Photos: Corey Boland
Part of the fun in making and selling blue jeans is seeing how they can be worn in so many different ways - something we try to document periodically through our Style Profiles posts. As such, it’s such a pleasant surprise that all kinds of boutiques carry 3sixteen, from razor-focused denim stores to contemporary fashion accounts like Today Clothing in Ann Arbor, MI. The store is coming up on its two year anniversary and for each day that it’s been open, a t-shirt is printed with the current date (a nod to conceptual artist On Kawara) and made available for purchase. Alongside seasonal collections from a strong assortment of domestic and international brands, it’s clear that denim is special to founders Eric Hardin and Kevin Pearson - and we’re thankful that our jeans have a home with them.
So do you guys actually print a new t-shirt out for every single day that you are open?
Kevin: Yes we do! We have them digital printed locally so we aren’t burning screens for each one but we do make one for each day we are open. People have all kinds of reasons for wanting specific dates: birthdays, weddings and the day children are born. We’ve also just had people come in just before we close and say “I’m having an amazing day and need the Today shirt as a reminder!” I have a couple myself and the ones I love the most are just those: great days that I’ve wanted to remember. Each time I put on one of those dates I’m forced to remember a great day, which is always fun! We’ve also heard from many of those that have and wear them that they're a great conversation starter. People are always curious about what they mean.
You’re based in Ann Arbor, a college town that is home to the University of Michigan. Beyond the built-in clientele that is the student population, what kind of customers have been gravitating towards the shop?
Eric: Thankfully, we have a widespread range of customers in regards to age and lifestyle. We enjoy telling stories of brands and products and have grown a customer base that appreciates that knowledge. We are driven to continually expand our offering and take pride in always having new and interesting stuff for regulars that visit weekly as well as having the basics covered for those coming in on a mission.
Kevin: Believe it or not students aren’t the biggest part of our customer base - but we do get a good mix of them: everyone from chemistry to architecture students and also some of the faculty. We get a really great cross section of people, everyone from young professionals, designers, baristas, to people from the tech world (Google has a large office here in Ann Arbor which has spawned some great tech start ups). But we also see people from all over Southeast Michigan, including Detroit. There aren’t too many stores with our mix of brands and certainly no one has our selection of raw denim so we get people from all over coming in for jeans. As we all know, trying denim on is so important.
We like how clean, open and minimal the buildout is - almost like an art gallery. What were some of your goals as you were designing the shop interior and fixtures?
Kevin: Funny you mention an art gallery, the space was an art gallery before we moved in. It’s one of the things we initially loved about the space: we viewed it as a clean, blank slate. Eric and I had very similar ideas on how we wanted the layout of the store to end up, and just like anything, we started with a few key design elements and built out from there all while trying to keep it minimal so the the product would always be the main focus. We are lucky to know some very skilled craftsmen, like Thomas Hosford, our friend that does all of our metal work. He understands our vision and been a huge part of bringing what we initially envisioned to a realty. We aren’t selling fixtures, we are selling menswear so that has to come first. We’ve tried to keep it simple so when you step into the store, it's comfortable and the product stands out. We also feel the design lends itself to growth. We continue to grow each category in the store as a direct result of getting connected to better brands and also meeting the needs of what our customers are looking for. We have tripled our denim selection since we opened and it continues to grow, which we are thrilled about. Both Eric and I have loved raw denim for years and its been great to connect with others who share our love and to share our experience with new customers and help them get started on the journey of breaking in a pair of jeans.
Eric: Thank you for your compliment. Our desire was to create a well-built, thoughtful layout that would allow the product to shine, and we added plants and rugs to give warmth to the space. It is very important that there is a home for every product that we bring in, so as we expand, we are continuing to add fixtures and re-designing areas to accommodate them while keeping the same feel that we have already established.
Prior to opening up Today Clothing, both of you had extensive retail experience. Tell us about some of the most important lessons you learned in your previous positions.
Kevin: I had some retail experience very early on in my career, and then I switched to the wholesale side of the business and started selling to stores. Over those years I was able to work with some really smart business owners. I got a very first hand look at what people did that worked and also got to see people make mistakes and learn from them too. When we decided to open the store I was able to draw from a large pool of different experiences to formulate what would best for our store. Sometimes it’s something as simple as appreciating great customer service, and sometimes its something deeper like mapping out growth for a category and the best way to avoid some of the pitfalls ahead. But in the end, some old principles hold true: put the customer experience first and believe in what you’re selling. In the end, neither Eric or I are interested in selling things we don’t believe in 100% and it’s worked pretty well so far!
Eric: Getting back to retail has been really enjoyable for me. Every day starts the same, and then once the door is open, anything can happen. Keeping a positive attitude throughout the day is key in creating the customer experience we envision. I echo Kevin's sentiments: believe in what you're doing and put forth your best effort. Always consider the unknown.
Can you share with us some of your favorite local small businesses that you like to support?
Kevin: There are a ton of other great businesses here in Ann Arbor that share our vision and I love to support! I’m a big coffee fan so I usually end up at Comet Coffee for all those needs. There is a great independent bookstore near our store, Literati, they do an amazing job with the customer experience and have a great selection. I’m also a huge cheeseburger fan, I could spend a day talking about all those but Krazy Jim’s Blimpie Burger is very high on the list, they’ve been at it since 1953 and it’s one of the best in the country. Then there is Frita Batidos, a Cuban street food spot that has an amazing chorizo burger. There is also an artisan meat shop called Biercamp that does magical things with brisket and and pulled pork sandwiches. Everything they do is on another level of greatness. I also collect tattoos, I get all my work done by Jeff Zuck at Name Brand Tattoo. We share a similar vision about what is right in the world and it's always a positive experience sitting with him.
Eric: In addition to Kevin's suggestions, here are some of my favorite local Ann Arbor small businesses:
215 S 4th Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104