Deo Veritas CEO Vinnie Sikka on Online Custom Dress Shirts and Building a Business from the Ground Up

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Deo-veritas-logo-2Vinnie Sikka is a man who prioritizes physical over digital.  While his online dress shirting business Deo Veritas relies on customer clicks, he’ll tell you he is more concerned about the quality of his shirts than a slick online interface. 

Based in Chicago, Deo Veritas offers dress shirts only, at least for now, which are manufactured in Hong Kong.  (The name is a truncated Latin expression for “In God There is Truth,” an expression he says has “a simplicity and universal clarity” that I never forgot.  When it came time to give the company a name ‘Deo Veritas’ immediately came to mind.  We’re not a religious outfit but we do believe in a greater purpose as well as the ‘almighty’ — our name to a large measure is a moniker of one of our core tenets.

Modern Fellows visited with Vinnie, pictured below in Hong Kong, during a visit to Washington and discussed his engineering background, the challenges of bootstrapping a company, and presenting an attractive online face to the consumer.


What led you to start Deo Veritas?

My background is in engineering and supply chain. I was doing a lot of work in 2005, 2006, 2007 in Asia, conducting supplier audits mainly in China.

I was stuck there for weeks on end, and after a while you run out of stuff to do. So I wound up on Nathan Row in Kowloon in Hong Kong, where you had guys telling us that they can turn around a blazer or a shirt in 2 weeks, and I wound up exploring those options.  I started thinking about how we didn’t have anything like this back home. At the time, there weren’t many online places to buy custom clothing.

While I was in Asia for work, I put together some relationships. In parallel, I started working with some developers in the United States, and started developing the user interface and web experience.

Deo Veritas started selling to friends and family in late 2007 and launched to the public in 2009.

What were some of the challenges you faced as you built up Deo Veritas?

One challenge was that folks were leery of using the Internet for buying tailored clothing. The idea hadn’t reached critical mass yet.  Pioneer outfits such as Zappos and Netflix blazed a trail on products that were considered off limits.  Made to measure clothing has been a logical progression to this path.

Also, we are privately funded, and are not looking to raise capital or be beholden to outsiders. We are just trying to make really awesome shirts and take care of our customers. But when you’re bootstrapped, you can’t grow the company as fast as you might like or put in the money into advertising, so it takes time.

Your website started out pretty basic but has evolved over time. How have you approached and refined the customer-facing side of Deo Veritas?

There are a few brands out there that have a slick interface and a great marketing campaign, and it looks like they put a lot of money on the façade versus the foundation. We’re more concerned about building this from the studs. If the aesthetic is not where it should be, that’s ok because we know that we can get there.

Each month, we’re looking to enhance the order process and experience. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re on our way.

How has Deo Veritas grown over the past several months?

We’re up to 179 fabrics and looking to surpass 200.  Due largely to customer demand, we added a number of new cuffs and collars and incorporated them within our customizer.

We did a lot of optimization on the website, including adding new shirt imagery, which has been a big success. We just recently added a number of recommended and essential fabrics for folks who are new to made-to-measure, and build out commentary around those fabrics.

Where would you like to go from here?

Incorporating new technology into the process is an interesting possibility.  We are talking with a couple startups who have a webcam measurement technology that they have been working on for a while. You simply stand in front of a webcam at a certain distance with a uniform object like a CD and have the cam snap a series of photos with you in different poses.  The object acts as a uniform proportion to the distance between your various attributes.  To us, this initially sounded like science fiction but it’s come along a way and has the legs to succeed.  We’ll only commit to promote something like this once it’s passed our QC standards.

What about expanding your product line?

In the near term, we’re going to offer custom as well as standard length ties in a range of price points and patterns.  The hold-up is on the coding and development.  We’ll use high resolution images of the actual ties but we want to add another dimension – the ability to render the tie images to our existing shirt customizer so folks can see the tie on an actual shirt for comparison.

In parallel, we’ll plan on expanding our line of accessory products well beyond what we have today.

Suits will be an ongoing journey.  There are a lot of measurement issues we’re trying to tweak that we hope will make the suit buying process as seamless as with our shirts.  We hope to roll a pilot suit program out by the end of the year.

We don’t mind growing slow and getting things right as we go.

About Jake

Jake is an expert on men’s style and fashion based in Washington, DC. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs and innovative clothing and lifestyle brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. He has published hundreds of articles on style and apparel, and regularly interviews small business CEOs and startup founders about industry trends. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine.

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