Ledbury acquires 108-year-old Creery Custom Shirts and introduces a new generation to the pleasure of bespoke.
Jim Joyner, Paul Trible and Paul Watson at the Creery Workshop in Richmond.
Photo by Adam Ewing
Why would an Internet-based clothing business that sold 40,000 men’s shirts last year want to buy a 108-year-old custom shirt-making shop that produced just 2,000 shirts in the same time period?
It’s a question Paul Trible and Paul Watson, founders in 2009 of buzzy menswear brand Ledbury, had to ask themselves last July when they acquired Creery Custom Shirts, makers of bespoke shirts in Richmond since 1907.
“This was so attractive for us because we would actually get a chance to make something,” says Trible. At Ledbury, he says, “we do design everything and we sample things and we have an end line,” but all of the company’s manufacturing is done in Italy and Poland. With bespoke, “We actually get our hands into the process of making clothing, so having this small workshop makes us better at our craft.”
With this, their company’s first acquisition, and a new made-to-measure service launched last May that lets customers select fabrics and adjust a block pattern to their size, Trible, 35, and Watson, 36, have bridged the disparate worlds of online and in-store shopping, greatly expanding their reach into the menswear market.
Now Ledbury customers can shop online from its collection of ready-to-wear shirts, sweaters, pants, blazers and accessories; they can shop the collection and book a made-to-measure appointment in person at the flagship retail store in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom; and they can do all of that, plus experience the full bespoke process, at the newly-renamed Ledbury: Creery Workshop in Richmond’s West End, where shirts are cut and sewn on-site. All Ledbury shirts are made from fabric manufactured in European mills.
“Everybody that walks in is like, ‘Oh God, you’re actually making the shirts in the back of the shop?’” laughs Trible. Renovations last fall of the compact space included cutting a picture-size window into the back wall so that customers can see master pattern maker Jose Abel Mendoza, who has been with Creery for 16 years, and another two tailors at work (shirts are complete in about three weeks, start to finish).
“You get to actually collaborate with the customer,” says Watson. “They love having the chance to say, ‘No, let’s modify the collar a little bit, let’s do contrasting fabrics,’ or something like that. It’s fun to be able to work back and forth with them.”
But it is expensive; a bespoke shirt starts at $295 (ready-to-wear shirts start at $145, and made-to-measure at $185). “There’s something I think though, to knowing it’s been made exactly for you, that unique tailoring experience,” says Trible, “this is one of the rare places you can get that.”
For Trible and Watson, deciding to buy Creery was about more than brand building—they were also attracted to the romance of bespoke clothing.
“We are the latest iteration of people who care deeply about creating something as unique as a bespoke shirt,” says Trible. “So many people have had this business, but they kept the name and kept it going, and I think it shows this unique world of bespoke clothing.”
How many have owned Creery Custom Shirts since it was sold by Joseph N. Creery, the last family owner (who took over the business from his father, founder Joseph L. Creery), in 1963? No one knows for sure, not even Jim Joyner who, with partners Michael Neely and Rodger and Janice Claridge, bought Creery in 2007.
“I wanted to find the right people to pass the business on to,” says 70-year-old Joyner. “I think they [Trible and Watson] had the enthusiasm for it and respect for it and I knew they had the resources to take it to another generation. Plus, you know, they’ve got a whole lot more energy than I’ve got,” laughs the retail veteran, winking over his glasses at the younger men.
“I don’t know about that,” answers Trible. “We’re just trying to keep up.” It’s a big legacy for a relatively young brand like Ledbury. (Creery is the second-longest continuously operated bespoke shirt maker in the U.S., bested only by Hamilton in Houston, which opened in 1883.)
Though the Creery workshop has been reimagined with on-trend dark walls, animal-skin rugs and a pingpong table cleverly put to use as a display space, there is weight here, and history.
In the back, hundreds of handmade brown paper patterns fill a long narrow closet, each on its own hanger, marked simply with black pen—Harry S. Truman (for whom Creery made six pairs of pajamas annually), George H. W. Bush, and from a new generation of bold-face names, Daniel Radcliffe, who ordered a shirt last September while filming on location nearby.
Today, there are fewer than 50 bespoke shirt makers left in the U.S.; overall, only about 3 percent of clothing sold here is made domestically, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association. The consequence of this is a diminishing knowledge of the craft, the fading away of lessons learned—a tradition that has all but vanished.
“You have to have a great knowledge base regarding how it’s been running for 108 years to keep it going for the next,” says Trible. That’s why he and Watson are in no hurry to see Joyner, who is from Southampton County and has spent his whole career in retail, leave. He agreed to stay on in an advisory role, but how long will it take to pass on so much knowledge and know-how? Says Joyner, “I’m playing it by ear.” Ledbury.com