The Unexpected: Ross Bennett & the RB Collection
There are certain things you expect from an individual in the fashion industry, and certain things you don’t. When it comes to Ross Bennett, the creative force behind the men’s designer clothing company of the same name, you’re better off expecting the unexpected.
“Every guy does the same thing in the morning, the Three S’s. Everyone takes care of your same basic three principles,” Ross says during our interview. “Everyone looks like garbage when they first wake up. Once you shower, slick your hair back, comb your beard down, whatever you do to make yourself look presentable after showering, the next place you go is your closet. When you open up those closet doors, I want you to look inside and know immediately what you want to wear. I want you to have that feeling of empowerment, that feeling of confidence you need to enter into your own battlefield of work.”
Wait, though. Let’s start this conversation about the brand and the man behind it somewhere else. Let’s back up a few steps because when you talk about Ross Bennett, you aren’t really talking about fashion—you’re talking about the architecture and construction of a self. Here’s how Ross puts it: “What I’m doing now is architecture for the moving body. It’s more difficult, in my mind, than building a home. I have to make a structure that moves elegantly versus making a structure that simply stands. That’s why I got into this. I don’t just make you a suit or a dress; I help construct the mindset for how you need to dress for your particular environment. I don’t just sell you a suit; I sell you a level of sophistication, class and elegance that you deserve. That level of sophistication and elegance you know you deserve. There’s the difference.”
How does architecture for the moving body differ from fashion? Ross says, “Other companies that do custom suiting, they’re going to send an attractive person to your office. He or she might have a degree in communications or a degree in marketing, but most likely they do not have a degree in tailoring, and I would bet they really do not know how to make a suit, either. They are going to take your measurements, going to make you feel good, but when the suit comes in, it might be wrong and they will not be the person who actually fixes the problems. See, the difference is I am your tailor, I am the architect, and I know how to fix it. It’s like if you own a restaurant but you don’t know how to cook your food. Who is going to cook the menu and lead the team if the head chef doesn’t show up, and you don’t know how to cook or run your own kitchen? That’s why I do what I do.”
Ross Bennett doesn’t just talk the stylish talk; he walks it in his own perfectly tailored way. A quote from his Facebook page says it best: “Always dress to impress. There is no reason you should not be the best dressed in the room. First impressions are everything, so make that impression last.”
Like an architect who seeks to design a home that reflects its owners, Bennett works to make sure all of his garments reflect the individual who will ultimately wear them. “Each garment is defined by its man—his interests, hobbies, his style. Everything that makes up his world and his essence is harmoniously translated into what he wears. I sculpt closets for the elegant gentleman, and no one I know of in Texas can do it better.”
While Ross is proud of doing what he does better than anyone else in the state, he actually never intended to do it at all. “My business started backwards. In spring 2008, there was this thing called Dallas Career Day. There were 468 garments from students all over the colleges in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. I entered a dress. They were giving away trips to Paris, big checks, opportunities to study at couture houses, all this crazy stuff. I didn’t win anything, but they did pick 10 percent of the submissions to walk the runway, and my dress was one of them.
“At the end of the day, the event’s emcee, a woman named Rhonda Chambers, came up to me and said, ‘Ross, that dress. I don’t know how you made it, I don’t know what you thought, but out of all the 400-some entries, that’s the one I want.’ Then she asked me how she could get it.
“I got home and my wife was watching Sex in the City, the movie. In it, Vivienne Westwood is one of many who send Carrie Bradshaw wedding dresses to try on. Carrie ends up picking Westwood’s [dress] for her wedding and it shows up at the house in this massive box with a big, black satin ribbon and scented paper. I was like, ‘Okay, my clients need to have that.’ I looked up Rhonda’s company and saw where her office was. When the fashion show was over, and I got graded for the dress, I boxed the dress up with scented paper in an archival box, so if she only wanted to wear it once, she could preserve it. Then I shipped that to her office. She was over-the-top impressed. She had no idea that the dress was coming to her, and from that point on, I could see how my garments made people feel—that first happy moment of joy to a woman who had everything made me feel so good as a person and a designer.
“A week later I get a call from the State Fair of Texas. They got my information from Rhonda. They said they wanted me to design an entire eco-friendly, museum-quality, organic clothing line to be put on display inside glass cubes for the introductory level of the new grand opening of the butterfly gardens.
“I go to do this whole inaugural grand opening with a big fashion show. Then everything I had was put in these glass cubes with little documents that explained every piece, its inspiration and a sketch. From there it was a dress a month or so, sold out of my garage. That’s how I started.”
Ross’s journey to success may be fodder for a movie plot, but just as every movie has obstacles to keep the audience interested, so has Ross’s. From wasted money on an overly expensive storefront to a partner with a six-figure IOU, the obstacles he’s faced have been immense. More recently? Well, let’s allow Ross to tell you. “Last year we spent $20-something thousand to go to a show in New York. It was a great experience; it was so fun. But my mentor said to me, ‘Have you mastered Texas? Even mastered your own city? How many clients do you really have in Austin? So you’ve got 50, 60 clients in Austin? Great. There’s a million people. Let’s think, Ross. Twenty thousand in New York or $20,000 in marketing in Austin? Figure it out.’ But these are truly the learning lessons. That’s part of the fun.”
Customers seek out Ross not just for a bespoke suit but for the bespoke experience. “People come to me all the time and say they want to start a clothing line. I tell them that unless they have a quarter million to start, they need to go the other way. Because in this industry, you’ve got to change the game. A lot of motivational speakers say Coke was great because it was first. Pepsi hates the fact that when you go to a restaurant, you don’t ask for a cola, you ask for a Coke. Pepsi hates it. Coke loves it. They were first. So how do you be first? How do you change the game? How do you do things that aren’t all the same? I’m moving toward a model that adds in an experiential entertainment element. So it’s not just about the custom suit—it’s about the experience. I want this to become a different world—a true destination for fashion lovers.”