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Jos. A. Bank alums launch luxury menswear line

Most people would call a new online company with five employees a startup, but this company’s CEO would argue that his company isn’t starting something, it’s simply continuing.

After 16 years as a merchandising executive at Jos. A. Bank, Steve Marshall decided it was time to take that experience and open his own shop.

On Friday, Marshall and his team will go live with Wilkes & Riley, an online luxury menswear brand based in Forest Hill. The company strives “take it up a notch from Jos. A. Bank.”

Wilkes & Riley will sell full-canvas suits made of Italian fabrics, tailored by John Ciambruschini, a veteran tailor who was vice president of design and quality at Jos. A. Bank for nearly 17 years. Tailoring has been in Ciambruschini’s family for a century.

Robin Graham, who was the director of product development for 13 years at Jos. A. Bank, is now in charge of product development for Wilkes & Riley.

“We have the right people pulling the trigger here,” said Marshall.

The company has been working on the fit of its suits for three months. It was initially slated for a Nov. 10 launch but pushed back the date after the initial shipment of suit samples was not to the company’s liking. Executives wanted to get the fit right.

“It was well worth the wait,” said Marshall.

A resident of Bel Air, Marshall knew that he was going to have to make a move when Men’s Wearhouse bought Jos. A. Bank and announced layoffs in the brand’s Hampstead office earlier this year. Marshall was offered a position at the Men’s Wearhouse office in Fremont, California.

“No matter what, I was going to have to relocate,”said Marshall.

Moving across the country was not an option. So in May, Marshall decided to go out on his own.

A clash of cultures?

Watching the declining sales at Jos. A. Bank has been a sad experience for Marshall, who credits his Wilkes & Riley peers with driving ideas at the men’s clothier company.

He sees the difficulties Men’s Wearhouse has been facing with Jos. A. Bank as a misfit between two completely different company cultures.

“The one thing we had in common was that we both sold men’s clothing,” said Marshall. He described Jos. A. Bank’s offices as a results-driven environment.

“Greatness was expected.”

It’s a mindset he hopes to implement at Wilkes & Riley. “It’s a great culture to have,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be that way on the customer’s perception of us.”

The name Wilkes & Riley was inspired by what Marshall described as an “English sensibility and classically timeless style found on the streets of Savile Row and Jermyn Street.”

Ciambruschini, a native of Italy who has been in the garment business for more than 50 years, has been working on new patterns for the company.

“The making of the garment is very important to us,” he said. “When the customer wears the garment, they should be able to see the difference from any other garments on the market.”

Even with an emphasis on fit and high-quality materials, Wilkes & Riley is not meant for everyone. The brand is targeting older, mature, affluent men in a market Marshall says is increasingly trying to cater to younger men.

“We don’t want to be everything to everybody,” said Marshall, a lesson Wilkes & Riley learned from Jos. A. Bank.

“Be true to who your customer is,” he said.

Wilkes & Riley plans to solely be online for now but may open some brick-and-mortar stores in key markets around the country down the road.

Even though they’re a new company, Wilkes & Riley hopes to carry Jos. A. Bank’s legacy, said Marshall.

“We’re not Jos. A. Bank anymore, but we still want to have that manufacturing lifeline still here in Maryland.”