When Andrew Blackmon, co-founder and CEO of The Black Tux, was in the throes of planning his own wedding in 2012, he quickly discovered how difficult it is to properly outfit groomsmen. Rather than cough up the exorbitant cost of buying tuxedos outright, he turned to one of few rental venues at his disposal, Men’s Wearhouse.
“It was just a terrible experience,” he said. “The garments were completely made out of polyester, and the shirts were microfiber. The shoes are literally made out of plastic. If you compare the men to the women in the wedding, the men all looked like they were wearing their dad’s old suits. To me, I thought, ‘This is crazy. This is the most important day of my life.’”
Seeking to capitalize on the dearth of rental options, Blackmon and his business partner, Patrick Coyne, started The Black Tux in 2013, an e-commerce service where men can rent a full formal ensemble — including a tie and shoes — for an average of $95. Despite the rapid growth of the menswear market in recent years (the category is expanding at a rate outpacing womenswear and is expected to be valued at $33 billion by 2020), rental remained relatively untouched at the time of Blackmon’s nuptials. While women had the option of using Rent the Runway, then in its nascent stage and focused almost exclusively on formalwear, there wasn’t a menswear equivalent that provided men with the option to rent luxury quality suits.
Since, a few competitors have popped up: Generation Tux, an online rental service for suits and tuxedos, launched in 2014. It acquired a third similar player, Menguin, last year.
This year, The Black Tux has serviced more than 300,000 customers (including repeat users) across the country, largely in coastal regions of the United States. Shoppers can select styles online or visit one of six standalone showrooms or 15 Nordstrom locations around the country, and suits are shipped two weeks prior to the occasion to ensure an accurate fit. While nearly 70 percent of the business caters to weddings, 20 percent helps outfit young men for prom, and the remaining 10 percent goes to miscellaneous functions like formal job interviews or impromptu galas.
Rather than signing on outside brand partners, The Black Tux decided instead to produce its own designs. In order to stay on trend, Blackmon has enlisted designers that formerly worked with fashion brands like Todd Snyder and J.Crew, and it sources materials from Italy, where other luxury suits valued at more than $1,000 are also produced.
“The current supply chain for the rest of the rental industry is made in one of two factories, both in Mexico, and they’re making uniform-quality garments for waiters or airline staff,” he said. “Things that can be dry-cleaned over and over and over.”
Blackmon said the initial challenge to building momentum was removing stigma around rental for menswear. At the same time, The Black Tux benefited from rising style diversity in men’s suiting, including the incorporation of color and fresh silhouettes. Rather than shelling out for one traditional black suit, Blackmon had more of a case to make for renting various looks in different styles.
Looking to the future, Blackmon said the company will likely test out a wedding-season subscription model in the coming year, based on consumer data that found return customers renting different suit styles in the course of a few months. While most of its business has been gained through word of mouth, The Black Tux has also been strategic in marketing to newly engaged couples on social media using targeted advertisements.
“The rental business is doing well, and we understand the logistics — it took a long time to build those things. Now we’re at the point where we can explore different revenue streams with our customers,” he said.