The Tee has long been the staple piece of every man’s wardrobe. Until now however, we’ve had to settle for less than ideal fits, often sacrificing one element of the shirt in favour for another – such as a longer length tee that suffers overblown sleeves and loose shoulder seams. Citizen Wolf seeks to change this for good, introducing the art and craftsmanship of tailoring – usually reserved for suiting and trousers – to the simple tee. We recently caught up with their founders Zoltan and Eric to chat about the need for such a service, their newly established brand and the process of ordering a bespoke piece.
TVG: Firstly, how did you come up with the name ‘Citizen Wolf’ and what does it represent?
Zoltan: We both come from an adland background and so understand the power of a great name. We went round the houses – literally – for months and after (seemingly) endless whiteboard sessions distilled the brand down to the fact that we’re not making clothes for everyone. Instead we’re for the wolves of the world – those guys and girls who know exactly what they want and aren’t afraid to go out and get it.
Eric: We spent a long time agonising on the name and literally had a couple of hundred on the shortlist, most of them terrible. As refugees from Adland, some habits die hard so we spent some time early on running focus groups. When we reviewed the feedback, it was clear that people who would buy our tees have a particular mind-set. They’re at a stage in life where they know who they are, and what they like. They don’t need a giant logo to validate their identity. They just want quality clothing that reflects who they are and not some generic mass produced brand. They are community minded and social, but ultimately individuals, not sheep. In other words, they are a Citizen Wolf. Once we realised that, there could be no other name for our brand.
What was the inspiration behind the brand existence?
Zoltan: Frustration, pure and simple. Its been 46 years since we put a man on the moon but it was still somehow impossible to get the perfect Tee?! It just didn’t compute and even though everyone in the industry – from fabric suppliers to cutters to pattern makers – told us we were crazy, but we just wouldn’t take no for an answer. We knew there had to be a better way to make clothes. We just had to figure it out…
Eric: Like many guys we chatted to, I like fashion but hate having to shop for it. I’m shorter than average, so finding clothes that fit and look great is a torturous process from the sixth circle of Hell. More often than not, I leave empty handed after wasting several hours because there’s nothing in my size that I like.
When chatting with Zol about his previous clothing brand, the question came up about why there couldn’t be a better way? It’s not like an impossible problem – tailoring has been around for centuries. It’s just that it was reserved for the upper end of the market with business suits and shirts, so why not for quality casual clothing? Someone had to fix this, so why not us?
It looks like you guys are placed in a unique position where there’s really no brands offering the same services. Are there any at all that you’re keeping a close eye on?
Zoltan: Citizen Wolf exists because the fashion industry has stagnated. For too long the customer has come a distant second to what’s convenient for brands and retailers. Superficial customisation is everywhere, but given the choice everyone prefers true personalisation. Shoes of Prey revolutionised their category years ago but there’s been surprisingly little change in clothing since. To that end we’re focussed on making the best Tees and the best experience we can, independent of what’s going on in the wider industry.
Eric: We see a few fashion brands offer a level of customisation, but it’s really just so much marketing gumpf. They are superficial changes that are easy to do, but are ultimately meaningless. It’s lipstick-on-a-pig type stuff. It doesn’t really matter if you can change the colour of a certain detail, or add a personal monogram if the most fundamental requirement – a great fit – isn’t right? We want to provide all the benefits that a personal tailor would, but with a simpler, more scalable process, so you get the best possible Tee with a minimum of fuss.
Did you guys have any previous experience in fashion before you started Citizen Wolf?
Zoltan: I created a brand inspired by literature called The Affair and ran it for about 6 years. We began printing graphic tees on generic blanks and evolved into full cut and sew menswear and multiple successful Kickstarter campaigns. Unfortunately the venn diagram of men who read and blokes who love fashion is wafer thin and in hindsight it was more hobby than business.
Eric: My experience is mostly as a customer! I worked in advertising for over 15 years, running digital agencies in Australia and Asia. Like so much in advertising, appearances matter. I have very specific requirements – especially since I’m short – so I ended up getting all my business shirts and suits tailored. It seemed insane that when it came to casual clothing, there wasn’t a company that could do that. Someone needed to start that, hey?!
Tell me more about the tees – are they all manufactured in Australia?
Zoltan: We’re proudly 100% Australian made: using only organic cotton milled in Melbourne which is then hand cut in our Darlinghurst studio and sewn in Redfern. We’re obsessed with quality and believe in buying better by buying less, which is why we use a thicker 180gsm fabric which is washed and shrunk before we cut. So your fully-tailored Tee will wear better and last longer than anything else – guaranteed!
Eric: We were very conscious about building a company that reflected our personal values. That means being ethical, environmentally friendly and supporting the local industry. All the tees are cut in our Darlinghurst studio and sewn in nearby Redfern, so it doesn’t get any more local than that!
