[Podcast] Reputation Matters: Episode 5 | Kirby Allison

February 14, 2024
Kirby Allison: Mastering YouTube with Timeless Style and Elegance

Kirby Allison has fused his passion for quality and tradition with his digital marketing expertise to create a luxury men’s clothing care brand that captivates clients who appreciate the art of classic menswear. With a subscriber base of nearly 750,000, his YouTube Channel draws viewers from around the world who trust his insights, product reviews and tips on garment care, luxury shoe care techniques and the essentials for any occasion that requires formal dress. Join us as Allison shares his story of how a desire to create a “better” suit hanger became the catalyst for mastering YouTube and creating a luxury brand for menswear care.

Kirby Allison’s original interest in garment care stemmed from an elective course in costume design he took in college, attending the University of Texas at Austin. In this course, he designed and constructed an entire men’s jacket from start to finish, a project he still references as one of the more challenging projects he’s completed in his life. Kirby has made tremendous inroads into the luxury goods market, expanding far beyond his original offering of luxury hangers and has been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal and Esquire magazine. When Kirby isn’t spending his time with his wife and three children, he devotes his time to discovering the world of quality, craftsmanship and tradition. Image



Crayton: Welcome to Reputation Matters. Our guest today lives by the words quality, craftsmanship, and tradition. His passion is to help the well-dressed acquire and care for their wardrobes. And perhaps most interestingly for our conversation today, he has nearly 750,000 followers on YouTube. He is the founder of Kirby Allison’s Hanger Project. Kirby Allison, thanks for being here with us today.

Kirby: Yeah. Crayton, it’s a pleasure. And I have to say, it’s a rare pleasure to be on the other side of this. So I’m going to savor this moment today to not have to worry about any of these details and just be able to enjoy what I’m sure is going to be great conversation.

Crayton: Good. You are usually the one to do the interview. Let’s start at the very beginning. I understand from your bio, this all started with the desire for a better, higher quality suit hanger.

Kirby: Yeah. I joke that I wasn’t smart enough to do anything other than just what it is I loved, and that’s what led me to starting what originally was the Hanger Project. I’ve always been passionate about what now we describe as quality, craftsmanship and tradition, but the idea that you could have something made by hand the way that it’s always been made, that nostalgia just was always interesting to me. And so that led me to an area of menswear, classic menswear, where men were going to tailors to have suits made, shoemakers to have shoes made, shirt makers for their shirts. And that was a rabbit hole I fell into beginning in high school, but really in college. And so in college, instead of taking art history 101, I took a graduate level class in costume design in tailoring. And so I hand tailored my own suit jacket, which taught me, gave me a really profound understanding and appreciation for the work that goes into tailored garments. Graduate college, take all my money, buy my first custom suit, and it comes on a plastic hanger. And so that was in a lot of ways the genesis of the Hanger Project. It was just that, a hanger project, all lowercase letters. I tried to think of a more clever name and couldn’t, and my friend and roommate at the time said, “Well, why don’t you just call it what you’ve been calling it this entire time, which is the Hanger Project?”

Crayton: But if I remember correctly, it started as an office pool. You were in investment banking?

Kirby: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it was the GoFundMe before GoFundMe, but not… What is it? It was the Kickstarter before Kickstarter. I wish that had been my idea, but it was a group buy. So basically, I told a group of friends at the office and some other people I knew on the internet, Look, I’ll go out and find someone to make these hangers for us, but I just graduated college. I don’t have any money, so you guys have to prepay for this. I’ll take all the orders, bundle it together and have them made and figure out all the details after the fact.” And so that’s how it began, really as a Kickstarter, if you will, group buy focused on hangers. And then we went from there, from hangers to garment care, from garment care to shoe care, and then ultimately, from shoe care to clothing accessories for the well-dressed.

Crayton: And cigars as well.

Kirby: Well, and cigars, which has become a massive, in many ways, completely unexpected cornerstone of the channel. I mean, I tell people that I’m fortunate because I really do do what I love at work because the company really is a manifestation of me and my interests. And so I’ve always enjoyed smoking cigars. And we started filming some content for the YouTube channel with some friends of mine in London that own a store called Davidoff of London, and it just exploded, and it’s become a primary cornerstone of the content that we film on YouTube.

Crayton: So let’s back up for a second. So you pointed out rightly that it’s transitioned from Kirby Allison’s Hanger Project to Kirby Allison.

Kirby: It’s just Kirby Allison now, but was Hanger Project, and then Kirby Allison’s Hanger Project, and then finally, we dropped the Hanger Project.

Crayton: So as a business perspective, did it start as an online retail?

