Few wedding preparations are less glamorous than renting a tux for the big day.
The fact is, most tuxedo and rental suits just don’t look great. They’re poorly tailored and usually made from low-quality fabric by manufacturers that also pump out uniforms for service staff. In a word, they look bad.
When Andrew Blackmon got married, he figured there had to be a better way. That’s why in 2013, he and Patrick Coyne started The Black Tux, an ecommerce-based formalwear rental startup. Blackmon and Coyne serve as co-CEOs.
The Los Angeles-based company has raised $30 million in venture capital, and it now does $2 million a month in sales with a 200% increase year over year, Blackmon told Business Insider. But the way the company approaches the rental business is fundamentally different from the strategy behind traditional brick-and-mortar options like Tailored Brands’ rental giant Men’s Wearhouse, which has seen falling sales since 2015.
The Black Tux takes a different approach to the rental garment, creating one made from higher-quality fabrics that are sourced from Italian mills, and that is designed to be worn fewer times than a traditional rental. Suit rentals start at $95, and tuxedos start at $110.
“We wanted the suit to feel closer to what you would buy for $1,000 in a retail setting,” Blackmon said. “One of the biggest innovations [of the Black Tux] was creating a rental garment with a high-quality fabric maker.”
The company just created its first “collection” of new styles, including more adventurous fabrics like plaid tuxedos and velvet jackets.
Garments — both suits and tuxedos — are shipped from the company’s West Coast warehouse up to two weeks before the customer’s event. This allows plenty of time to ensure it fits correctly. Customers must then return the product within three days after the event has passed.
To clean these garments properly, Blackmon says the company was forced to take its dry-cleaning operations in-house. That means The Black Tux ended up creating one of the largest dry-cleaning operations on the West Coast, even rivaling fellow startup Rent the Runway, which famously has one of America’s largest.
“We found that when we were using external vendors, we couldn’t get quite the quality we wanted. Most were experts in linens,” Blackmon said. “We wanted to make sure the way we were running the dry-cleaning operation was of the highest calibre with the most experienced people.”
Fit is another thing that the company says it takes more seriously than its competitors, and it’s all done by algorithm. At the company’s founding, it purchased a set of data points for men’s military uniforms. Last year, a data scientist was hired to combine customers’ measurements with the existing data and improve the rate of first-time fit dramatically.
Blackmon says he sees his customers in three categories:
- A groom who wants to match his groomsman, but who doesn’t want to pay the hundreds it would take to do so at retail price.
- A man who wants an outfit that’s either more stylish or more interesting than what he currently owns, but who doesn’t necessarily want to own something like that.
- The prom customer, who usually skews younger and is attracted to the company because of its slimmer-fitting offerings.
Blackmon says he’s seen a shift in his customers’ preferences over time. In the beginning, the concierge team did a lot of “style consultation.” Not anymore.
“Guys come to us with an idea of exactly what they want,” Blackmon said. “Guys care more. They’re more specific. They’re more interested in expressing themselves.”
That’s something Blackmon is seeking to foster, especially since the company’s official stance on treating its garments is to essentially have fun with it. He told Business Insider that the company’s intake warehouse routinely receives soaking wet garments, pairs of pants that have been cut into shorts, or other products that arrive with their pockets stuffed with illegal substances.
“It is a little frustrating when they come back soaking wet, but if that’s what having fun is, then we’re totally OK,” Blackmon said.
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