The Chicago native went from making Steve Harvey’s shirts to designing suits for some
of the nation’s biggest athletes
The world’s top basketball players took part in last night’s NBA Draft. As they walked across the stage and shook hands with NBA commissioner David Stern after being selected, one couldn’t help but to notice the tailored suits that they rocked. Do these dapper fellas shop at Men’s Wearhouse or Burlington Coat Factory?
Meet Clarence Jones, the owner of CJ Custom Clothiers based in Memphis. Jones has been in the clothing business since ’94. “I’ve always liked clothes since I was about 9 or 10 years old. As a kid my mom used to take me to Saks 5th Avenue and Neiman Marcus,” says the 47-year-old Chicago native.
Chicago clothing icon Barbara Bates gave Jones his first big break: making custom shirts for Steve Harvey and Shaquille O’Neal. “I didn’t do that kind of work, so it was easy for me to send him down that road and I connected some dots,” says Bates.
In 2013, Jones is the engine behind making quality suits for many of the participants in the NBA and NFL drafts. A former college basketball player, the Lemoine-Owen College grad was a hit in 2012. He made a suit for Portland Trailblazers guard Damian Lillard, the NBA’s reigning 2013 Rookie of the Year. Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller’s draft ensemble was voted best dressed by Bleacher Report.com last year.
Saint Louis Rams’ Michael Brockers sported a purple and gold suit in tribute to his alma mater LSU in last year’s NFL draft. “It was really poppin,” said Brockers.
Duke University’s Mason Plumlee was drafted 22nd by the Brooklyn Nets and donned a CJ Custom Clotheirs suit. He first utilized Jones’ services when he and his Duke teammates met President Obama at the White House after winning a national championship in 2010. “I didn’t want to go looking like a bum, so CJ took care of me,” said Plumlee.
Jones’ service warrants repeat customers: “I can’t find anything off the rack and there’s so much altering that needs to get done,” said former NBA center Danny Manning who is 6’11. “It’s great to pick up the phone and call CJ,” said Manning now a head coach at the University of Tulsa.
The designer’s celebrity clientele is not limited to the sports world, having outfitted Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer during their famed “Kings of Comedy” tour in 2000. Hughley admits initially not wanting to wear Jones’ brand until he noticed his road manager sported Jones’ designs. “He guides clients from wearing gaudy stuff even though they want to,” says the comedian.
Jones says that while chatter about the sartorial choices of athletes has increased, observers may just be late to the table. “I think we’re taking more notice to it…[former NY Jet] Kerry Rhodes was a client of mine and loved to dress. It was his time to shine. Most of these guys’ time to shine is football season. They want to go through the wind tunnels so people see what they’re wearing with the lights on them. Football players have always been fashionably conscious because they have a certain number of games for people to see them.”
The designer says the NBA dress code was “great” for business, as the players now need to have a wardrobe of suits. He advises aspiring young designers to be resilient and focus on faith when attempting to navigate the waters of the fashion game.
“You have to take the good with the bad and be able to bounce back when you hear the word ‘no.’ You also have to pray. Don’t make the business about money—but about the relationship and ask God if this is something that you really want to do,” he says.
Hughley believes that Jones is a sign of a trend that’s bigger than just fashion: “We’re reverting to the way business used to be for Black folks. He’s a throwback and believes the customer is always right—we’ve lost that in business today.”
For more on Clarence Jones and his CJ Custom Clothiers, visit www.cjcustomclothiers.com or call (901) 378-8273.
Brandon Robinson is a digital journalist that covers professional and high school sports and popular culture for MaxPreps.com, TDDaily.com, Slam and Regal Radio. He’s also a lecturer at NJIT in Newark, NJ. You can follow him on Twitter @ScoopB and check more about his work here.