Kirby: Yeah. It was always exclusively an online retailer. And I say this half jokingly, but really it’s very seriously that my business would not exist if it weren’t for the internet because we are such a small niche serving such a specific market that there would never be enough customers in New York or any one geography to support a business. It’s only because we are able to do this online and really aggregate the entire US market, and in many ways, a global market that I could even be in the business of selling luxury clothing hangers. It’s one of the great beauties and virtues of the internet, is its ability to aggregate markets and reach wide audiences. So yeah, it’s really always been an online business. We have a warehouse now in Dallas in the Design District, and very reluctantly, we added a will call option. And surprisingly, we have a lot of people that actually come into the office to pick up orders, and we’re actually looking into the possibility of creating a small physical retail space to allow us to provide an in-person limited shopping experience for those interested in stopping by.

Crayton: So the decision to jump into the YouTube universe, if you will, how early on was that, and how did you make that decision?

Kirby: Yeah, so I’ll take you back. So whenever we added shoe polish, we picked up a brand of shoe polish from France called Saphir. And in the United States, the attrition of polishing one’s shoes was really limited to a tin of Kiwi shoe polish. I mean, that’s it, literally one tin. All you used was a wax polish, maybe a leather-cleaning soap.

Crayton: And you had it all your life, or it was passed down from your grandfather.

Kirby: Yeah, I mean, you basically inherited it. And so whenever we added this line of shoe polish from France, I mean, they had this incredibly diverse and rich catalog of products, it was very clear that the only way that we were going to be able to sell any shoe polish was by creating shoeshine tutorials. And so at that time, I mean, YouTube, I mean, this was, I mean, 2011, 2012 maybe, maybe a little bit earlier. It was at its infancy. And so the only way to do this was with written content. And so we created at that time, or I did, I say we, it’s the royal we, anyone that runs a business, it’s we, but it’s really just me, myself and I. But I created shoe care tutorials, blog posts, essentially, that ultimately aggregated to probably the largest collection of shoeshine tutorials available on the internet. And so from a Google SEO perspective, that drove a ton of business and really was what allowed us to create a pretty significant revenue stream selling shoe polish to people that had no idea how to shine their shoes. At some point, we limited out on that in terms of what we could do. And so YouTube was that next step of like, “Well, why don’t we try filming some shoeshine tutorial videos?” And so that was the beginning of YouTube, was taking those shoeshine tutorials that we had written and filming it. And so first, it was shoeshine tutorials, and then it was like, “Well, I’ve got a friend that’s a tailor that’s coming into town. Why don’t we film him measuring me for a suit?” And so it just evolved through these really personal experiences that I was having as I encountered them. And getting into the cigars, to take it back to where we were originally, was never a very concise or specific strategy. It was more of just a spontaneous like, “Well, I’m enjoying this, why don’t we film and see what happens?” And it’s really connected.

Crayton: So how many videos now some 10, 11 years later?

Kirby: Yeah, well, we have surpassed the thousand video mark.

Crayton: Wow.

Kirby: It’s been seven or eight years, and as they say, an overnight success.

Crayton: Overnight success that took seven, eight years.

Kirby: Yeah, overnight success, but it’s been interesting to see the channel build momentum. I mean, we’re about to hit three quarters of a million subscriber, which is a pretty substantial audience now. We’ll produce anywhere between 5 and 10 million views a month, and it’s completely changed my business. I mean, it’s transformed everything about the business. I mean, my biggest challenge whenever we first started was, “How do I scale a business that is so niche oriented? How do I produce demand?” And you’ve got people searching for you on Google, but how many people are searching for wooden hangers and shoe polish? Nobody. And so we did some early days PR, but at a certain point, you’ve done all the press, so how do you continue to get in front of a new audience in order to market your business and produce demand? And YouTube, now in retrospect, looking back, has really been incredible, and I think today as a platform is the single most powerful platform for people that are looking to gain visibility, is YouTube.

Crayton: Would you say that YouTube pushes more people to your business or your business online pushes more people to YouTube?

Kirby: I mean, it’s a great question. There’s no question that YouTube is our single largest source of customer acquisition, and YouTube has surpassed Google search as our largest source of customer acquisition. And people didn’t know who Kirby Allison was five years ago because he was nobody. It was like some kid in Dallas selling hangers and shoe polish. By virtue of the YouTube channel and the audience that we’ve been able to build, I mean, it’s like I can barely walk down the street in London without 5 or 6 people recognizing me and our work. So YouTube has changed everything.

Crayton: I have to ask you about that. When they stop you, what do they say? Do they ask you for your autograph?

Kirby: Well, I haven’t had any… A lot of selfies, which I guess is the modern day equivalent of the autograph.

Crayton: Absolutely.

Kirby: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of people that say, “Kirby Allison, wow, I can’t believe you’re here because here I am seeing you in London.” And it’s a little surreal, I guess. I mean, it’s taken a little bit of time to get used to. But again, one of the great virtues of what it is I do is it’s at its core oriented around a passion. And so the people that watch the channel are inherently people that I would get along with anyway because we share commonality and interests.

