In theory people are getting taller, but many men and women remain vertically challenged. It’s not a big deal, but it does impact their ability to reach things on high shelves and find fashionable, quality clothing that actually fits.
Robbie Brown, a new store on Yonge St., north of Eglinton Ave., runs with the tagline “Clothing for men up to 5ive ei8ht,” and aims to fix that problem.
At the helm is Robbie Brown himself, 60, who’s already put in a long career in apparel for diminutive people. He’s ably aided by his spouse and longtime business partner Candace Muskat.
(Brown stands roughly 5-foot-9, although he suspects he’s losing inches these days. Muskat is 5-foot-4, putting the duo on the fringe of their target market.)
Brown’s grandfather Willie Brown launched the family into the clothing business in 1929 with a secondhand clothing store on Queen St. W. When his son Lou joined Brown’s as a young man, he updated the business to help his own street cred. “He brought in new clothes to impress girls,” says Robbie.
As a boy, young Robbie would hang out in the store and the tailors would show him the inside of garments, and how the seams fit together. He often helped out and officially came on staff in 1979, while studying psychology and business at York University. (He was too busy with work to finish that degree.)
Like his own dad, he had new ideas. Since many of the store’s customers were of Portuguese and Italian backgrounds, and needed alterations to fit their short stature, Robbie suggested they bring in clothing for these clients.
That did so well, the company soon began specializing in shorter men, even so-called extra short, for guys under 5-foot-4. Robbie spearheaded selling women’s clothes, which also thrived. The business opened other locations, including one on Avenue Rd., which remains open still and Lou Brown, at 88, still comes into work daily.
After a decade, the younger Brown was ready for something new. “We worked well together, but we had different ideas,” Robbie says of his dad.
So, in 1989, Robbie and Muskat, a social worker by trade, opened the petit women’s store Muskat Brown on Yonge St., just a few blocks from this new store’s location.
There, they raised their first child “in the change room,” recalls Muskat. Once the baby started moving around and a basket to nap in wasn’t enough, they had to hire a nanny. Two more kids followed, as well as three recessions, and taste shifts in women’s wear.
“In retail, if you have a nice store you can make a living,” says Brown. “You don’t get rich.”
By 2014, Brown found himself ready to move on. “He really missed working with men’s clothes,” says Muskat.
So the duo plotted out this venture by tapping into their considerable contacts in the Canadian and international apparel industry to get shorter cuts of mainstream labels — no overlong jackets here — plus pants and shirts in extra small sizes, and put together their own line of suits, dress shirts and ties. (Price-wise, this is quality stuff, with dress shirts hovering around the $200 mark.)
They opened last fall and this crisp, compact store is fully stocked with an ample selection of suits, dress shirts, accessories and casual pieces. Customers can order a custom suit, but Brown’s got a bias for choosing the right item off the rack, deftly pinning it for a quick alteration, and having it ready in days.
Brown is into fit, but also shoots down dated ideas about what guys of certain sizes can pull off. He scoffs at assumptions about bright colours, pleats and “cutting you in half” ensembles.
Instead, his store cultivates an accepting environment where customers share their shopping war stories while Brown offers fashion-forward, high-end suits — including plaids — fun ties, and whatever cuts are in fashion.
“I truly believe a guy can wear anything he wants as long as it’s proportioned properly,” says Brown.
As published in The Star