By Brooke Adams, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications
U President David P. Pershing had just one adamant request when he met with Trapper Roderick to get fitted for a new suit: It could not be blue.
PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah
Lassonde student, Trapper Roderick, fits President David W. Pershing for a custom suit in Pershing’s office at the University of Utah.
That aside, Pershing was open to whatever recommendations Roderick, a U senior and owner of True Gentleman Supply Co., suggested—from thread color and fabric pattern to lapel style and pocket positioning.
Pershing is among numerous high-profile clients, ranging from developers and bankers to religious leaders and professional athletes, to get a tailored suit from Roderick’s company. Roderick considers businessman Kem C. Gardner one of his favorite clients and Scott Anderson, CEO of Zions Bank, has become a mentor, he said.
No one is more surprised by his career as a haberdasher, perhaps, than Roderick himself.
“I always thought I would be a home builder, developer or architect,” Roderick said. “People are usually pretty shocked when they found out that I’m in this line of work. My favorite thing is I get to meet lots of amazing people and build those relationships.”
What Roderick means is he is not just selling suits, but a personalized experience that will lead clients from one suit to the next over a lifetime and maybe to even seek his advice on what to wear to that special black-tie event.
It’s working: Just three years after launching True Gentleman Supply Co., Roderick says he is on-track to surpass $1 million in sales.
A better suit
Roderick’s interest in suit-making was born out of frustration. He wanted a custom suit and didn’t like the “old-man style” offerings he found.
“I wanted something more fun and I felt I should be able to choose the details,” Roderick said.
So Roderick made the suit he envisioned himself. Soon, friends began requesting suits as well as style advice. Roderick discovered he had a flair for fashion design and a passion for helping men looked their best.
As Roderick began forming a business plan, he shifted academic focus to entrepreneurship. He received mentoring through the Innovation Scholar program and a $6,000 grant from the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute’s Get Seeded program that helped him launch True Gentleman Supply Co.
Roderick also credits entrepreneurship classes he took from Barclay Burns and Kim Power Stilston with being crucial to his success.
“They taught me it was normal for it to be hard,” Roderick said. “When I had road blocks, they offered their advice and they genuinely cared without the need to personally profit from it. They were always there for me as friends, mentors and teachers. They opened my eyes to possibilities and they were optimistic, like I am. More than anything, they were there for me when I made mistakes and had to learn the hard way.”
They also provided Roderick with the opportunity to share his experiences with their classes, which “tailored me to be a good speaker and to take criticism from my peers,” he said. “The students often asked me hard questions that I hadn’t thought of and, because of that, I was constantly pivoting and modifying my business plan and structure.”
The Lassonde Institute has launched more than 325 startups since its creation in 2001; each year, there are a handful of clothing companies that make a run at success. Among those currently incubating at the U are Evok Clothing Collective and Girl Gang.
“Trapper is a very hard-working entrepreneur like many of the students involved with the Lassonde Institute,” said Troy D’Ambrosio, the institute’s executive director. “We work with thousands of students from every academic level and background to invent new products, start companies and learn by doing. Some take what they learn to become better employees and executives. Others, like Trapper, are able to create a sustainable company.”
Handcrafted, hard work
True Gentleman’s focus on hand-crafted, custom tailoring distinguishes it from other clothing companies. As he was getting started, Roderick spoke with “anyone and everyone” he could who had had a suit made or done business overseas. That helped Roderick zero in on a particular garment factory in Thailand that now makes his suits. True Gentleman uses high-end fabrics made in Italy, England and Australia, including brands Dormeuil and Zegna. In addition to custom suits, the company offers shirts and a few accessories. Cost for a custom suit starts at $1,200; each suit takes about five and a half weeks (longer during busy seasons) from measurement to delivery.
Roderick expects to graduate this spring with a degree in communications and an entrepreneurship certificate. He’ll then be able to turn full attention to his fledgling company.
True Gentleman currently employs three people and builds clientele through face-to-face meetings and word-of-mouth. Roderick’s goal is to have a few flagship stores—including one in Salt Lake that combines a clothing store with a barbershop. For now, when a client requests a custom suit, Roderick is the one who shows up to help make design decisions, take measurements and do the final fitting.
“I never expected this to take off,” he said, “but I’ve had a lot of help from the Lassonde Institute and it has turned into a really fun business.”