Crayton: Let’s talk a little bit about your content choices. So as you mentioned, some of the videos that I still watch, How to Protect Suede Shoes, for example, shorter more tutorial, and then you’ve done some of these long series where you’ve traveled. Talk about the differentiation between those and how you make some of your editorial decisions.

Kirby: Yeah, so let me preface everything with one thing that I think is important because we’re talking about, you’re in the marketing business, public relations. I think one of the most important things for someone to know about YouTube that it took me doing it for five years to fully comprehend and appreciate is its ability to put you in front of an audience that didn’t know who you were. And the statistic that I’ll give that still amazes me is that 80% of the people that watch one of our videos is someone for whom YouTube has suggested that video. So they weren’t looking for how to shine a shoe, they weren’t looking for any of the content, but YouTube, the algorithm, the black box, was somehow able to predict that this would be something that they would be interested in. And so if you think that we’re producing 5 million views, 10 million views a month, 80% of those people weren’t searching for one of our videos, don’t subscribe to the channel. It is a profound amount of people that are learning about who we are and what it is that we do for the first time.

Crayton: But let me stop you. So you’re suggesting the algorithm works in your favor despite the niche that you have because presumably, they’re already in the niche on YouTube and finds you when it suggests?

Kirby: Well, I would even… I mean, again, no one really knows what Google does, but I think one of my favorite comments, and this is in some ways… What’s the word? It’s, I think, representative of this is that it’s 2:00 a.m. and I have no idea why I’m watching this shoeshine tutorial, but it’s amazing. And so a lot of these people, a lot of the people that we have turned into customers were people that never even really thought about shining their shoes, wasn’t even there for them. And so to go back to your point of we’re in the market, well, I think one of the great virtues of YouTube is that it really produces a market for us that didn’t necessarily exist beforehand.

Crayton: So you’ve broadened your niche.

Kirby: Broadened it, produced it. It’s grown a market by allowing us to somehow plant the seed in people’s minds, or expose them to something that they never really thought to look for otherwise.

Crayton: So what’s the barrier then? I mean, because you mentioned, I mean, there’s lots of smart marketing people, lots of smart PR people, but there are few people who seem to have taken advantage of the power of YouTube, both from search, as well as video as well as you have. What’s the barrier? Why do you think it’s getting in people’s way?

Kirby: Well, I mean, video production is difficult. I mean, that is, at the end of the day, I think, the biggest crux. It’s not cheap, it’s not easy, and it’s very difficult to do well. And so I think that that is the biggest challenge that people run into. I mean, whenever we got started, I told myself, “Look, we’re going to try it for three months.” I knew that in order for us to be able to do it at scale that we had to have the ability to edit the videos ourselves. Maybe we’d pay someone else to come film it, but the editing and everything we needed to have in-house. And so those were things that we did. So we hired an editor out of college, we’d have someone come in and help film, and that’s how we got started. But it’s difficult. And I think what I tell people is that you can’t let doing it perfectly get in the way of doing anything, so you have to try and experiment and iterate through the process. But even then, compared to just writing a blog post or taking photographs on Instagram, doing something on YouTube is exponentially more difficult, and that’s a barrier to entry.

Crayton: Sure. Okay, let’s go back to your editorial choices.

Kirby: Editorials. Yes.

Crayton: And some of your content from the tutorials to the far more sophisticated where you’re on the road Suit to Shoot. And then of course, you were just recently in Cuba.

Kirby: Yeah, we just are in the beginning stages of. I think we just released the third episode of a 10-part series that we filmed in Cuba that is groundbreaking. I mean, we were given more access to the Cuban cigar industry than anyone has ever been given with a video camera. And so that’s exciting. I mean, that’s what I love. I mean, when I say I really have the privilege of doing what it is I love, I mean, to be there in Cuba, doing something that nobody has ever done before in an industry that I’m personally passionate about, Cuban cigars, and then to be able to then share that with a global audience of people that have that commonality with me is amazing. But to answer the question, I mean-

Crayton: Well, hold on. Well, how did you get that access then?

Kirby: Yeah, well, I guess this is, I’m jumping ahead and let’s go back.

Crayton: Well, yeah, it’s too good to not follow up on.

Kirby: I know. Well, because the access is really a product of the proof of performance, the fact that we have built a large audience and we’ve built trust, we’ve been doing this for a long time. We have some very specific positions on building trust, too, that I think that are important that I’ll hit on. Taking it back from the beginning, it was just shoeshine tutorials. It evolved from there because at some point, you get bored and you’re like, “I couldn’t possibly film another shoeshine tutorial. Otherwise, I’m not going to wake up and go to work,” because you’ve done all of them.

