With forays into dress shirts and maybe pants, Allyson Lewis says she wants the brand to take risks.
Dressing down at the office may be on the rise, but The Tie Bar CEO Allyson Lewis says there are still plenty of men turning to neckties, tie bars and pocket squares to “set themselves apart.”
Lewis, who joined the menswear retailer 3-1/2 years ago after stints at Nordstrom and Mark Shale, oversaw the brand’s expansion into new product categories as vice president of design and merchandising before taking over as CEO in September.
The privately held company is headquartered in Chicago and has its sole permanent retail store in the city. The brand is also available online through The Tie Bar’s website, Nordstrom.com and certain Nordstrom stores.
Lewis said The Tie Bar is proud of the fact that it’s taken a cautious approach to growth and made staying profitable a priority. But after a first foray into sized apparel with a line of dress shirts last fall — which sold out much faster than expected, catching the company by surprise — Lewis said she wants the company to get a little more aggressive.
“I think the biggest change you’ll see is we’re going to accelerate the pace of things and not be afraid to take risks,” she said.
Lewis talked about The Tie Bar’s decisions to introduce new products and President Donald Trump’s sartorial picks in a chat with the Chicago Tribune. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: The Tie Bar has been adding a number of new products, but the dress shirts you added last fall seems like a bigger departure. Why go into apparel?
A: We kept hearing customers say, “I shop you guys for ties, but I want to be able to buy shirts and ties together.” We’d been hearing it for years and knew it was important to the customer, but we took our time because we wanted to get it right.
Q: Are there other categories you can see going into down the line?
A: I think anything’s on the table for us. What we learned from the shirting is that our customer wants to buy clothing from us, and they trust us, not just for accessories but for apparel. So the customer has been asking for more categories — he wants pants from us; he wants suiting. We’re always exploring what those next steps are going to be.
Q: We’ve been seeing a lot of primarily online brands opening brick-and-mortar stores. Do you see The Tie Bar adding more permanent stores?
A: I don’t think you’ll see us opening a ton of retail stores. But we really want to give our customer an offline experience of the brand. We do see ourselves having more; it’s just about finding the right location.
What we found in the Chicago store that was surprising is how many new customers come to that store. We’ve seen about 70 percent of transactions come from new customers. We opened it as a way to give the existing customer a way to shop the brand in real life, so we’ve been really pleasantly surprised it’s a great way for people to discover the brand.
Q: You mentioned you’ve seen a lot of growth coming from your wedding business. Why do you think that’s taken off?
A: Designing products specifically for the wedding was the first step. What we’ve seen is the color and pattern trends are very different from what you’d wear to the workplace. Blush pink may not be something you’d wear to the office every day, but it looks great with a tuxedo. We also saw that when shopping for a wedding, often he knows what color he wants to start with first because the groom’s neckwear tends to work back from the bridesmaids’ dresses. We designed a web experience that allows him to start shopping with the color and find other accessories to go with the necktie. We’ve seen a lot of growth continue in weddings because even as the “athleisure” trend picks up, on his wedding day, he still wants to look really polished and formal.
Q: I want to get your professional opinion: What’s your take on Trump’s tie style at the inauguration?
A: The main thing I notice when I see the way he wears his ties is he likes to wear them incredibly long. We tend to recommend that you tie your tie so the tip really grazes the top of your belt, or at most hangs down half an inch into your belt. We would recommend he maybe watch a “how to tie the tie” video and tie it a little bit shorter.