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Updated: July 15, 2019 EXECUTIVE PROFILE

Fashonista Harris hopes to shake up men’s fashion direct marketing

HBJ Photo | Sean Teehan Tyron Harris has been interested in men’s fashion since a young age and started his own men’s clothing accessories line in 2017. Macy’s is testing out sales of Traveling Gentlemen’s Boutique accessories at one of its Massachusetts stores.
Tyron Harris Founder and CEO, The Traveling Gentlemen’s Boutiqu
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As a teen, when Tyron Harris walked into school with a new outfit, everyone looked.

“I dressed very well, very clean, always looked for new stuff, or got stuff made,” Harris recalls of his high school years in East Hartford. “I kind of started fashion trends in high school, you know, like, “ ‘What is Tyron wearing today?’ ”

Since then, Harris, a human-resources professional who serves on East Hartford’s board of education, has parlayed his fashion know-how, people skills and passion for education into a men’s clothing accessories line he hopes will grow to be the Mary Kay of men’s fashion direct marketing.

The Traveling Gentlemen’s Boutique, which is based out of his home, sells items like ties, socks and lapel pins that Harris sources and designs, and features box sets that pair items together for men who want to look good, but don’t know how, Harris said. Macy’s is currently testing out Harris’ line at its Northshore Mall location in Peabody, Mass.

But while the Traveling Gentlemen’s Boutique was only established in 2017, when Harris began selling his wares online and at corporate and community events, early enthusiasm for the brand is a long-time coming, he said.

After high school, Harris earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and human resources at Berkeley College in New York. When he returned to Connecticut after graduation, he took an HR job at The Hartford. But he was still known to friends and colleagues as an amateur fashionista — the go-to guy for advice on how to look good.

“I was helping my friends when they got married … styling them for their wedding, and styling young men for their proms,” Harris said. “So, I always stayed in fashion, and people were starting to encourage me to start my own line, and start my own brand.”

After just over a year at The Hartford, Harris took an HR job with Target in 2007. The position was an entrypoint into the professional fashion world. Target may not be a legacy name at New York’s Fashion Week, but working there, Harris said he saw how brands sourced material, marketed their products and what was required to get a clothing line sold in stores.

Finally, in 2017, Harris put together a few box sets, wrote up a business plan and pitched it at an open audition for the reality show “Shark Tank.” He didn’t get picked, but the interest judges showed in his pitch encouraged him to double down on his idea for a direct marketing clothing accessories line.

“I got a lot of positive feedback,” Harris said. “I said, ‘Wow, they actually like this brand, they actually like this concept, so maybe I should take this a little bit more seriously.’ ”

Harris refined his pitch before trying out for the Home Shopping Network’s (HSN) American Dreams program, which selects entrepreneurs to work with experts to improve their products and marketing. On his second try, he was picked for the program in 2018, but the timing was bad.

HSN put American Dreams on hold last year after its merger with the QVC shopping network.

But with some buzz around his brand, Harris started reaching out to department stores like Nordstrom and Casual Male. Then, Macy’s called, offering him a three-month trial to sell Traveling Gentleman’s accessories at its Peabody, Mass., store until the end of July.

“I’ve been going back and forth to there when I can on weekends, and doing pop-ups, meeting the guests, talking to guests, helping them style our product,” Harris said. “I would love for Macy’s to purchase the product, a bulk order, and have it featured at multiple Macy’s stores.”

Last year Harris, who is currently an HR business partner for the Northeast for ADP LLC, a human-resources management software and services company, said he sold about $40,000 in merchandise. For now, he considers selling at corporate, community and church events to be his bread and butter.

While he’d ultimately like to have a storefront where he can display Traveling Gentlemen’s products, Harris said he sees the real growth potential in direct marketing. Companies like Stitch Fix and ThreadBeast currently sell memberships for clothing sets, but Harris says his brand is more of a niche company peddling hard-to-find socks, flower lapel pins and other items that make an outfit pop.

With brick-and-mortar retail diminishing, and direct marketing for accessories largely filling female needs like makeup and purses, Harris said he sees an opening.

“A lot of brick-and-mortar is starting to dissipate right now, and I think that guys are looking for places to go to find unique (fashion) products,” Harris said. “We can truly disrupt how we look at direct sales. … That’s where I see us going.”

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