Crayton: Well, and the format was relatively simple, right?

Kirby: Yeah, simple.

Crayton: So maybe two-camera shoot, you’re at a desk with a set.

Kirby: Yeah. I mean, we probably were one camera to begin. I mean, but you’re right. Relatively simple, one or two cameras, very unsophisticated.

Crayton: But nice, high quality still.

Kirby: But nice enough. I mean, we always seek to push the quality level, but it’s a product of where you are. So at that moment, we were filming the best content we could, but we were always learning. And so it went from that to then, here I am having a bespoke suit made. Well, now, we’re not on a desk anymore. We’re standing. It gets a little bit more complicated. And then we introduced the travel content. So it’s like, “Well, we filmed a bunch of stuff in the office in Dallas, why don’t we go to London and film with these people there?” So that was an evolution. And then, from that… And these are all still one-part linear pieces. It’s like walk and talk show and tells. I mean, nothing very cinematically complicated.

Crayton: And how long? About how long?

Kirby: Well, I mean, on the longer side, which is something that I think is important. I think people go to YouTube for the meat and the potatoes, and I think it is a fallacy of marketers to think that they need to edit their content to what they see as either average watch times or attention spans as they often-

Crayton: Thank you very much. You’re singing my tune.

Kirby: No, no, no.

Crayton: My producer is hearing you say this.

Kirby: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that, again, people go to YouTube for the meat and the potatoes. And if you want to do anything that is substantial and significant, you’ve got to be able to support that with substantial and significant content.

Crayton: Depth.

Kirby: And that’s not depth, and that’s not done, that’s not delivered in 30 seconds or a few minutes. And the beauty of YouTube or podcasts is that people can listen to it anywhere. They can pause it, they can continue it. One of my favorite things is to increase the playback speed, so you can fly through it faster. And so why not provide the meat and potatoes? And so we’ve always had long watch times. And I’d say relative to even the people that we benchmark ourself against on YouTube today, we’re still very long on our watch times. And are we making life more difficult for ourself? Probably. I mean, would any more sophisticated, smarter person do the same thing? I’m not sure. But for us to do justice to the topics that we’re filming, the only way to do it is… I mean, we don’t organize around watch times. We organize around telling stories. However long that story takes to tell is how long the video is.

Crayton: So the next step was, you’re in London.

Kirby: Yeah, in London.

Crayton: You’re having a bespoke suit made, or bespoke shoes. It’s all-

Kirby: Yeah, smoking a cigar. That’s how we started with Davidoff of London. So that was the next evolution. And then so this was us traveling somewhere to film.

Crayton: Underwritten?

Kirby: No, Underwritten by Kirby Allison. I mean, that’s a whole other conversation. And then at some point, we then said like, “Let us try to do a series, a multi-part series where we have a narrative arc?” So do the same thing we’re doing, but let’s string some of these topics together to somehow make it more interesting than any of the individual episodes. The first time we did that was in Scotland with the Suit to Shoot series.

Crayton: Two years ago, right?

Kirby: Two years ago, and then we followed that up with a series that we did with the Goodwood Revival. And then we’ve since done it with Cuba. We’ve done it in Italy. That hasn’t been published yet. And so again, pushing the envelope, continuing to develop and evolve. It’s just that next evolution in order to produce progressively better content, moving beyond just single linear episodes and saying like, “Let’s think bigger than that and tell a larger, more compelling story that can’t be done in 45 minutes, and let’s do that through a multi-part series.”

Crayton: So how do you say no, or do you, to brands and individuals who are in your business, or not necessarily in the video or marketing business, but are in the apparel business, or believe they’re in the high end apparel business, and it may or may not fit your standard of quality craftsmanship and tradition?

Kirby: Tradition, yeah. Yeah, I mean, in the beginning, we didn’t really have much…

Crayton: To choose from?

Kirby: To choose from, so we said yes to almost everything. But we have the benefit of we don’t need the people with whom we work to pay us in order for us to do our work. We monetize the YouTube channel through The YouTube channel really is, in some ways, a marketing line item. And so that allows us to be pickier in choosing with whom we work. So we’re not going to film someone with someone that doesn’t somehow enhance our brand or align with our quality position. And so we have a lot of people that want us to film with them that we won’t film with because it just wouldn’t be consistent with where it is I’m trying to position Kirby Allison in the marketplace. And the other side of the coin on that is we won’t do negative content. I’m not a journalist. I’m not out there to do something that is controversial, and I feel like I have a moral responsibility to not jeopardize other people’s livelihoods. And so we have a lot of people that would like us to film content with that I couldn’t necessarily stand behind or find anything really positive to say about. We just simply won’t do it. We just pass on that.

Crayton: It’s not a review.

