I recently stumbled across Cloak and Dapper, a self-described “gentleman’s general store.” Following the recent uprising of male-oriented online retailers, Cloak and Dapper sells a handpicked collection of the coolest stuff on the web for guys. I asked Calvin Cearley, Cloak and Dapper’s owner and founder, a few questions about his inspiration, method, and aspirations. In return, he offered y’all an exclusive coupon for 25% off anything in the store. Get the code at the bottom of this article.
Electrogent: Introduce yourself for those who might not know who you are.
Calvin: My name is Calvin Cearley and I’m from South Florida, but I spent early to mid-twenties in Boston… that’s probably my second home. For the past 6 years I worked in the marketing and advertising industry, but now I own and run (pretty much do everything at this point) Cloak & Dapper. My first job when I was 16 was in retail, and all-in-all I have over 10 years of retail experience behind me, so when the entrepreneurial bug bit me, I thought to myself, “what do I want to do and what am I even qualified to do?” That’s when the “ah ha” moment happened…
E: First of all, Cloak and Dapper is an incredible name. What’s the story behind the name? Were there any other names you thought of using, but didn’t?
C: Thank you! I, and my wife especially, are big fans of puns. When you use them correctly in advertising or in a joke they have this “now why didn’t I think of that?” quality to them.
However, the name didn’t come out of a need to be punny. The whole conept behind Cloak and Dapper is that I saw a need, and there were no resources to fill it. Even if there were/are they’re hidden and not easily found. Cloak & Dagger came to mind and probably 2 seconds later–“Cloak And Dapper.” It’s also essentially what we offer: clothes and dapper-ing goods.
There were other names kicked around… hard to remember, but I remember I thought at one point it would be named “Haberdashery” or have that in the name. Also, “Gentleman’s General Store,” or “Gentlemanly…” We ended up keeping the general store bit as the description for Cloak and Dapper.
E: What’s the story behind the creation of Cloak & Dapper? Why did you start it, and how did you do so?
C: As I mentioned before, I saw the need to simplify clothes shopping for men. Most men don’t enjoy going out to shop for themselves because the industry doesn’t cater to us. Men typically want answers, not more questions, and in a world of so many choices when it comes to clothing and grooming products, we men typically stick with what we already know. But there’s the problem: a great deal of men are missing out on incredible quality and stylish stuff because they don’t know where or how to find it.
That aspect, plus a focus on American-made heritage and manufacturing became important to me while researching brands, designers, ordering inventory, etc. I want Cloak and Dapper to be a one-stop shop for the basics for men: clothing, grooming and provisions. The idea being, you need to own one of everything we have at any given time (or seasonally). Essentially, we’ve done the browsing and shopping for you, now all you have to do is pick out of our closet and know that we did a mindful and heartfelt job at curating every single item.
I started working on the “core” of the idea last June, so almost a year ago, wow! I had a big empty binder notebook labeled “Big Idea.” I’d fill it with research, and I’d spend lunches, evenings and weekends (all while raising a baby with my wife) on Cloak and Dapper and shaped it over the course of more than 6 months before it really became what it is today. At one point it was going to be only a blog, and at another point it was only going to be a side project or a hobby. But one of those “doors closing, another one opens” moments happened and I went for it full steam ahead!
E: Ryan Anderson is your business partner? I have to know the story behind that.
C: Ryan is a good friend of mine and quickly became so two years ago while he still played for the Orlando Magic. We have pretty much the same sense of humor, and he’s just a very supportive and faithful guy. After many lunches of just opening up about this side project idea I had he kept pushing that he’d like to help. Honestly I didn’t know that he was serious at first, I thought he was just saying it to be nice–that sort of thing–but he really was engaged and invested in what I was saying and once the concept for Cloak and Dapper became a sharper and sharper (in focus) concept, he loved it! We often talk about one day opening up the New York location and us both kicking it back in a secluded private back room enjoying fine cigars and probably watching a stupid movie. I’m committed to making that happen!
E: How do you decide if you want to include something in your store? What do you look for in your wares?
C: This has quickly become a calling card and identifier for me, while at the same time a thorn in my side at times. There are 2 basic pillars to Cloak and Dapper carrying an item:
When I turned 30, the source and quality of clothes, furniture, food, pretty much everything became important to me. I love to take pride in what I wear, and the hobbies I invest in. Additionally, when someone asks “Where’d you get that shirt?”, it’s an incredible feeling to be able to tell them the heritage behind it and show them how well its made. It’s not about having expensive name brands, it’s about having the very best of something.
(2) Made in the USA
Among the factors that I have found (and from personal preference) that men consider when they shop, one of them is an easier experience, and another is the pride of buying American. There are many beautifully crafted, artisan goods that are not only made in the states but are simply collectors’ pieces: I’m talking about fine leather goods, barware, denim that’ll last a lifetime, etc.
There are many times when I love and completely want to carry something but then discover that it’s missing one of these definers. It’s frustrating sometimes, but it really goes to show that there is incredible opportunity to invest in the resurgence of American manufacturing. And we plan on manufacturing our own products one day!
