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JackThreads defies tradition as Midwest-based fashion leader

JackThreads, Columbus, OH. Photos Ben French
JackThreads, Columbus, OH. Photos Ben French
Launched in the summer of 2008, after two years in development, JackThreads proved that you can make money -- and lots of it -- catering to men with high end clothing tastes. Founder Jason Ross also proved that you can be on the cusp of fashion right here in the Midwest, and earn your way into this highly competitive and notoriously difficult-to-enter industry.

The members-only site, often compared to the wildly popular Gilt Groupe, sells high-end streetwear and contemporary brands at discounts of up to 80 percent. Since its founding, JackThreads has grown from selling six brands to selling more than 450 brands to its 1.5 million members. The company is expected to post revenues of $20 million this year, Ross says.

Inc Magazine named Ross in its "30 under 30" top young business owners, proclaiming him among "the most intriguing young business owners in the world," but JackThreads had humble beginnings. Ross started the company with a Small Business Association loan and his own money. The original sales site was built by students at Ohio State University, from which Ross graduated in 2003 with a finance degree.

"Initially, to save on costs, I worked with a professor in the computer science department at OSU to have his students build the website as part of a class project. But over time, we've assembled an all-star internal team that handles the technical aspect of the company," he explains.

Ross says his personal love for fashion and the success of similar European sites, spurred his entrepreneurial idea.

"I was always really into men's fashion, especially clothing that was different and hard to find, but these items were also usually crazy expensive," he says. "Post-college, I was a big online shopper and I realized there was no outlet for the types of brands I was interested in to sell their close-out merchandise. The private shopping club model was taking off in Europe and so I set out to bring it to the U.S., and apply it to a niche demographic of 18- to 35-year-old males looking for better streetwear and contemporary brands at discounted prices."

JackThreads is a "flash sale" site where several new deals are offered each day. Membership is free.

"Jackthreads curates top-tier street, skate, surf and contemporary men's fashion brands. The brands we sell are definitely at the high end of their respective categories. We're always on the lookout for new brands that are unique and of course, high-quality and that appeal to our diverse group of members," he says.

Prior to JackThreads, Ross launched Sports Marketing Innovations, which sold college-branded sports products into the NCAA market. He sold that successful business in 2005 and used the proceeds to pursue ideas that elicited more personal passion. Ross began working on JackThreads soon thereafter.

At the business's start, Ross had very few contacts in the fashion industry, he says. He garnered them through old-fashioned networking that led to the development of his current sales model.

"Finding the brands to work with involved an endless stream of trade shows and a ton of research to find the best balance between the brands' needs and the greatest value for potential customers. We often purchase at the end of a season from a brand's excess merchandise, or at the beginning of a season to help the brand push specific initiatives," he says. 

Though Ohio isn't known as a fashion mecca, the state's central location and traveling and shipping infrastructure has been key to the company's success, Ross says.

"Our company headquarters are in Ohio, and the centrality of our location has been advantageous with the amount on travel required to both the east and west coasts to access the brands in the big fashion hubs. The majority of our staff is based in Columbus and the others are located in New York," Ross says.

JackThreads last year was acquired by Thrillist a New York City-based digital men's lifestyle publication and website. Ross wouldn't disclose the specifics of the deal, but did say it was a cash/stock deal that kept him at the company's helm.

"I'm still completely involved in the company.  We originally had advertised with Thrillist and after seeing the impact that one ad had on our business, I knew that Thrillist was the right fit to partner with," he says.

The deal appears to have been good for the bottom line. JackThreads employs more than 40 people at its Columbus HQ and in New York.

"We're continuing to grow like crazy. Our team has quadrupled over the last year," Ross says.

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