Kirby: It’s not a review. And there’s a lot of people in this space that feel like they need to be controversial and have an opinion. And we have opinions, but they’re positive opinions. And I’ve just seen too many people not taken care of by that, that we won’t do it. Now, this has helped build trust and further open doors because we’re able to show through our entire catalog of work that we don’t do negative content. So if you have a hundred plus year-old heritage brand, you can trust that if we are filming with you, we’re there to tell your story in the most positive way possible, to romanticize it and to embellish it, and to really speak to the virtues. And so…

Crayton: Protect the lore and the legacy.

Kirby: Yeah, to protect the lore and the legacy. And I think that’s important for us and for the people with whom we work, that they can trust that we’re not going to in any way stab them in the backs after we get the footage into the editing room because we want to or we can.

Crayton: Yeah. So for most people who care to dress, the journey towards quality, craftsmanship, and hopefully tradition is just that. It’s a journey.

Kirby: It’s a journey.

Crayton: And sometimes it’s driven by economics, frankly. So has that been the case for you?

Kirby: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Crayton: And do you feel like as you are making these editorial decisions about who you would feature and not that your education is evolving as to, “Oh, I’d never heard of this brand before,” or, “Now, I found it,” or do you feel like at this point in your career, you pretty well know all of the craftsmen in the marketplace?

Kirby: we’ve always taken a position of focusing on the high end. And we get some feedback from people that, “Well, why don’t you focus on more accessible work?” Well, I mean, if we’re really talking about quality, craftsmanship, and tradition, it’s got to be like there’s a minimum threshold that you have to meet in order to even be in that league. And so we’ve always focused at that level and above. It’s also my opinion that just like with art, you don’t have to afford it to appreciate it. And so by focusing on the highest level of bespoke craftsmanship, even if you’re not purchasing at that level, it allows you to be better informed of what the qualities and characteristics are of quality, craftsmanship, and tradition so that you can be a better consumer at whatever price point you’re purchasing at.

Crayton: Yeah, and be aspirational.

Kirby: Yeah, and be aspirational. I mean, it’s a journey for everyone. There’s no question. And I think there’s two approaches to value creation. One of them is deciding what you want and then trying to spend as little money for that as possible. But the other and equally valid approach towards value creation, this is the one that I’ve always prescribed to, is determine your budget, decide on what your budget is, and then go out and try to find the highest quality possible. And value and quality is a three-dimensional optimizational one. It’s time, knowledge, and money. Those are the three inputs that determine value. And so I’ve always been of the opinion, “Let me figure out however much I have to spend, and then I’m going to go out and learn and find the best makers and maybe spend a little bit more time having it made so that I can reach a higher quality level of product than if I were to just walk into a mall and spend $300.”

Crayton: Yeah. Well, where did the Quality, Craftsmanship and Tradition tagline come from?

Kirby: Yeah, I mean, at this point, I can’t even remember.

Crayton: Is that something you’ve always talked about?

Kirby: Well, I think that-

Crayton: Or words you’ve chosen or used?

Kirby: So those three characteristics were always part of my narrative and ethos, but there was a point at which I had a mentor that I worked with and we were refining our language and we said, “Look, we need to come up with a tagline or something.” And so quality, craftsmanship, and tradition is what just percolated at the top because those are the fundamental virtues of my ethos of what it is that we’re after. And so it’s worked out, I suppose.

Crayton: So that’s a great segue to something I’ve been dying to ask you. So we’re in the business of words, words matter, word choice matters, and particularly as it relates to reputation. So one of the things you talk about, as it relates to your audience, renowned tailors, dandies, and men of style. I think that’s fascinating because if you think about, at least in American culture, the word dandy is not positive. So tell us about…

Kirby: Yeah, where did you find that though? Because I’d probably say that the dandy word is… We’d probably strike that because I’d say that… And words do matter, I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think that oftentimes, not enough importance is given to them. We are not in the business of dandyism. And we’ve had a rebranding where basically, when we rebranded to Kirby Allison, our icon, or our logo is a cannon. And again, there was a lot of thought and work that went into finding that logo, or that icon. And we decided on the cannon because ultimately, it is my, I don’t know if opinion’s the right word, but my position, or philosophy that men dress up in suits and ties not to go and dance around like dandies, but it is our uniform. It is our coat of armor to go out there into the world and fight for whatever it is we’re building or we’re doing or for our families, and this is our uniform. And so there’s a reverence of respect and a seriousness behind dressing well that has nothing to do about looking fancy or fashionable. And I often say that we’re actually in the anti-fashion business. I mean, we sell clothing, but we couldn’t be any more different than fashion because what I really advocate for is classic menswear that has sustainability, longevity, and timelessness. And so it’s inherently not fashionable. And that is a… If I was described as a dandy, I feel like I’d be almost offended because there’s a visualness of that, of the dandy. It’s dressing up for a little bit… It’s a little bit too-

Crayton: Showy.

