When I got the gig, I set out to meet the existing advertisers. Had coffee with some, went to the offices of others, the stores of even others. Started with a few emails, then phone calls, you know the drill.
Ivy has the potential to be a stereotype. The boss’s son taking over the company fresh from graduation from some really good schools and with some autonomy, that IS a stereotype. You know how that ends, and it isn’t well. Most family businesses meet one of two generational fates – they are either sold before the kid can ruin the business, or they are handed off and, yes, the kid ruins the business. So when I met Prasan Shah of the Original Madras Trading Co., I was expecting the typecast. Here. I was expecting him to come in with hip hugging skinny jeans, entitled, a spread collar, a watch that could hold a sandwich on it, hair product and AirPods in while we were talking.
Instead, I met a friend who walks the walk and actually wears the product.
I have a daughter. I am fairly well certain she is not walking into the old man’s business of writing about Ivy clothes and lifestyle. I mean, you never know, but – Anyway, if she did, Prasan is exactly who I would want her to model.
I won’t bore you with the details you may have already read on the site, save for this. If you wear Madras and you bought it from a store we would recognize and it was any good and held up, it was born at OM (that stands for Original Madras, but I meditate every day too so it is a reflex). OM is the Original Madras Trading Company.
I spend some real time with Prasan. When he speaks about Madras, you can hear his father, who probably hears his father. Family business. So much so that when I asked him why his favorite shirt was his favorite shirt he told me, “You are not going to believe this John, but those are the colors of my family’s living room in India.”
Oh, I believe it.
Prasan came to the company to learn. He worked the first two years without drawing a salary. When I asked him what his strategy was those first two years, he said, “To avoid anything I was thinking. I needed to learn the whole business, or as much of it as I could. Anything I was thinking would get in the way. I prefer sales, but the business is so much more than that, from manufacturing to, well, everything, X, Y, and Zed. And I needed to absorb it all.”
XY&Zed is my new band name. Do not think about stealing it.
Out of that two years, he learned. Boy did he learn. “Everyone has advice,” he says, “especially for the newcomer. I try to listen to it all, but you don’t know what to use and what to throw out unless you have actually spent the time with the whole company. The Original Madras Trading Company is a 50 year old startup, and sure, I have some ideas of my own, but my vision is this: I want to see the family business in the next generation continue to revive and promote the craft of weaving Madras in Madras the same way my father did and his father before him.”
I asked him the same question a number of different times to see what the rounded picture of the answer was. The question: How did you avoid becoming the stereotype? He was too modest to answer, but I got an answer anyway.
Prasan Shah is able to think ahead more years than he has been alive. It’s a gift. A gift that manifests in a product line that is singular.
Welcome to Winter Madras. I have seen the product and touched the fabric. Winter Madras is a heavy weave 20’s count single ply Indian cotton with a soft brushed flannel finish. It is a friendlier fabric than flannel with the same and yet more diverse applications. Says Prasan, “Along with the cloth we have designed an exclusive range of proprietary irregular patterns and checks that are so particular to the tradition of Madras and differentiate the range from more common flannel checks or tartans. As well as the brighter yarn shades Madras is famous for, our Autumn & Winter collection also includes a selection of more muted yarn colors and new two-ply twisted yarns that adds a heather effect to many of the designs. Brushed real indigo cotton flannel is also now included in the collection.”
Out of this fabric comes a major collection, called AW-21. Shirts. From the button up to a pullover I would wear every night. Pajamas. A robe, even.
Anybody with skin in the Madras game has been trying to figure out how to make it year round in places where “the frost is on the pumpkin.” Prasan Shah, son of the son of a madras maker, works closely with the design director of OMTC, Nicholas Benitz and a team in Madras day in and day out and they have created fabrics and patterns that do just that.
Good, right? It gets better. Each piece is hand woven. Weaving madras is a refined skill. You can’t do it. I can’t do it. Prasan can barely do it. But there are 18 weavers who can and do. And Prasan cares as much about this part of this story as any.
“I know these artisans,” he says. “This is higher than a craft. These patterns and fabrics are the artwork of masters who do this by hand, meticulously, all day. And you can feel it on the body, sure, but also you can feel it with your eyes. The collection doesn’t look like mass manufactured clothing. It looks like it was crafted, made, and not produced.”
This humble CEO is dead on right. As we went through the racks of the collection (I’ve seen Prasan get excited twice, the first time was when he force-fed me this tea which now I am craving, and the second as we went through the collection) the pieces spoke of a brilliant new innovation made with a centuries old tradition. It is a very, very cool mix.
I will feature a review of a piece or two pretty soon, but don’t wait for that. Bergdorf Goodman, H Stockton, David Wood, Tabor (in North Carolina) and Changes (in Woodstock, where if you go on a weekend, you might catch me playing out) all carry the line.
Prasan is a young man, and he wants a family, and a gym membership, and all the things that a young man wants. But in spending time with him, what he wants more than anything is to create and sell something amazing that provokes and promotes Madras. And that box, at this young age, he has already checked.
Ease off on the jealousy of family enterprises. It’s unbecoming. Our personal lives and professional careers are all what we choose to make of them.
On what planet did this reflect jealousy? I am admiring it. Go buy a shirt. -JB
Winter + Madras + Flannel does smack of some kind of haberdashery genius.
Well done, Prasan
What’s not to like? It seems, once again, I’ve been sold.
Also, what was that tea, anyway?
Good question. I will follow up – JB
“Most family businesses meet one of two generational fates – they are either sold before the kid can ruin the business, or they are handed off and, yes, the kid ruins the business”
This “kid” (second generation) has helped our family firm grow exponentially. When I started many moons ago, I knew this ^ was most people’s perception, and tried to work twice as hard as anyone else to prove my worth. Third generation now does the same.
Nice shirts by the way.
Yes, and I think JB’s admiration shines through.
Go buy a shirt, indeed.
“Changes (in Woodstock)”
NY – JB
Very interesting. Madras, cool.
Just beautiful fabrics — I know where my next Madras shirt is coming from. The artistry and craft involved here make for something truly special and unique, which I like. Interesting idea to weave a heftier version for the cold seasons. It seems like it would be more wearable year-round than a flannel shirt, which you really can only wear in cooler weather.
Difficult to source
You gotta read the post – there are stores. – JB
The second paragraph is a cliche and should have been edited out of the column. The rest is great.
The second paragraph sets the whole thing up. One must at least touch on what stereotype one is defying, otherwise there is no story about, well, defying stereotypes. Thanks! – JB
Any campaign to democratize Ivy and separate it from its elitist connotations faces serous challenges, at least that’s my takeaway from this recent piece in The Daily Princetonian:
I took the link down because it takes readers away from the site, but yes, agreed, there is work to do. – JB
The last sentence of the second paragraph was the best one in the whole article.
Thank you sir. – JB
The brushed madras sounds like a great idea, and I really love that the Original Madras Trading Co. is a family business. Are shirts in the winter madras fabric available online from anyone? I can’t find a source.
Another masterpiece JB. You are the single greatest thing to ever happen to menswear. Kuddos my good man!
Thanks man. I may quote you. – JB
Checked website of 6 stores on OMTC website not one of the 6 list OMTC availability or that they even represent the brand. Contacted OMTC via email and they have yet to respond.
Hi Brian – I am on that right now, will get back to you. – JB
Hi all, thank you for your kind words and interest.
Re: the tea – its my homemade concoction of Indian Masala Chai!
Re: stockists – you should find our Winter Madras AW-21 collection here in the United States on the websites of Tabor, H Stockton, Changes, David Wood and shortly Bergdorf Goodman.