John Brueggeman wanted a new suit. Not just any old suit that might be a tad long in the sleeves, loose in the arms and saggy on the sides. He'd seen that look all over town on men who probably should know better.
The executive with a Los Angeles-based software company had a keen eye for design in many aspects of his life, and he wanted his clothes that way, too. The fabric, the fit, the look it all had to be precise.
Oh, and the price? Just about any man, whether oddly proportioned or perfectly symmetrical, can find that kind of custom suit if he's willing to shell out $2,000 to $5,000.
But that's not the price point Brueggeman was after. Acting on a tip, he called Ryan Hammonds, founder of R. Douglas Custom Clothier and an emerging arbiter of style on the local scene. Hammonds showed up at his office to take a series of measurements and learn everything he could about Brueggeman's needs. That was seven suits ago.
And Brueggeman didn't break the bank building his wardrobe. R. Douglas suits start at $699 and are usually delivered by Hammonds himself within three weeks.
"The first thing you notice is the cut it's sharp, it's clean, it's definitely not off the rack," Brueggeman said. "Wherever I am, people will stop and ask, 'Where did you get that suit?' "
Soft-spoken, diminutive and impeccably dressed, Hammonds, 32, has been creating that kind of buzz for a growing number of sharp-dressed men in and around Sacramento. His one-man operation combines old-fashioned personal service, a 21st-century production model and the kind of outsourcing that may or may not inspire controversy. Put it all together and he's able to deliver the kind of high-quality custom suit that used to be the sole domain of the wealthy. His customers don't hesitate to spread the word.
"I get comments all the time and I know it's not me it's the tailor," said Sonny Mayugba, executive vice president of AugustineIdeas, a Roseville marketing and public relations agency. "It happens all the time. It's uncanny. It's not like he's using some material man has never seen. It's the fit."
Hammonds, who has been fashionable and fastidious since childhood, grew up on 5 acres in Galt with horses, chickens, dogs and cats. In 2003, he started R. Douglas (Douglas is his middle name) for purely personal reasons. He liked nice clothes, but nothing seemed to fit.
"It started as a side business out of my own need for custom tailoring. In 2003 they weren't doing the trim fit. For me to find a suit, 36 regular was the smallest I could find. The arm holes were deep, the fit was boxy. It was quite a bit of work to restructure it, so custom tailoring was my only option.
"You have the traveling Hong Kong tailors. That was all I could afford at the time. I would only dream of shopping at Julius (an upscale clothing store on Fair Oaks Boulevard). That wasn't an option. That led me to develop a business that could deliver custom tailoring at a more affordable price."
Because he was active in his church and often wore suits to service, Hammonds connected with a Hong Kong tailor passing through Sacramento.
"I liked the price point. It was about $650 after paying duty and shipping, but the experience was subpar. I was meeting in a random hotel when they came through town. The display, the layout, the choices were not what I had hoped for, but it was really my only option. When I received my suit, there were many problems. Then you have the issue of dealing with someone on the other side of the world and trying to communicate with him on how to fix the problem."
Hammonds figured there had to be a better way. At first, his fledgling operation made suits only for himself and his friends. Hammonds took the measurements and worked out the fabric choices. Then he sent the numbers to a plant in China. He later upgraded to an operation he described as a state-of-the-art facility with 1,000 employees. In September, he visited the factory.
"There are 300 processes to my suit from start to finish," he said. "There's a team that's responsible for the CAD (computer aided design) system that determines the patterns that are cut based on the measurement data that I input. That gets rendered to another team that is responsible for the cutting. Most of the cutting is done by a laser technology. You still have some of those old-world bespoke techniques, but wherever technology is available to be used, they use it."
For the customer, all of that happens behind the scenes. What they see is Hammonds first with a tape measure, and later with the finished product. He visits to take the measurements, then returns in three weeks with the clothes. During that time, he has built up a rapport with his clients, who even call him up for impromptu fashion tips.
"Ryan came out, and we hit it off right away we were dressed almost identically," said Brett Lawton of Lawton Construction and Restoration. "It was a one-hour sit-down and I picked out all of my stuff."
Mayugba, who while in his 20s founded a popular snowboard, skateboard and music magazine called Heckler, said he wanted to update his wardrobe when he reached his 40s.
"I went to Ryan's website and thought, 'This guy seems really cool,' " he said. "Then I started figuring out the pricing. Buying a suit and getting it tailored is not that much different than getting a custom suit from R. Douglas."
Mayugba noticed he gets treated differently when he dresses well.
"In my line of work, I have to perform in suits. I pitch and give keynotes. It's like the old adage; 'You feel like a million bucks.' When it all comes together, you feel extremely comfortable," he said.
Though the contemporary suit narrow pant legs, trimmer and shorter jacket has been around for several years, that look has only recently found its way to Sacramento. Young men, in particular, are eager to dress up these days, perhaps influenced by shows like "Mad Men."
"The trend is going toward the slimmer cut," said Hammonds, noting that those suits are not just for the tall and slender. "A lot of men, especially larger men, have this idea it's going to be too tight on them and they're going to look out of place. They think (if) they get a slimmer cut suit they'll be more restricted. The higher armhole actually creates a wider range of motion, whereas a fuller arm will cause the arm to bind up. It actually gives you an athletic build.
"That's what my clients realize when they get their first custom suit. It flatters them."
GQ Magazine rails against the baggy, ill-fitting suit nearly every month. In its annual "Style Manual," GQ states: "The right tailor can make a $100 suit look like $1,000, and he can make that $1,000 suit worth every penny. There's not a GQ photo shoot where we don't enlist our tailor, Joseph, to nip, tuck and alter a suit."
Bay Miry of D&S Development has bought five R. Douglas suits and loves the new look.
"Comparing it to just a regular suit, it's like night and day," Miry said. "It fits you a lot better. It doesn't feel baggy like you're wearing your dad's old suit. The look is very cutting-edge. It's very fashionable, very in. You get a lot of people asking you where you got your suit from."
While some might criticize Hammonds for outsourcing to China, he says he would gladly hire American skilled labor if it were available. And he's hardly the first to take his production, small as it is, overseas. Apple, of course, designs its products in the United States but has its iPhones and iPads made in China. A men's dress shirt made in this country is almost unheard-of.
"The truth is, we don't have the ability at this point to make this type of product here," Hammonds said. "My business model is to bring the pricing to where more people can be involved, and the only way to do that is to outsource."
Once their measurements are in the system, Hammonds' repeat customers can order new clothes with one phone call.
Said Miry, "I believe in him so much that a lot of times I just call him and say, 'Hey Ryan, I'm looking for another suit. Why don't you put something together for me?' That's how much I trust him."