The landscape of bespoke & custom menswear is ever expanding — for better or for worse. However; when it comes to Made In The USA, the list is significantly reduced. That’s where Philadelphia-based, bespoke/custom menswear house — Commonwealth Proper and Craig Arthur von Schroeder come into play.
Custom Blue Flannel Suit – Custom Brown Flannel Vest – Custom Green Bengal Stripe Contrast Collar Shirt – Blue Flannel Tie (All Commonwealth Proper) | Black Double Monk Strap Shoes – Carmina (via Tobox)
Founder & creative director are just two titles that Craig holds at CMMP (that’s the acronym you’ll see most often) as a small business owner. The former attorney who always had particular knack for menswear & sportswear didn’t start out as the sartorial workhorse that he is today. After a few learning experiences in the menswear industry, von Schroeder found himself creating what is known today as — Commonwealth Proper. Deriving its name from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which was home of the first tailoring unions in the 1800’s and Proper — in regard to proper fit, CMMP is poised to be a menswear brand you’ll be hearing more about this year.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Craig in Commonwealth Proper’s Flagship Philly showroom (they also have a showroom in Atlanta) to pick his brain about the brand and the man behind the brand.
MSP: What’s your professional background, because it’s not formally in design?
CAVS: “I really thought I was going to be professional soccer player as a goal keeper. Attending Vanderbilt for a bit, but, realized it wasn’t for me. So I moved to England for some time as a 19 year old to pursue my soccer dream — unfortunately, I tore a muscle in my leg. That left me recovering and working jobs under the table in construction. What that taught was that I better get my educational career in order because a career in soccer player wasn’t guaranteed. After that I came back to the US and attended Lafayette College and graduated as an Academic All-American & Scholar Athlete of the Year.”
MSP: Did you pursue you soccer dreams any further?
CAVS: “For three years after I played soccer in England, Guatemala, Argentina with pretty much any teams that were looking to hire me. But, realizing that I may have reached my potential and it was grueling as hell (plus, I was making about 20k-30k per year). I looked at what I’m was good at and make a career — which was arguing. And that lead me to pursue a career in law.”
MSP: Leading up to this point, you’ve had a rather interesting path that was part international — how do you think that lead to your need to create clothing?
CAVS: “Let’s back track a bit to 2003. I knew that besides practicing law, I needed to do something to keep me sane. Growing up in the Princeton area, where the general style consensus was extremely preppy — I decided to create a line of polo shirts while I was in law school I was law school. This was my first foray into men’s fashion. I sourced some polos from India. Seeing this logo I created was amazing, however; the shirts sucked. It was like a bunch of sack shirts that shrunk in the wash. The brand was called Kenton Harrow – and its focus was sportswear. One of the funniest things that came out of that experience was sourcing baseball caps from China that came out like one of those Disney caps with those really long brims. After that I knew that I needed to go to China to sit down with the manufacturers to walk them through what design & quality that I was looking for, however; I realized that I needed to make things here in the U.S. to achieve the level of quality & control that I was looking for.”
MSP: By now, you’re a practicing lawyer in Philly, but, was drove you to create the Commonwealth Proper brand?
CAVS: “During my second year of practicing law, I decided to stop making polo shirts because I never wore them. The majority of my time was spent wearing suit and shirts. Mind you they were shitty, ill-fitting suits and shirts at that point. I was a much trimmer guy and at that time, most brands weren’t catering to slim/tailored fit shirts off the rack (back in 2006). So I decided that I would create well-tailored off the rack shirts by enlisting the help of local tailors to create ready to wear shirts. Fortunately, the shirts were a hit, especially amount my colleagues and friends that were having the same fit issues. From there, I fell in love with the idea of custom & made to order shirting because everyone’s fit is different. I got punch drunk off the concept of MTO and it was a better business model for me in regard to having to put out money for inventory in the ready-to-wear market.”
MSP: Today, CMMP is known for its impeccable suiting. When did you decided to expand into the suit market and how does the brand set itself apart?
CAVS: The shirts we’re doing very well and around 2010-11 suiting was the natural progression. At this time, I was still a practicing attorney that created these amazing shirts – but, my suits were still terrible. Having to go from not knowing anything and then becoming an expert, I ended up spending so much time obtaining knowledge about the suiting craft. The people that we hire to work for CMMP come with years of industry experience that can range from fashion design school, retail and product development. This helped the brand grow the way it did.
The retail experience is changing in the way that businesses are moving toward full experiential platforms. At CMMP, we focus on outstanding quality, customer service and the experience of the process.
Everyone that works here goes through tailor training to gain to hands on knowledge (only a few brands do this). Each new member of the CMMP crew will shadow for months before they have the opportunity to work directly with clients. We want to be seen as green barrettes of menswear. We’re highly trained and get the job done with a higher attention to detail than most. And the major thing about our brand is that everything is Made In America.”
MSP: How do you go about choosing fabrics and creating the CMMP look for your clients?
CAVS: “The trick to what we’ve done is pair down out fabric selection. One of the first things one of our advisors did a few years ago was help us select fabric based upon our brand aesthetic and ethos. There are certain colors and patterns that you won’t find at CMMP, however; we’ve curated a premium selection of choices that look good on most men. Outside of fabric selection, we focus on fit. Fit is king and understanding that everyone has a specific fit for their body and lifestyle is key to creating the perfect piece.”
MSP: Many people that work in the fashion industry have a distinct uniform, what would be your uniform?
CAVS: (Noting that he dressed up for me today) “My uniform is a white shirt (especially our hidden button down collar shirt, no socks — i love the way the leather feels, unless is brick cold out. If I wearing a jacket, I always have pocket square because personally it feels incomplete to me. I never belts unless I’m wearing jeans — sidetabs are where it’s at. Most of my friends know me as the shawl collar sweater king during the cold weather months. And, I always wear my glasses.
CAVS: “I’m so proud of the direction that American men are going in regard to embracing dressing better. My company is growing as a result of this boom. There’s seems to be a sense of pride and joy that is evident in men today — and this is just the beginning. Seeing Philadelphia become this major manufacturing hub across different industries just a glimpse of what’s to come. We happy to be making an impact in this upward trend of Made In America manufacturing.”
Thanks to Craig for participating and be sure to check out www.CommonwealthProper.com
Photography/Copy Content: Sabir M. Peele
Founder & Creative Director of Men's Style Pro, Sabir has a deep passion for menswear and all things manly. Selected as one of the "5 Best Dressed Men In America" by Esquire Magazine in 2010 & as #GQFall 2013 Best Dressed Man. As of 2014, Sabir serves as a freelance brand ambassador & executive stylist for GQ Magazine & GQ Report. Outside of that partnership, Sabir serves as an independent brand consultant as well. Reach me directly at SABIR@MENSSTYLEPRO.COM