that actually fits you well?  Check out what they have to offer.

I discovered H & C a few years back when I was looking for a shirt myself.  Having a big neck but otherwise standard arm length and height proportions, I always have trouble finding a shirt that fits my neck, but also feels slim and well cut.  On my way to their new location in Georgetown to buy my 5th or 6th shirt from them, I got the chance to sit down with Pranav to tell me a little bit more about the company.  (I wear an Average/Broad and just picked up the “Lawn Party” shirt).

XXQs: Pranav Vora of Hugh & Crye

Mark Friedman ( columnist) How did you get to dc?

Pranav Vora (PV): I came to dc in 2001, I was working for a consulting company at the time in the Midwest and a few of us within that firm started another company and they based it out here in DC because of the rise in the technology corridor…I moved out here for, what was, my former life as a management consultant and have stayed out here since then.  I was doing consulting on and off for 8 years.  Then I went to grad school for a couple of years and then I started this.

MF: Beyond that rut that a lot of people get into where work is not that fun and “I want to do something else”, what pushed you to say I want to start something new, I want to do this?

PV: I don’t know if I can boil it down to any one moment, but I had the feeling, the need to create.   I wanted to be behind the creation of something new.  Seeing the creation of something from conception to completely realized…to bring it to market as a product…consulting is essentially a services business model, I like the idea of the consumer product.  Thinking that need could be met very well and thinking about a product that had some differentiation to the market, that was what was most exciting for me.

MF: Is there any one person, event or thing that pushed your towards shirts?

PV: I needed it myself, I wasn’t comfortable with going the “custom route” because often custom is made to measure and it’s really not getting you…it’s not bespoke, it’s not getting you the right fit.  Especially for me, being a skinnier guy…being a guy that needed shirts was a big push for me…it wasn’t like one day I said “screw this life of management consulting, I am going to do something crazy”, I started researching the idea, I took about 6 or so sewing classes to understand construction technique and patterns drafting and understanding what a garment looks like, in terms of a blue print.  And then started thinking about sizing and why that is difficult for most mass brands and why that doesn’t translate to a better fitting shirt on your body.  I started doing some research while I was still a consultant and at that point I started asking other guys about it, whether they had the same issues and repeatedly heard that other guys had the same issues, not getting fit right and not wanting to spend a lot of time or money going the custom route.  From there it led to this.

MF: I have a big neck, not too tall, I spent a lot of money on custom-made shirts…I saw something about you guys and I saw your concept and really was interested, do you find a lot of men respond to that?

PV: Not all the time…I think the thing with guys…they are not as adventurous as women when it comes to trying something new, so it takes a little bit of a push.  Based on a friend recommending it to them, be it they finally come by and try on a shirt, but getting to try it is the most important thing.  Once they try it on, most times we do a pretty good job of fitting them in a way that other read-made garments would not.  And I am talking about the stereotypical lean, athletic fit guy. 

Our shirts do not fit everyone and they are not meant to, they are mean to fit this niche’ market, that’s the best way I can summarize it.   But I think your question is a good one because guys are still…they find something they like and they stick to it and if there is a new way of explaining something that they have known for so long they can be a little bit hesitant to try it until they are pushed to do it.  Once we get over that hump I think we are pretty good.

MF: When you started the company, how many shirts did you have and what was your goal for how many customers you wanted?

PV: We started it was 15 unique designs and we had 4 styles….the idea was to say, we are beyond proof of concept…lets see, as it takes form and it’s not just a sample, how guys react to it.  How will the market take to it, the idea was lets start with tall collars and cutaways that are pretty classic for most guys.  Button downs and club collars are not for everyone but club collars are for a little more, more forward guys.  Some guys have a visceral response to it, they love it or they hate it.  I’m kind of in between.  I see guys come in here, they say, “I don’t want a button down”…I have seen the same thing about pink shirts.  I think it was a good mix with that initial collection. 

