Q&A with Michael Maher of Taylor Stitch

“Bombs away.”

That’s how it started. At least that’s how I remember it starting. Michael Maher won me over when he grabbed a throw pillow from one of the weathered Chesterfields parked in front of The Jane Hotel’s lobby fireplace, and threw it behind his head like a grenade.

He instigated a pillow fight.

After that, a night of unadulterated fun ensued. Jumping on couches. Twisting. Shouting. Fist-pumping. And a fruitless search for the street — I swore — had TONS of late night slices. We were destined to be friends.

When Michael told me about the new line of shirts at Taylor Stitch, I asked him if I could interview him when the time was right. Last Sunday, the time was right. Here’s — roughly — how it went.

Other than the Indian summer releases, how many months has it been since you’ve released a line of shirts? What is the biggest change between now and then?

It has been about 9 months since we released our first full run of shirts. We’ve found better places to source things and we are now focusing more on selling our shirts directly to the consumer through our own store, The Common, and on our website. We have also developed a few shirts with harder collars that are more appropriate for dress.

Are you still using the same factory?

We moved our production to Los Angeles for this run of shirts and found that the woes were best handled in our own back yard. We are incredibly happy with the way these shirts came out but we are moving production back to San Francisco. We found a great small factory that we can work with more intimately and understand what we need. It is a mere 10 blocks from our store and design studio so we are able to ride our bikes over to see how things are going.

Tell me how you got interested in fabrics and involved with making shirts in, of all places, San Francisco.

We became interested in fabrics in college when we became privy to the idea of custom shirting and started following some of the bold patterns of the English tailors after we couldn’t find shirts that fit us.

Life is first about location for us. The quality of life in San Francisco was everything we wanted. Close to the ocean, the mountains, wine country and it has an insanely good live music scene. All of these things have shaped our life. San Francisco also has a great history of clothing manufacturing, including everything from blue jeans to the most technical outerwear coming out of the East Bay.

From what vantage point do you begin looking at compiling a collection? From where do they germinate? When’s the “enough’s enough” moment?

We try to stay cognizant of our customer spectrum when the time comes to create a collection. We focus on styles and different patterns within those styles. Our shirts include everything from casual to dress which allows us to offer some patterns that are bold and others that are toned down. San Francisco is a melting pot of many cultures. It allows us to create a broader spectrum of colors and styles. There are guys that need to wear a Bengal stripe to work but we spice it up with a spread collar and a clean front. Then there’s the classic California Casual Shirt in very subtle blues and greys. Then, like me, there are a bunch of preppy east coast guys out here so we let a bit of our roots show with some brighter plaids and madras.

I don’t know if we ever have an “enough is enough” moment. Our collection is always evolving and that’s our goal with each new shirt. We just want to develop small collections of shirts and to keep our customers happy. Keep things fresh. And with us you’ll never see too many people wearing the same shirt.

The process of making a shirt meets in a unique and fascinating delta of several trades – weaving, pattern making, cutting, and sewing. Talk a bit about the steps in the process for Taylor Stitch. There are obviously things all shirt makers do the same. What do you do differently? What sets your shirts apart from the rest?

Our shirts are centered around a top-notch fit and a few other nice details. We feel the standard sizing of S/M/L or neck and sleeve length has become rather ambiguous. Guys roll up their sleeves more often than not and rarely wear ties. The fit through the body is what mainly determines a typical guy’s choice. Our shirts are sized to fit common necks and sleeves relative to the chest size.

Another thing we have done is lowered the side saddle and added an 8th button in the front which allows us to make a shorter shirt that will stay tucked in, but it’ll also look nice untucked. We’ve taken out the superfluous pleats in the sleeves and on the back which makes for a more updated appearance.

Talk about your fit. Where did the patterns start? As you know, how a fit shirts is often what can make or break a company. What did you do to ensure that you had the best fit of all?

Our fit is a cross section of nearly a thousand custom shirt measurements that we had taken over the course of a few years in preparation for our first collection of shirts. We made an extensive database of measurements of guys that had chest sizes from 36-44 and grouped them together. We then took the average stomach, hip, sleeve, neck and shoulder measurements associated with each chest size and created a grading system based on that. Very geeky way to go about it, I know.

Talk about your collars. What do you offer? I noticed that your collars aren’t fused. Why is that?

We offer a button down, a modified spread, and a full English spread.

I never fuse any collars. It’s unnatural and overtime they bubble. We use the finest collar interlinings we can find woven right here in the good ole USA and have them sewn in. They create just the right amount of stiffness on the dress shirts then the button down and the casual collar have a much softer interlining and will lay down nicely.

Cuffs: Barrel, Mitred, French? What do you offer?

Our shirts always have a single button barrel on the cuffs for the collection. Classic and simple. While we may one day make a Bond-esque formal shirt with French cuffs, but for now, we’ll stick to our guns. You can customize however you’d like with our custom line.

Yoke. Split? Mitred?

It’s a single piece yoke. Split and mitered yokes get too dressy and are a bit showy for our style. Keep things understated. Keep them classic.

What’s your favorite fabric? Why?

In this collection I’m digging our chambray. While most have reintroduced chambray in an American workwear template, the fabric itself can be traced back to the shirts of French sailors. We stiffened up the collar, chose a lighter more vibrant shade of blue and turned it into something of a dress shirt.

Who is the “Taylor Stitch Guy?”

He is Joe Gannon. A perfectly fit size 42. Guns ablaze with mustache in full bloom.

But seriously, he is every guy. That’s all we are. We are just regular guys that happen to like well-made things and felt we couldn’t find that anymore at a reasonable price. We didn’t set out to be a fashion company and we didn’t set out to be a conservative shirt maker. We set out to make every guy feel comfortable in a well-fitting shirt and not have to worry about fashion and looking good. Our shirts are simple, long-lasting classics.

To the guy who has every Taylor Stitch shirt ever made hanging in his closet, why invest in the shirts offered in this collection? He’s already got ’em all. Why does he want — scratch that, need — another shirt?

I don’t even have every TS shirt ever made hanging in my closet! We’ve offered a lot more classic fabrics in this collection and added the more dressy collar stance so if you are into a bit stiffer of a collar this song is for you.

What’s the ratio of back to front fabric? Do you guys feel like your shirts speak to a particular region/state/country, etc? Similarly, do they speak to a certain customer-base? I really am curious to learn who, in your opinion, is the Taylor Stitch Guy.

It’s more like front, back and side to side. I hope that our shirts speak to every guy that needs to buy shirts. That is the beauty of them. They aren’t necessarily geared towards any specific style. I’m sure they are pinned a little on the preppy side so they lean up and down the eastern seaboard. Honestly though, people from all over the country buy them in all different professions. It’s really cool to see. I even get international orders from places like the Netherlands and Japan. Just normal guys that want a well made shirt that fits…

Closing out: Five Essentials for Spring/Summer?

1) A weekend by the beach or the lake.
2) A D90 with a removable top or a classic motorbike with a side car to get there.
3) Cold pressed iced coffee from our neighbors at Four Barrel Coffee.
4) Bare feet every now and again….
5) “Don’t Throw Me Away” by The Mumlers

…and whatever Max tells you to wear. If you are in San Francisco stop into The Common, and we’ll probably be able to help you out too.