Founder: Proper Cloth
Seph Skerritt never worked in fashion. But he did know his shirts never fit quite right. And when he stumbled into his first custom-fit clothes during a trip to India, he knew he had found a good business idea to bring home.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Skerritt said, discussing the 2008 origins of his one-man startup, Proper Cloth, which helps men design custom-fit dress shirts online at about $150 each.
“I found a factory originally in North Carolina who was willing to work with me,” Skerritt said. “I learned a lot from them. Probably, I’m sure, if you go to fashion school you learn a whole lot more than that. But I was able to get my head around the dress shirt pretty well. Then I moved to another factory in Jersey, and learned some new stuff from them.”
“Now I think I’m pretty damn smart about dress shirts,” he joked. “And custom fits, and manufacturing.”
Running Proper Cloth alone, out of a New York City startup incubator, Skerritt turned a business plan he developed at MIT Sloan into a profitable enterprise. Funding was modest, a total of less than $150,000 from himself, friends and family, and one strategic investor. Now Proper Cloth is making money and by December was approaching “a few hundred thousand in revenue” for 2010. Skerritt believes he can double sales this year.
“We keep acquiring more customers,” he said. “We’re getting this larger repeat customer base.”
“But the website is hardly static,” he said. “Every week there’s a new feature, or a new angle or a new twist, with this goal of improving conversion [of site visitors into sales], or making it more intuitive, boosting it.”
Skerritt, who began his career as a program manager and systems engineer at a defense contractor, joined MIT Sloan in 2006 as part of the first MBA Entrepreneurship and Innovation (E&I) cohort. He wrote at least six business plans while in school, usually with an E&I colleague. The program, he said, provided a “support group” that helped confront the challenges and uncertainties of startup life.
“That’s how you decide if it’s really something you want to do, or if it’s something you’re going to pull off, if you’re going to find the funding for it, or if you like the space,” he said. “I wrote a lot of business plans during business school, but this is the one I fell in love with.”