Beyond that, there was still a market need for a classic dress shirt.  It’s still hard to find an interesting pattern that doesn’t just droop, it stands properly…little things, like our cuffs on this particular model [the Lawn Party shirt] have convertible cuffs so it takes links which is something that I enjoy, instead of wearing French cuffs only once a year.

MF: Any war stories from the beginning of the company, any thoughts I should stop and go back to consulting?

PV: It’s tough, it was tough and it still is tough.  Back then it was more about, “is what we’re creating the right thing?”  It was questions about the concept and the approach to marketing.  It was tough then, it is still tough now.  I don’t think I need to be validated by press or new customers, I feel the customer base we have now is really excited about what we put out and that’s a good feeling.  Early on, the war stories were about, “Am I on the right track, do I have enough data?”  Everything you hear, you overweigh, you hear something good and you overweigh it, you hear something bad and you overweigh it, because the sample is so small.

MF: What are the biggest surprises you have found in dealing with customers?

PV: In the beginning we were respectful of peoples individual styles… the biggest thing was that it fits.  Where whatever you want and how you want as long as it fits and I still feel that way.  I think there is room for a little bit more education though.  I think guys need to be shown or told why this shirt fits better than the one previous.  Usually putting it on them helps.  But even in terms of things like trying pink, it’s this pre conceived notion, there’s a lot of that.  Overall it was pretty positive, but with retail it’s always “whats next, whats needed?”. 

A collection you can only take so far.  Guys buy with their eyes, so initially it was the size thing but guys find a fabric they like and that’s what gets them.  It’s not the collar, it’s not the cuff, it’s not the fit, it’s not the buttons, it’s not anything else, that’s something guys can see from 10 feet away.  They are either a green shirt guy or not…I think patterns are very important.

MF: Where do you get your fashion cue’s from?

PV: I don’t necessarily look for them.  I don’t open up magazines or whatnot, I don’t know where other people get theirs from, maybe I am assuming something.  I know it when I see it.  The thing I always go back to in terms of influence is fathers, grand fathers, great grand matter how crazy their day was, they took the time every morning to go through that routine and make sure that they look good.  That’s what I think about.  It’s something I can improve on, there are days when you just run out the door. I think that’s what I go to more.  Grandfather styles, fatherly styles, the classics,  that stays for years.

MF: Any advice for looking good while staying cool in the incredible heat and humidity of DC and much of the east coast?

PV: I don’t know if the goal should be to win against that battle…good luck.  There are certain fabrics that breathe a little easier than others, linen for sure.  Personally I am a big fan of 100% cotton, though it is extremely absorbent so its not the best in the heat but I like the feel of it.  I carry a handkerchief…[joking] wear checks [pattern] to help hide the sweats stains.


MF: So, what’s next for you?

PV: We just grew out of our little space, we needed a bigger space.  We consider Washington, DC our home…I have been here 10 years, it’s my home.  The idea of having our own space, even though it’s not on M street or whatnot…It’s about joining the retail and business community.  We plan on having events here, retail on display, running the business out of here also.  You walk in and will see some activity, but certainly not what you would expect to see at a shirtmaker.

85% of our customers are from the DC area but in the past couple of months we have gotten a huge uptick in customers from New York, Chicago, California, all over.  They hear about it from press, word of mouth…we did a deal that quickly put us on the map.  It’s never one answer to enter new markets.

We don’t want to expand too quickly into other products until we feel really good about the product that we have, which is shirts. So even though I would stand our dress shirts next to a lot of really good shirtmakers in the US or abroad, I still think the process of making a dress shirt…it’s a process, it’s not something we have achieved yet…I would like to keep making it better.

We have added ties about 9 months ago, cotton ties and then silk.  We will continue to do that.  Otherwise we are prototyping some jackets, but it might be 3 to 6 months out before we get something we are happy with, it’s sort of a work in progress.

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