The Office’s Dwight Schrute
may not seem like the best fictitious personality to base a business on, but for Cladwell
co-founder Blake Smith, the inspiration was there. Cladwell is an online fashion resource for men that provides customized wardrobe recommendations for everything from casual to business attire, scouring through thousands of name brands and returning the three best options instantly based on user input data.
“For me, the epiphany came when my co-founder, Tim Brunk, and I were working for an entertainment startup and we had a meeting with an LA billionaire,” Smith says. “He had two assistants with him, one dressed in a super sharp, slim-cut suit and the other dressed like Dwight Schrute.”
After the meeting concluded, the sharply dressed man was shaking everyone’s hands while the Dwight lookalike was literally left packing up the cords from the PowerPoint presentation.
“That’s when I started thinking, ‘Which one of those guys am I?’” Smith says. “There’s a conversation going on around us based on what our clothes say even before we speak; I wasn’t sure if my clothes were consistent with who I am.”
Like many men, however, Smith isn’t a big fan of mall shopping, so he called his friend Chris Merchich (now the third co-founder of Cladwell), who was working the floor at Macy’s
, to ask for recommendations. Merchich, knowing Smith’s general size and style, sent him a personal email listing a handful of items to buy online. Then Smith had another “aha” moment.
“I wondered, ‘What if everyone had a service like Chris in their lives, something that could take the hassle out of shopping?’” Smith says.
Based on that idea, Smith, Brunk and Merchich quit their jobs in mid-2012, spent nine months capturing fashion rules from sources like GQ, Askmen, Dress for Success and Color Me Beautiful, and converted them to thousands of style algorithms for the tool that would become Cladwell.
“Everyone else in fashion is pushing for perpetual shopping,” Smith says. “With Cladwell, we’re saying instead that there’s a finish line for men that’s probably less than 50 articles of clothing based on individual preferences. With Cladwell, we want to help guys shop faster, cheaper and more efficiently.”
By Mike Sarason