Kirby:… self-worshiping. That’s just not me.

Crayton: Right, whereas you’re, “This is the uniform of a gentleman.”

Kirby: Yeah, and there’s a degree of connoisseurship. I enjoy dressing well, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it. I find that there is just an intrinsic satisfaction to dressing well and to dressing in clothing that’s well-made because it makes you feel better and you’re more comfortable. And I enjoy those elements of quality and craftsmanship. I appreciate that. And so it brings me personal happiness to know that I’m wearing a beautifully made suit that’s handmade in London by a tailor that I’ve had a relationship with. Those things bring me intrinsic joy that have nothing to do about anyone else.

Crayton: Good for you.

Kirby: And I think that part of what we do in the channel is really talking about that and helping men understand that that exists. It’s not something to be ashamed about and that there’s a real virtue there.

Crayton: So you mentioned getting feedback. Do you get negative feedback? I imagine in this day and age, there’s also folks who are like, “Do something on the casual office attire.”
Kirby: I read a lot of the comments on our videos. I mean, especially if we publish a video, a new video, we publish twice a week, I’m in there probably reading and responding to most comments for at least the first few days it’s out. Now, if a video has been out for two years, probably not. I’m probably not seeing those comments anymore. And so yeah, I mean, whenever you put so much of yourself into something. And the YouTube channel is an expense for us. We don’t make money on the YouTube channel. In some ways, it’s charity because we film with people that make more money off the videos that we film for them than we do. And it changes a lot of people’s lives, I mean, especially now at this scale. I mean, whenever we film with a bespoke tailor that’s had no marketing, I mean, the video can really have a profound impact on their business, which is a joy for me to be able to give that, or to support the people that I think are worth supporting. And so whenever you give so much of yourself to something, and then you read these YouTube comments of people tearing you to pieces, it’s like, yeah, I mean, sometimes I take it personally.

Crayton: Yeah, well, why wouldn’t you? I mean, and as a small business owner, everything’s personal, right?

Kirby: Yeah. Exactly. Right.

Crayton: No, I completely understand. So I have the pleasure of knowing you personally and have always enjoyed our friendship, but I want to ask you, do you feel like Kirby Allison, the person is the same… You’ve talked about the things that you love and how that’s manifested itself into your business, but is Kirby Allison, the person the same as Kirby Allison, the brand and the individual I see on your YouTube channels? And if so, or if not, what’s the difference?
Kirby: Yeah. Well, I think that that was one of the largest challenges for me in the development of my business, was in some ways, divorcing or disassociating Kirby Allison, the brand from Kirby Allison, the person. I mean, that hurdle is what I had to get over in order for me to even add Kirby Allison to the company name because it just felt so conceited to like, “Well, why would I call it Kirby Allison? It’s just not me.” But ultimately, with help and with prodding, and it probably still took too long, I really was able to begin to understand that Kirby Allison, in some ways, is an ideal. I mean, it is me. But Kirby Allison, the brand and Kirby Allison, the YouTube personality is not exactly the same person that Kirby Allison is in the flesh. So Kirby Allison on YouTube, you’ll never see him wearing shorts, a T-shirt. I mean, he’s dressed a certain way, and that is certainly how you see me dressed most of the time.

Crayton: I was going to say, I’ve seen you in shorts, never in a T-shirt.

Kirby: But it’s not to say that I don’t wear shorts and T-shirts whenever I’m hanging out with the kids.

Crayton: Sure.

Kirby: So I’ve had to… And I think that that’s also important because one of our first videos, I remember, I think maybe we’ve since removed it, it was me in a pair of jeans, unshaven with a button-up shirt with no tie. And my mentor at the time was like, “That’s not Kirby Allison. Kirby Allison is in a suit and tie and a white shirt, and it’s the only way he should ever be seen.”

Crayton: Wow.

Kirby: And so it took me a while to be like, “Yeah, who it is that I’m representing is this ideal of myself on the channel, and that only comes a certain way.” And to be not rigid, but to have, in some ways, the courage to take the position…

Crayton: Disciplined.

Kirby: And the discipline to take that position has been something that has taken years to really grow.

Crayton: How did that play into the decision? You mentioned the brand change and you talked about the logo, but from going from Kirby Allison’s Hanger Project to Kirby Allison or, what was the process there?

Kirby: So whenever we started the YouTube channel, I think it was maybe Hanger Project in the first few days, but very soon after that, we changed the name of the YouTube channel to Kirby Allison because the YouTube channel was me. It was Kirby Allison. That felt natural. And then ultimately, for the business, it was like the tail that wagged the dog. I mean, we had this massive presence on YouTube under Kirby Allison, and then we were still calling the business Kirby Allison’s Hanger Project, and three quarters of our revenue had nothing to do about hangers. And so at some point, and again, we probably waited too long, it just became silly. And so in that way, it was a pretty easy decision, but it was one that we probably were, or I probably was too slow to make.

