Todd Snyder chuckles when asked if he feels like he’s become one of the old guard of New York men’s fashion designers.
“Well, I am old,” he said.
Not exactly. But the 48-year-old Snyder has packed a lot into his career since leaving Huxley, Iowa, to forge his way in fashion. His background includes Ralph Lauren, the Gap and J. Crew, a résumé that served him well when he left J. Crew as its senior vice president of men’s wear — and where he is credited with creating the trendsetting Liquor Store in Tribeca — to launch his own label, in 2011.
Like many independent designers, Snyder struggled to make ends meet with his men’s brand, which blends an all-American aesthetic with solid craftsmanship and modern urban energy. But unlike other designers, Snyder had an ace in the hole: Tailgate.
That business was a little-known collegiate-campus retail concept that was started by Snyder and his father in 1991. But 14 years later, the business wasn’t that unknown: Tailgate was the main reason the Pittsburgh-based American Eagle Outfitters purchased the Todd Snyder company for $11 million in cash and stock this past November. At the time of the acquisition, Chad Kessler, global brand president for American Eagle, called Tailgate “a very interesting concept” with enormous rollout potential.
In May, the first Tailgate under American Eagle opened, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It joins an Iowa City, Iowa, unit that has been open for two years and is one of three slated to open this year. The other two will be at the University of Georgia in Athens, and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. American Eagle has said that it could eventually see up to several hundred Tailgate stores in the U.S.
Snyder has been honest in the past about admitting that Tailgate was the “engine” that fueled his Todd Snyder New York business. Operating a self-financed designer brand is “stressful,” he said at the time of the deal.
In an interview, as he prepared his spring runway collection, Snyder said that while nothing has changed dramatically for him in the past eight months since the purchase by American Eagle, “it has solidified us as a player. Before, it was really difficult to scale and keep up with the demand. Now, with American Eagle behind us, we have the ability to make investments.”
One big investment will be the opening of the first permanent Todd Snyder store in the U.S. this fall. The 5,000-square-foot flagship at 23 East 26th Street, right off Fifth Avenue, in the Madison Park district of Manhattan, is expected to open in late September. That won’t be the designer’s first-ever store, though: In fall 2013, Snyder had partnered with Champion on City Gym, a temporary store in NoLIta that showcased the collaboration between the two brands, in a location with an old-school sporting-goods feel.
He has also sold his collection online, a channel that is growing quickly for him — Snyder said his online business is up 50 percent so far this year and is on track to double before the end of 2016. “When we open the store this fall, it will help a lot with name recognition and put a stake in the ground — here we are,” he said.
The Todd Snyder New York line of shirts, pants, jeans, outerwear, suits and elevated athletic gear is also available online and at department and specialty stores, including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Ron Herman, Nordstrom, Barneys New York and Mr Porter. There are also four Todd Snyder stores in Japan that are operated under license.
The designer said that, overall, his new owners have been “amazing. They’ve given me the autonomy to do what I want. As long as I have a financial plan, they don’t get in the way.”
However, he admitted that now that he has a boss again, “I need to hit [that plan], so there’s some pressure there.”
But if the Todd Snyder New York business stumbles, Tailgate could be the savior. “Tailgate is doing phenomenally,” he said. “The store we just opened is well over plan, so now the plan is to get the Todd Snyder store off the ground.”
Although the location is not in one of the city’s traditional retail hubs, Snyder believes the neighborhood is on the verge of a breakthrough. “I wanted something off the beaten path but still in the center of things,” he said. “The NoMad area is exploding,” he said, with Eataly, Shake Shack, the Smith and INNSIDE New York hotel. “I see the dots connecting.”
Snyder admits to being busier than ever as he splits his time between Todd Snyder New York and Tailgate. On top of that, he’s also helping out on American Eagle’s merchandising and marketing. “It’s busy, but it’s fun, and I love what I do,” he said.
The workload has also allowed Snyder to add to his staff. He recently brought on board Alejandro Rhett, a former vice president of men’s merchandising at J. Crew, to help him with the design duties.
“He’s had a huge impact, and we’ve also hired other great people,” Snyder said. “We now have a team of 10. One thing I can say is that I’m good at hiring talent. I like to think of myself as a shepherd and let designers be free to design things.”
Snyder also has a successful, commercial tailored-clothing collection called Todd Snyder White Label that is produced by Peerless Clothing and is sold in Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and men’s specialty stores. “It’s a $595 retail suit, all made in Canada,” he said.
He also continues to collaborate with Champion on the Todd Snyder + Champion line, which launched in fall 2013. This spring, the collection expanded into women’s wear for the first time, with a softer, sexier iteration of its men’s line, called The Boyfriend Collection. “All is really great with Champion,” he said. “Things are really moving along.”
Even though life is good for Snyder these days, he said that being a men’s designer today has its challenges. “Everything is shifting in terms of scheduling, and it’s very chaotic. We finally get our own men’s week, and look what happens,” the designer said, pointing to the upheaval in men’s fashion weeks worldwide as brands drop off the calendar; switch to a see-now, buy-now format, or combine their men’s and women’s collections into one runway show.
To answer the call, Snyder said he will produce 11 see-now, buy-now pieces for his spring collection that will be offered for sale immediately on his web site. “I always want new stuff, and I believe my customers feel the same way,” he said. “But we’re not big enough to do what the big houses in Europe are doing, so we’re just putting our toe in the water, and we’ll see how it goes.” The Shop it Now collection will also include items Snyder designed with brands such as New Era, Timex, New Balance and Moscot.
Originally, Snyder hoped to hold his spring runway show in Madison Square Park, in the NoMad district, north of the Flatiron building, but that didn’t pan out. Instead, he will hold his show in CFDA venue at Skylight Clarkson Sq in Tribeca, and it will be live-streamed. He also expects to auction off tickets to the public, he said.
While creating a runway show is a major time and financial commitment, Snyder said his primary focus remains the opening of his store and the growth of his brand.
Along with the Todd Snyder collections, the NoMad store will include a tailor shop, a barbershop and other “interesting things to engage the customer,” including collaborations with Globe-Trotter luggage, Macintosh trenches, John Smedley knits and Superior Labor bags, which had not been available in the U.S. before, he said. A Black Label suit that is manufactured by Southwick, in Massachusetts, will be offered in the store exclusively as well, he revealed.
Beyond that, Snyder expects to add more stores in the States, notably Chicago and San Francisco, cities where he hopes to find space by the end of 2017. Modest international expansion is also in the cards, he said. “Definitely London, for now, but there’s still enough room to expand in America.”
The four stores in Japan — which are in Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo — are all successful, but the plan is to try and own his brand globally, 100 percent, to “control the growth and messaging. So we’re relooking at Japan.”
Looking back over his career and how it has changed since he “leveraged everything” eight years ago to start Todd Snyder New York, he said: “It’s a dream come true, but now it’s about executing on the opportunity that [American Eagle] gave me to take Todd Snyder to the next level.”