Neckwear Notes: Catching up with Jeff Sencer

by Harry Sheff

I caught up with Jeff Sencer yesterday to see how he was doing nearly a year after he joined Steven Land as a consultant. Sencer, who was a VP of sales and licensing at MMG Neckwear for almost six years, struck out on his own last October. His task at Steven Land was threefold: to acquire some new licenses, to expand the furnishings company’s huge independent retailer base to include some major chains and—perhaps most importantly—to make sure everyone knew that Steven Land was more than just an Urban Dress-Up resource.

“I don’t want to say we’re an ‘urban’ company,” Sencer told me. “We’re not; we’re a fashion company.” To demonstrate, he points to the colorful dress shirts ($60 to $75 retail) with contrasting white collars and white French cuffs and shows the same shirt with matching collar and cuffs. It’s true—the shirts are very versatile without the contrasts. Either way the patterns that Steven Land designer Robert Taliver is famous for look great.

The Brooklyn-based company was started by Steven Landman, an Israeli who came to America in 1986. Landman has been immersed in the neckwear business ever since. He still owns The Tie Gallery, a neckwear shop in downtown Manhattan, but his furnishings business, which officially started in 1990, has become the focus.

The company markets many lines of ties, including The Big Knot Collection (shown below; self-tipped 3.5-inch ties for $55 to $70 retail), Hi-Density (3.5-inches, made with contrasting tails and sold with a pockets square for $55 to $70 retail) and a skinny tie line, SLNY. In shirts, there is a substantial in-stock program. There are dress shirts in traditional, modern and slim fits, plus formal and sport shirts.

“Gross margin has had a serious impact on the furnishings business at retail,” laments Sencer. “It prohibits the retailer from stepping out, fashion-wise. It makes it homogenous at a national level. I think it’s the industry’s job to create product that’s more fashionable and innovative. They don’t need more beautiful repp stripe ties, they need diversity. Design, color, quality—that’s where we shine.”

Sencer is basically saying two things. First, that the traditional Steven Land customer—the African-American and Hispanic man who likes to dress up in bright colors and prefers a wider tie—is being underserved at major retailers. And second, that Steven Land’s offerings aren’t all so market-specific that they’d be foreign to a wider audience.

Steven Land’s SLNY line of 2.25-inch ties aims to capture the part of that wider audience enamored with narrow neckwear. It’s offered in affordable microfiber ($19.99 to $24.99 retail) or silk ($39.50 to $49.50 retail). There are also some silk knit ties in 2.75-inch widths for $45 retail.

For the rest of the mainstream market, Sencer is pushing the sort of thing he’s wearing in the photo above—it’s essentially the same thing that St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran wears in this ad the company ran last year, only toned down: the paisley tie is muted and the gingham shirt has the matching collar and cuffs.

“Color, design, touch, price and brand. That’s what the average consumer looks for in neckwear, in that order,” says Sencer.