Crayton: Yeah. What advice would you give someone who wants to delve into YouTube and the world of video if they were just getting started? Maybe what would you do differently if you were starting out now?

Kirby: Yeah. It’s a question that we receive. I mean, I would encourage people to do YouTube, I mean, so long as they’ve got something that they have to say. I think it is one of the most profound, meaningful, and powerful platforms that we’ve seen in the last decade. It’s incredible. Your ability to get in front of people that were never looking for you is unmatched. And so I’m highly encouraging of people to do it. My advice is, is you just have to start somewhere. And so don’t let this idea or the fear of not doing it right stop you from doing anything. I mean, there are professionals such as yourselves that you can hire to help you. And so reach out for help and support if you can afford it. But if not, I mean, you just have to say, “We’re going to try it and see what happens.” I think that investing in some cameras is important, and trying to spend as much money as you can afford to spend in equipment will help make whatever you do in the beginning better.

Crayton: One of my favorite sayings is, “Don’t let the good get in the way of the perfect.”

Kirby: Yeah, absolutely.

Crayton: Or no, I think it’s just the opposite, “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the way of good.”

Kirby: The way of good. Yeah. I know. Yeah.

Crayton: There’s my words of wisdom for the day. Well, what’s the dream for you? There’s so many other iconic, and again, you referred yourself as the anti-fashion in some ways, but when someone’s namesake is their brand, you can’t help but think of Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger. So have you put a stake in the ground as far as, “Kirby Allison will be X”?

Kirby: Yeah. That’s a good question. I think that, and this sounds terrible, but in some ways, I feel like we’ve already achieved the dream, to be completely frank. I mean, I love what I do. I get to travel the world and meet interesting people and tell their stories. I mean, I joke that the cameras are what I use to sneak my way through the door as I’m showing up at the cameras. And I’ve been able to build a business that allows me to continue to do what it is that I’m passionate about. So I don’t really see… I look to the next 5 to 10 years, it’s not really doing anything that’s fundamentally different. It’s really scaling it and doing it at a higher level. Now, we publish on YouTube, I’d love to be able to have larger budgets and bigger crews and do something that’s published on Netflix or to a larger distribution audience. I’d love people to actually pay us for the work that we do. YouTube gives us no money, barely, and a lot of these big brands think that you should be privileged to do it for them. And I feel like oftentimes, what they don’t understand is it is expensive. There’s a limit to how much that we can afford to spend.

Crayton: Of course.

Kirby: And so to the extent that we have someone helping subsidize the work that we’re doing is for them to really see that it is allowing us to do a better job telling, hopefully, a story that’s meaningful and valuable to them.

Crayton: Yeah, but of course, having sponsors has its downside also. I mean, I know you’re not an editorialist, you’re not a journalist, but you also don’t want to be bought and paid for.
Kirby: Well, and I think that that’s a tightrope that we have to walk, which is that we don’t want to be bought and paid for. I mean, we do maintain a certain degree of editorial independence, but at that same time, we’re doing this because we want to and not because we have to. And if we are telling a story, we’re okay for the brands or the people with whom we work having influence in how it is that we language that and tell it, so long as that it’s not misrepresenting anything or inauthentic. Those would be pretty strong red lines for us. And if we found ourselves in a position where someone was asking us to say something that we felt would misrepresent the authenticity or the truth, we would probably just-

Crayton: You’re out.

Kirby: I mean, if not out, is just to not talk about that. And so that’s something that we approach as we come to those…

Crayton: Those moments.

Kirby: Crossroads, those crossroads.

Crayton: Okay, so we’re nearing the end of our time together, unfortunately.

Kirby: I’m loving this.

Crayton: Well, I mean, your story is remarkable.

Kirby: We don’t do this enough. I mean, we need to have you and Nikki over and do this proper over drinks and dinner, but yeah.

Crayton: That sounds great too. Let’s do it, we have a lightning round. So some of these are bespoke just for you.

Kirby: Excellent.

Crayton: And then others, we ask all of our guests.

Kirby: No pressure.

Crayton: No pressure at all. Okay, what I have to ask you, favorite video you’ve ever shot?
Kirby: Ooh, favorite video I’ve ever shot? I mean, that’s like…

Crayton: It’s like asking which is your favorite child.

Kirby: Yeah. We filmed a video at DUKES Bar in London with Alessandro Palazzi. He’s a famous bartender. It’s funny. A little anecdote about the video is that we filmed it in reverse order. So we filmed him making the martinis first, and then the greet and introduction second. And if you have a keen eye, you’ll see that as I walk in to greet Alessandro in the beginning of that video, I’m probably already a little bit tipsy.

