Pittsburgh clothier David Alan builds business with e-commerce
David Alan's business model is all 21st-century e-commerce.
His eponymous Pittsburgh-based company has no brick-and-mortar showrooms. His marketing of custom-made suits and a necktie accessory called the Proper Knot relies on them being worn by sports figures with big social media followings.
The philosophy behind David Alan Clothing is much more old school, though.
“Our goal is to take the styles of the '40s, '50s and '60s and put that into current wardrobe,” said Alan, 30, of Mt. Washington, talking about the days when “people would dress up in a suit to go to the airport or church.”
“We want to make it cool again to dress up,” he said. “The tech bubble essentially killed men's fashion, with flip-flops, T-shirts, shorts.”
With a crew of 10 part-time stylists in Pittsburgh, New York and Washington, David Alan Clothing is selling about 50 suits a month — at $800 to $2,000 apiece — and roughly as many Proper Knot accessories. Of the WWE's roster of 75 professional wrestlers, Alan counts 27 as clients.
Two years after selling his first Proper Knot — a stylized covering for the knot of a men's tie that allows the wearer to add color or variety to an outfit — Alan is preparing to expand his company's sales into more accessories, shoes and women's clothing.
He expects an Oct. 14 fashion show at Room 16 in the Strip District, a recently announced partnership with the American Cancer Society and an ad campaign with Louis Anthony Jewelers to fuel extra interest.
In the meantime, his approach to selling suits and Proper Knots is building a list of well-dressed and impressed clients.
“David Alan has more drive than any businessman I have ever met. His dedication to his brand and belief in himself is incredible,” said Jonathan Coachman, a client and anchor on ESPN's “SportsCenter” who will emcee the Strip District fashion show that will double as a “pink carpet” fundraiser for the cancer society.
Coachman proudly shows off his David Alan Clothing suits on social media accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers. He said he thinks the Proper Knot will be the “next big thing” in men's fashion.
“With money at such a premium for everyone, allowing yourself to change your professional look at a fraction of the cost is awesome,” he said.
Though Alan's goal of allowing more average guys to dress like sportscasters and wrestling stars might seem lofty, his push into the fashion world has practical roots.
Not long after graduating from Duquesne University with a degree in marketing and sports marketing, he and three partners tried to build a company that sold neckties with logos to country clubs and other specialty buyers. When that fizzled after four years, Alan had to put all of his time into his day job as a medical device salesman.
Early in 2014, he saw a tie that when tied in a certain way made the knot a different color.
“At that time, I had my five neckties I was wearing every time I had a suit on,” he recalled. “So I said, how can I take my favorite five and turn them into 100 neckties?”
The idea for the Proper Knot was born. He applied for a patent and hooked up with a tailor who could supply the fitted slipovers that he marketed online.
By the middle of last year, interest picked up in the knots, a silent investor put in some money and Alan looked for ways to improve the wardrobes of himself and friends. He learned how to measure out a suit — which took about three months to perfect — found a factory in China that will sew suits to his specifications and started selling his service to friends.
When WWE Raw came to Pittsburgh last year, a sports reporter connected him with wrestling star Titus O'Neil. Alan showed up at O'Neil's hotel at midnight with his portfolio book of fabrics and measuring tape.
“He purchased 10 suits off me. It was kind of overwhelming because at that point, I had sold maybe three suits,” Alan said.
O'Neil, who like Coachman shows off his suits on social media, has connected Alan with dozens of colleagues.
“David is a very attention-to-detail guy, which I like, and the clothing is not only very high quality, but his service is prompt for delivery,” O'Neil said in an email.
Alan and his stylists do the sales and measurements, often traveling to meet clients in their homes or work. Once the suit arrives from the factory in Shanghai, Alan or the stylist steams it and hand delivers it.
Alan wants that attention to service to set his product apart.
“That's what makes or breaks companies these days, it's truly how well do you treat your clients and customers,” he said.
With this model and consistent monthly growth, Alan said he is close to breaking even, though he declined to provide figures.
He said it's still tough, especially in Pittsburgh, to convince some potential clients who are willing to spend $200 to $300 on a night out in the clubs that a $1,000 suit is a good investment.
He's set on staying close to family in Pittsburgh and is negotiating with an unnamed local tailor to set up a physical location here.
His charity work is part of his connection to Pittsburgh. The fashion show and fundraiser is the night before the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk at Station Square. For every pink Proper Knot that Alan sells over the next two years, he will donate $1 to the American Cancer Society.
“Part of the journey of trying to make money and be successful is how can you give back,” Alan said.