But we’re also lazy bastards, so we don’t want clothing that’s high maintenance and needs special treatment. So every tee we make is from 100% certified organic cotton milled in Melbourne. We use a more substantial and durable 180gsm weight that’s washed with a bio-enzyme to pre-shrink and de-pill the fabric, making it even softer. It also means that you can machine wash and dry it, and not worry about it shrinking. Since the Tees are custom made to your body, they won’t stretch and deform as much over time either, so together with our high-density stitching, it’s a Tee that will last years rather than weeks.
So let’s go through the process. If someone was to get a tailored tee, how would they go about it?
Zoltan: The process is the same in store as it is online – grab a guide Tee, jump in front of the mirror with our intuitive customisation form in hand and within minutes you’ll have the outline of your perfect Tee, no measuring tape required! Once we have your customisations we start cutting, and your fully-tailored Tee is delivered 2 weeks later. Postage within Australia is included in the price and we guarantee you’ll love it or we’ll remake it until you do.
Eric: The more we talk to people, the more we find that I’m not alone in finding the experience of clothes shopping a total ball-ache. It’s not just guys with unusual body shapes either – every girl we’ve talked have shared their frustrations in finding fit. Even the fashion models that we talk to all tell us they have problems finding good fitting clothes. If the very people who model clothes have issues, what chance do the rest of us have?
So we asked ourselves what was the best, most ideal experience for buying clothes? So we built our processes around making that happen. We’ve gone through dozens of iterations over the past year, from our initial testing phase through to feedback from customers. Thankfully, the feedback has been phenomenal, and it’s working better than we’d hoped.
We had three key goals – it had to be simple yet accurate without needing a measuring tape, you’d only need to try on a Tee once only, and you’d never need to return anything. Ever.
So we start with what we call our Guide Tee, which come standard S/M/L sizes that everyone’s already familiar with. It’s made with the exact same details as our Tailored Tees including the same 100% organic cotton – it just hasn’t been customised.
When you put it on, you can get a sense of the quality you can expect, and it becomes a very accurate and intuitive reference point for customising. You simply look in the mirror, and mark down on the order form the adjustments that make it perfect for you. Whether it’s making the length longer, tightening the waist or sleeves, making the neckline more relaxed, or adding style details like pockets or hem finishes, simply mark it on the order form.
Take a photo of the form then email or text it to us. From there, we hand cut your perfect tee and keep you informed as it goes through the production process. When it comes to re-ordering, we keep your details on file so just let us know how many of each colour you’d like and any further tweaks. It’s as simple as that.
And if you were to purchase them online, what’s the process they need to take?
Eric: The first time you order online, we send you a Welcome Pack with a free Guide Tee (worth $59) as our gift to you. The process is the same as in store: try on the guide tee in front of the mirror and mark down the adjustments that make it perfect for you. Then take a photo and email or text the form back to us and we’ll take care of the rest.
Once a person has been properly fitted and they like the tee that’s been tailor made – do you guys save their preferences for easy future purchases?
Zoltan: Absolutely. Simply call, text or email with the new colours and quantity and we start cutting immediately based on your last order. And if you want to change something – like perhaps a V neck this time around – all you need to do is ask. We want to become the fashion equivalent of your local barista: delivering exactly what you like every time.
Eric: Yep! Everyone tells us that their ideal shopping experience is to find the perfect Tee, then to order a few in every colour and never need to think about it again. So we’ve built our business around making that as easy as possible.
I know it’s only early days, but where do you see Citizen Wolf going in the next year or so?
Zoltan: Tees, Tees and more Tees! We’re particularly interested in limited edition seasonal fabrics like merino wool for winter and lighter blends for summer like cotton / hemp / linen / bamboo, as well as textures like slubs and neps and of course new colours. There’s unlimited potential for the humble Tee!
Eric: For the next year, our focus is just on Tees. It’s been quite a climb to get to this point where everything runs as it should to deliver a great product, but it’s still just the beginning. It’s tempting to be distracted by other things, but our laser focus is on making the best Tees you’ll ever own. Besides fit and style, there are lots of incredible fabrics as well, which will keep us busy.
Do you have any other products in the pipeline? Whether that be new materials, colours or even garment types?
Zoltan: Our ambition is to take what we’ve learnt from Tees and apply it to creating fully tailored casual clothes of all types – from shirts to sweats, chinos and denim. Stay tuned because this is only the beginning!
Eric: No two tees we’ve made have been exactly the same, and we’ve sourced a load of amazing fabrics and colours to make them even more individual and unique. We’re about to launch the first of this limited edition range – a luxurious 100% merino wool from Melbourne. Our customers have loved it so much that 20% of the roll has already been pre-ordered!
Our super-top-secret global domination plan is to own the entire casual wardrobe by ensuring every garment we produce is the best you’ll ever wear. But that’s a much longer term mission…
Head to CitizenWolf.com
Written by Alexander Wu-Kim (https://www.instagram.com/wupdewup/)
Photography by Rowland Martinez (https://www.instagram.com/rowlandrmartinez/)