E: You’ve got to pick one thing in your store that’s your favorite. One. What is it?
C: I’m a huge fan of the sunglasses we carry, which are made in the USA by Shuron, a brand that you can’t really find out there. Shuron has a very cool story; they’ve been around for over half a century and if you have ever seen an actor wearing cool looking vintage frames in a classic movie or tv show, like Buddy Holly frames, they were probably Shurons.
We currently carry 2 choices with the classic shape Freeway frames. They’re similar to Ray Ban Wayfarers, but they’re made here in the states, they look and feel and fit perfectly and they’re expertly made! The polarized lenses on the Black Fade pair that we carry are just incredible. They’re my personal favorite (right now).
E: What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
C: I wake up, consistently, with the same wonder: it’s not “where’s my son and is he okay?”… it’s not “hey wife, how’d you sleep?” It’s coffee. Coffee. For better or worse… if its before 10 am I might as well be lost in a desert searching for water. I. Need. Coffee. Love. Coffee. It’s a beautiful thing. One can enjoy it by themselves, but it’s a social beverage. It makes meetings more enjoyable (and productive), and goes with nearly everything one eats before 3pm.
After that I spend time with my family while checking emails, industry news and social media (personal and Cloak and Dapper), then I get to work, which can mean a lot of things.
E: If someone wanted to start an online retailer, what three pieces of advice would you give them?
C: (1) Research: read books or anything online. This gave me the confidence to go forward… especially during challenges. A lot of e-commerce is “box-able” and sold that way now. Various platforms and templates exist to launch relatively easily and without spending too much money. We probably did a combination of a very lean method and a highly taste-centric approach to opening up our store.
(2) Choose a name, brand, elevator pitch, etc. early on… if not FIRST. Then, go out and buy up all the identity legalities available: trademark your brand, your name, pick up multiple domains, etc.
(3) Make sure your idea stands out from the crowd. There are a lot of online retailers that already lay claim to the majority of buyers out there. Even though e-commerce, men’s goods, especially, is growing exponentially each year, you must make sure you are offering something different. That can be either (or both) products or browsing/shopping experience, but you really need to make sure of this. Cloak & Dapper is intended to eventually be a brick & mortar, physical store location also, so we base a lot of what we’re doing now around that.
E: Knowing what you know now, what three pieces of advice would you give your past self if you had to start all over again?
(1) Deadlines will be broken–don’t marry them. We originally wanted to launch a month and a half sooner, but I completely forgot to factor in Thanksgiving through New Years, and nearly nothing got done from a vendor or production standpoint.
(2) Test and survey target audience. A lot of what we’re doing is based on gut. It’d also be a good idea to help convince partners, family, etc. that you’re not doing something crazy. “Look… we surveyed 500 people and 99% said they thought we were on to something.”
(3) Be more inquisitive with others who have done this sort of thing before. I wish I had sat down and gotten more advice. A lot of what we did from concept to execution was based on me and my tenacity, but collaboration and counsel are powerful tools.
E: What’s the best and worst thing about your job?
C: Best: For the first time in my entire life… I’m my own boss!
Worst: Actually… for the first time in my life I’m still not my own boss. Every customer is my new boss. I feel like I now serve our hundreds of Cloak and Dapper customers and want to please them and keep them satisfied with our products and shopping experience. This is an incredibly motivating thing, and I love it! Sometimes I am even packing an order, and personally signing each packing slip so they know I had a hand (literally) in their ultimate package-opening experience. I take a lot of pride in perfectly crafting that experience and I hope to only improve it over time!
E: Where do you see Cloak and Dapper in 5 years? Any chance of a brick and mortar shop in Texas?
C: Brick and mortar stores: yes, this is the main thing and main idea behind Cloak & Dapper. I try very hard to wink at it with our site design and with our packaging, but physical store locations have aspects that the website doesn’t have, like: smells, aesthetics, and sense-engagement–manly lounging away from daily stresses. I’m dreaming big for the physical store experience.
I know we’ll likely launch our first store (hopefully multiple ones) along the East coast. When we start moving West, I definitely think Texas would be a great idea.
My father’s side is from Texas. Small towns… poor country. He made something of himself and our family stood a chance to excel because of his hard work. Texas and many of its towns hold a special place in my heart, and the heritage of American manufacturing certainly rings true in that heartland soil.
E: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
C: Right now Cloak and Dapper’s selection remains pretty basic and simple–just the primary needs, and only 1 or 2 options at that. The goal is for this to expand and for us to carry more amazing goods made in the USA, while maintaining a streamlined, man-centric functionality for shopping. As we grow from sales and are one day able to buy more and more inventory at the rate and quantity we want, we hope to fulfill our destiny as a revival of the American general store… the basics for men, made with pride and tenacious craftsmanship right here in the good ol’ US of A!
Thanks to Calvin for this enlightening interview about his passion and aspirations. If you want to support his endeavor by picking up some great wares, enter the code electrogent25 in the discount code field during your checkout and you’ll save 25% off your purchase. No lame spending limits, no limits on what you can buy–just 25% off the total, no questions asked.