Q&A with Founder of Innovative Clothing Start-Up
March 10, 2016
If something doesn’t fit, what do most people do? Donate it or throw it away. Not anymore. Air Tailor, a text-based tailoring company, has set out to change that. In March 2016, the company launched with one goal in mind: to make tailoring easy and express. The mastermind behind Air Tailor is Joshua Brueckner, a tall, lanky, and sheepishly charismatic entrepreneur from Brooklyn. His vision for the start-up is to utilize technology in order to make tailoring as easy for the customer as possible. He expanded on this, saying the company is “tapping into technology and conversational commerce innovations by utilizing SMS text messaging to give customers a highly personalized experience.”
Although primarily a clothing tailoring service, Brueckner brought his background of professionally shortening and tailoring ties to the start-up, offering this service along with other oddities, such as replacing watch batteries, repairing winter boots, and adding pockets to shirts. In other words, whatever your clothing needs, Air Tailor can most likely take care of that for you.
To use the service, all a customer needs to do is send a text to Air Tailor from anywhere in the US. If in New York City, the clothes can be picked up by messenger but if elsewhere, a shipping label will be printed and sent the same day. Once Air Tailor receives the item(s), they will be returned within five business days. Payment is done electronically, as is nearly all of the communication.
Air Tailor is (fittingly) based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the first tailors in America had originally set up shops. Although the tailoring service is run by a male, that’s where the comparisons to the original tailors end. Brueckner’s intent to incorporate high quality with a New York pace makes Air Tailor not just another New York start-up but rather a look at the future of dressing. In a society where people are made to feel they need to fit the clothes (just look at the fitness and diet industries), Brueckner is hoping to reverse that mindset and change it where the clothes fit the people.
I sat down to chat with the start-up’s founder about what it’s like to be a young entrepreneur, how technology is changing the clothing industry, and what is to come for this hot start-up:
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
My inspiration to become an entrepreneur came out of necessity. Back in 2012, I was unemployed (like so many people in the recovering economy), and unable to afford interview clothing. I found these old wide neckties in the back of my closet and thought, "There has to be a way to slim these down." So, after deconstructing a few ties, I figured out how to do just that. Still no luck with the job interviews, I took my old, newly slimmed down ties to a local flea market and even sold on the side of the street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. People loved the slimmed down vintage ties that I was selling, but requested this as a service for their own ties. I made a website selling the service and it quickly gained interest from customers and major news outlets alike. Looking back, I was 24 years old and just needed cash to pay my rent and buy food – little did I know, this would become my full-time job and career for years to come.
Could you explain some of the difficulties facing entrepreneurs today?
When things get tough – and I mean bills overdue, angry customers, huge water leak in office, upset family and friends– that's when you have to persevere and give 110%. That's hard to do. Founding a company has this romanticized connotation with it like we just sit around on our yacht and drink cocktails all day coming up with motivational quotes like, "Do what makes you happy". There's really hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
What is your long term vision for Air Tailor?
We're laying our foundation to become the nation's go-to tailor for clothing alterations and repairs. We have plans to make online clothes shopping much easier by tailoring before you receive it. It's no easy task to step in and wake up an entire industry doing something no one has ever done before, but so far we are well on our way.
What inspired you to transition from SKINNYFATTIES to Air Tailor?
SKINNYFATTIES slimmed over 10,000 neckties for people all over the world. I was looking for ways to expand on our service, which led to the realization that the alteration industry does not have any strong leaders. My team and I set out to make clothing alterations and repairs easier and more accessible by building on the same systems we already had in place. We did a full rebranding overhaul and changed our name to Air Tailor to reflect our expansion of services.
Why did you decide to make Air Tailor a text-based service?
Founder of the hashtag, Chris Messina, stated in a blog post that 2016 is the year of conversational commerce. Facebook lets you order an Uber within Messenger, and companies like Magic and Operator let you order whatever you want on demand. I believe we'll start to see more companies jump into this tech trend, even utilizing apps such as Snapchat, Kik, Twitter and WhatsApp. Early Air Tailor testing concluded that you simply can't take the conversation out of the tailoring experience. We chose text as our main platform because it's easy and most everyone has access to it.
What are the challenges of rarely, if ever, meeting your customers in person? How do you work around these challenges?
We have to be thorough, which could involve having the customer send us photos, or asking lots of questions to ensure we (and the customers) fully understand the scope of the alteration or repair.
Do you offer tailoring services for both men and women’s clothing?
We sure do! We also repair footwear and watches.
You are concerned with the waste of textiles in America. How do you think tailoring will reduce the 11 million lbs. that ends up in landfills every year?
Air Tailor is a fan of sustainability. To put it simply: instead of throwing old clothes out, we help make them fit, reducing the amount of wearable textiles that end up in landfills each year. Air Tailor also donates fabric scraps from the alteration process to be recycled into new fabrics, cleaning cloths, and damping/insulating materials for the auto industry. If there are items that can’t be repurposed, the scraps are used to produce energy.
Most people only tailor when absolutely necessary, such as work or special functions clothes. Is there a reason we should be tailoring other things as well?
One day, you will sit down and your favorite jeans will tear, or the zipper in your winter coat will come undone. We'll be in your phone when you need us, like a close friend :)
In what ways do you imagine Air Tailor growing within its first year?
Tailoring for more people, growing our tailoring team, and being backed by investors.
What is the best career advice you have ever gotten?
Pick your battles.
What would be your advice to other entrepreneurs?
Starting a company is an emotional roller coaster and you need to have someone to bounce things off of. I suggest finding a qualified mentor, business partner, or advisor that takes time to understand the way you work and your business. Other than that, do what makes you happy.
In a world where everything is going digital, it was about time that our tailoring needs did too.