Stòffa Is Changing the Game by Taking It Slow
I've been following Stòffa from its inception, and to say that the New York-based brand has evolved doesn’t even begin to capture it. I’ve been lucky enough to call co-founders Agyesh Madan and Nick Ragosta friends since before the brand made its debut in 2014, first with a tight edit of hats and accessories, and then with a fully fleshed-out made-to-measure program. Madan, who cut his teeth at Neapolitan luxury label Isaia, has always had a unique perspective on how clothes ought to be made and how they should fit, so it was only natural he used his voice to present something fresh to menswear. Ragosta is an industry veteran in his own right, having run made-to-measure for Isaia before directing wholesale for The Armoury Group and Ring Jacket.
The brand now sells small runs of ready-to-wear, but made-to-measure is still its core program, and fabric is still primary: basketweave cottons, supple yet sturdy cashmeres, buttery soft leathers in familiar and calming hues, substantial and breathable linens and tropical wools. The product isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for—and you’re paying for something you’ll own for many years. Sustainability in fashion is imperative, and Stòffa has led that charge for almost a decade.
Recently, I photographed the showroom and the Stòffa team, and spoke with the brand’s founders and team members about Stoffa’s inceptions and inspirations, the value inherent in its garments, reasons for working at Stòffa, the process behind new designs, and other topics.
I think you pull inspiration from a lot of unique places, but you’re also rooted in something fairly traditional, so I find that dichotomy compelling as your product is both familiar and unique. Where do you find inspiration, and are those references born solely out of personal discovery, or is there an aspect that is shared as well?
Agyesh Madan: Everything starts with fabric development. When we work on a silhouette, it usually starts with the fabric. Fabric has so much encoded in it: the history of the land, the craft and technical brilliance, and culture. Our collections are not a single encapsulated collection that comes once and then is again completely revamped six months later. Our collections are designed in an evolution. They're a response to the zeitgeist and and the input of our artisans.
For example, our outwear patternmaker has been doing this for 45 years, so if I'm making a mistake where a shoulder and a pocket don't align because the pocket's not going to function probably, she'll correct me.
Nick Ragosta: We work with mostly small, family-run workshops who are specialists in what they do. [Agyesh] is working around what they do. He's not shoving a sketch down anybody's throat. If they give feedback, then he'll be fluid with the design and move it around what makes sense.
When you say “zeitgeist,” what do you mean?
AM: One has to be very conscious that everybody's tastes evolve and everybody's tastes are informed by what's happening around them. You travel more, you invite more experiences. We're trying to really give our clients something that they can wear every day in their life, not something that feels trendy. To be able to express every day, the clothes have to live in the context of today.
What were your reasons for founding Stòffa? What were you hoping to achieve with the brand?
AM: It was born from the desire to slow things down. Having had the privilege to work with some amazing artisans prior at Isaia, the aim was to create a place where we could facilitate deeper conversations about product, fabric, and style. We focused on making things one at a time in conversation with the client, hopefully creating product that is inherently more personal and long-lasting.
What makes Stòffa worth the expense, and what does a customer gain in shopping with you, as opposed to a traditional multi-brand retailer or tailor?
NR: The materials are quite high quality. The make is informed by somebody who's a craftsperson, who's been doing this one particular thing for a really long time. It's being made specially for you. That has a lot of value that goes beyond maybe just a good look or a logo or an association—true inherent value. Something that's saying the dollar amount charged is equivalent to, or less, than what you get out of it.
I think if you've had something made by an artisan, by a tailor, there is an intangible quality that you can't quite put your finger on. It feels a little bit different and it's very hard to say what it is. Is it the cut? Is it the padding, is it the materials? It's something that you can't quite define. It just feels good. The clothes feel like yours in a way that something you buy off a shelf doesn't always feel. They’re carefully developed from the raw materials up and individually made in collaboration with artisans who have made this craft their life’s work. It’s our hope that they will become cherished parts of your daily life, and we take great care in designing them to wear well and age gracefully so they will stay with you for a long time.
What are some things you’ve learned and enhanced along the way, particularly in creating new collections?
AM: We started with just a few key silhouettes expressed in signature fabrics and offered them exclusively made-to-measure at trunk shows in various cities. It’s been eight years of Stòffa, and not only have things around the world changed, but we started making more categories and work with more workshops. We've learned a lot from our craftspeople and our team's grown. We've gone from two or three people to nine people here, and a very large team in Italy now. All of that has given a lot more color to what the collection feels like. We've produced a large set of deadstock fabric, so working with it requires a completely different level of treatment. And 99 percent of people know the brand more from images than having bought something, so the image-making part is something that we take very seriously.
NR: We don’t change who we are, but we certainly will lean left or right into what we feel is happening and what feels natural at the time, whether that's the cut of something or the way things are put together. And frankly, the way the working world is now, there isn't really a uniform anymore that makes sense for everybody. Most people, even one guy, can have a much more varied wardrobe than he used to have. And the level of formality has changed so much in different offices. Giving a broader context to these things is useful. That's how the collections changed a little bit, because the way that you would put things together used to be a little bit more standard. And now there's so much more room for personal expression.
What does Stòffa mean to you?
NR: We started a company based on a set of values with bigger ideas. We didn't set out to be a flash-in-the-pan, big-moment company. We wanted to be something that lasts for a really long time. The projects and brands and people that we look up to created things that are long-lasting, that have a lot of value, that are honest and authentic.
AM: We wanted to reduce the gap between that artisanal process and the client. And instead of making the process industrial, the idea was to reduce the gap where the client learns how to slow down a little bit and the technology helps the production be a little fast.
NR: In a way, what that means is that you quite literally are teaching people a different way of consuming. It's not that this is a purely altruistic mission, but I do think that there's an element of a paradigm shift that happens once clients come in and make a pair of pants. It's like, “Oh, I can make things. Maybe I should ask where some of my other things are from.”
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