From Fine Young Gentleman to Jay Butler Menswear: An Interview with Justin Jeffers

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Meet Jay Butler.  Founded by Justin Jeffers, a longtime menswear blogger, the new venture launched this fall with a focus on unique small leather goods — everything from a crocodile money clip to an ostrich billfold.

Later this month, he expects to make shoes available — just in time for the holiday season.

Justin joins a growing list of menswewar bloggers such as Barron Cuadro from Effortless Gent and Raphael Schneider from Gentleman’s Gazette who have made the jump to their own e-commerce collections.

What inspired Justin to turn to e-commerce? See below for a Modern Fellows’ conversation with the founder of Jay Butler.


What inspired you to make the transition from blogging to menswear e-commerce?

Pretty soon after I started working as an auditor for Deloitte I determined that it was boring and unfulfilling.  So I started The Fine Young Gentleman, as a creative outlet and to foster my growing interest in men’s style and menswear.  As time went on I became pretty removed from my job but I longed for a way to combine what I had learned at Deloitte with what I had learned from blogging.  But I did not want to make the blog a full time thing; I did not have to want to monetize the blog like that.  In short I wanted something that was fulfilling, purposeful, challenging and having to do with menswear.

So I started chatting with friends, readers and family about ways to make a move into menswear.  At first the plan was to work as an accountant for a fashion house or clothing company.  I audited Gilt Groupe and found it somewhat interesting but at the end of the day realized that accounting is still accounting; whether you are at Gilt or Morgan Stanley.  Accounting was not for me.  Fortunately, the idea for a well styled, well priced and well made line of shoes came about.  Which was great because I love shoes.  Anyway, at first it was all talk, no action; no progress was being made.  As with many things, I got to the point where I had to shit or get off the pot.  I had to stop talking about doing something and actually do it.  So I left my job in December of 2012 and soon after that started putting together what is now Jay Butler.

jay butler crocodile and sting ray leather money clips

What’s the significance of the name?

Jay Butler is the combination of two men.  Two men that I never had the pleasure and honor of meetings.  But the two men that my parents seemed to look up to the most when they were growing up.

Jay Desgrange was my mother’s father, my grandfather.  He was a mechanic, a fire chief and an Army man; he served during WWII.  Frank Butler was my father’s maternal grandfather, my great grandfather.  He was a county Sheriff and an exceptional baseball player, legend has it that the Yankees asked him to try out for the team; he turned them down citing a need to care for his family.  Selfishly, I like to think he would’ve been the Derek Jeter of first half of the 20th century.

On a more personal note I volunteer as an EMT, in part because of the precedent and tradition established by these men.  My father was in the National Guard, a few cousins have served in various branches of the armed forces and another cousin is an officer at his local fire company; the same one my grandfather was once a chief of.  I feel it is a duty and honor to carry on their legacy as well as to serve the people of my area.


What will your product line cover? How did you decide on leather goods, and the particular leather goods you’re carrying?

The focus of Jay Butler is actually shoes.  The leather goods collection was the first collection to launch because it is an easier process to bring those goods to market compared to shoes.  From a managerial perspective I also wanted to use the leather goods to test the brand and its processes.  Does the website work?  Does the payment system work?  Will people actually come to the site and buy?  Do people like what they see?  What else do people want to see?

The shoe collection will launch in November.   The collection will consist of casual shoes – hand sewn moccasins mostly, the same made by hand techniques you hear about being used up in Maine.

The idea is to give gentlemen the shoe they have been looking for but unable to find.  That shoe that is dressier than a boat shoe, as elegant and suave as a driving shoe and as durable as a dress shoe.  All for less than $200.

jay butler crocodile leather card case wallets

Can you describe the sourcing process? Where are your products made and how difficult was it to source and prototype?

The first things that come to mind when I think about sourcing are not the most positive things.  It is frustrating, expensive, time consuming and difficult; especially when referring to shoes.  It is a constant battle between brand and supplier.  Oh, and did I mention that no one seems to listen to you, especially in the beginning.  But in the end, it is an extremely rewarding and interesting process.  It can even be fun.  Sourcing and cash are in my opinion the most important parts of a pre-revenue apparel start up.

All of Jay Butler’s products are currently made in Mexico.  I looked into and had samples made in China and spoke with factories from India, Vietnam and Bangladesh but felt more comfortable in Mexico.   There is an exceptional level of pride that many of the people I have met in Mexico have for their work.  It is humbling.

jay butler driving shoe purple suedeCan you talk about your retail strategy? E-commerce only via your platform? Via other online stores? In retail stores as well?

For now, the plan is to sell Jay Butler’s goods almost exclusively through our website.  I think some of the leather goods may go into some small boutiques, in addition to some trunk shows and pop up shops.  But you will not be seeing Jay Butler in the Nordstroms and Saks of the world anytime soon.  Our model is to limit the number of links in the chain between brand and consumer, thus keeping costs and consequently prices down.  I want people to get an idea of what Jay Butler is about by visiting and shopping our website, by meeting us in person; it is better that way.

jay butler penny loafer brown full grain leather

What do you have coming up for Jay Butler?

The biggest thing is the shoes’ launch in November.  I have made prototypes for a lot of other small leather goods; belts, duffel bags, dopp kits, shoe bags, watch straps, lap top bags and the like.  I think the most logical next step would be to introduce some of those items.  There are a couple other shoe styles in the pipeline as well, some of which I am very excited about; others may never see the light of day.  But that’s just the way this type of stuff goes.  I would also love to do some stuff for my fellow first responders; police, fire and ems.  Not sure what that would be yet, but its something I think about often.

And of course improving on the products Jay Butler already has.  Although they are strong offerings as is, there will always be feedback from customers and friends to incorporate into future production runs and future models.  Outside of those things I will say there are very few things in the menswear sphere that I wouldn’t like to try my hand at.

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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