Crayton: A little friendlier than you might’ve been?

Kirby: Yeah. And it just was one of those moments to be able to film there with Alessandro, I mean, he’s a world-famous bartender at my favorite bar in the entire world, was just a moment of like, “This is awesome.”

Crayton: That’s fantastic. Now, I’m not going to ask you about favorite brands or anything like that because that wouldn’t be fair, but I would like to know what’s the favorite piece you have in your wardrobe?

Kirby: Gosh, that’s another impossible question. I find that my favorite piece, in many ways, is always the most recent thing that’s been made.

Crayton: And in this case, it is?

Kirby: Well, I mean, I’m wearing my Kent Haste bespoke suit. This is a beautiful Kent Haste tweed, and nice plush brown flannels. And it’s perfect for the weather outside today. And it’s one of the first bespoke items I had made in London. And we had an incredible series that we filmed with Ken Haste. We called it our Double Bespoke Edition.

Crayton: Wonderful.

Kirby: Because there were two cutters, and each made one thing. And it was, again, one of our most popular series and such.

Crayton: You’ve given me lots of advice over the years. What’s a fashion faux pas that you are also guilty of?

Kirby: Ooh, fashion faux pas that I’m also guilty of? I’m having trouble with that one and it’s not because I’m not-

Crayton: That speaks to your quality, craftsmanship, and tradition.

Kirby: Fashion faux pas?

Crayton: It could have been a while.

Kirby: I would say that if there’s one fashion faux pas that I could be accused of, it is sometimes not dressing truly appropriately for the environment or the occasion. And in my case, that often means I’m way overdressed.

Crayton: Sure.

Kirby: And so I think I’ve had to tone it down a little bit at the kids’ schools of walking into certain parent meetings or parent social gatherings too well-dressed because that makes people feel uncomfortable. And so I’ve had to learn to take the tie off and loosen it a little bit.

Crayton: But as I tell my boys, “You can always take the tie off. You can never put it on.”

Kirby: Well, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Crayton: That’s right. That’s right. Do you have a piece that you really want to add to your wardrobe that you don’t have currently?

Kirby: Oh, that’s another great question. Shit, I mean, I’ve got so much clothes right now, but you know what I really need that I don’t have, and I want to add this, is a proper Savile Row or proper British bespoke city suit. I mean, I’ve got tweeds, I’ve got a tuxedo being made. But just a standard dark gray herringbone city suit.

Crayton: Very good.

Kirby: I don’t have that. And it goes back to, it’s like it was one of the first things I ever had made because it was foundational. And so now, in my wardrobe, it’s like the oldest piece, doesn’t really fit as well as it used to.

Crayton: You said a tuxedo. Navy or black?

Kirby: Well, I mean, midnight blue would be the color.

Crayton: Very good. Favorite YouTube channel besides your own?

Kirby: Ooh, that’s another difficult question. I’m guilty of not… I watched so much of my own videos during the proofing process. But Doug DeMuro, Doug, the DougScore, so he’s a car review guy, I really enjoy his. He has a saying, it’s like the corks… What does he call it? It’s like the corks, the features, the corks… Anyway, he’s got a really interesting slogan that I enjoy. And he does great car reviews. I enjoy cars.

Crayton: All right. You’ve had some fantastic travels. Name a country you haven’t been to but really want to go to to do a video.

Kirby: A country that I haven’t been to, or a country that I haven’t filmed in?
Crayton: Oh. Well, how about both?

Kirby: Yeah. I’ve never been to Japan, okay? And I think Japan, when you look at craftsmanship and tradition, is in the pantheon of the greats. And so I’d love to go to Japan. And it could be, it’s not a 2024 project, it could be a 2025 project because it would be a substantial project. But I would love to go to Japan and really explore that country.

Crayton: Excellent.

Kirby: So that’s a country that I’ve never been to and never filmed in. A country that I’ve been to but never filmed at that I want to film in is Mexico, Mexico City.

Crayton: Oh, absolutely.

Kirby: My wife’s from Mexico City.

Crayton: Beautiful.

Kirby: I mean, they’re importer of Cuban cigars. Max Gutmann was one of my early influences in smoking, and he apparently has a legendary humidor in Mexico City that he said that we could go film in anytime we’re there. And so it’s like I’m really hot to get to Mexico because I’m like I want to go film there.

Crayton: Fantastic.

Kirby: Mexico City.

Crayton: Mexico City. All right. For every guest, we ask, what was your favorite subject in school?

Kirby: I enjoyed math.

Crayton: Major in college?

Kirby: Business.

Crayton: Favorite holiday?

Kirby: Christmas.

Crayton: Favorite hobby?

Kirby: Smoking a cigar.

Crayton: Favorite guilty pleasure?

Kirby: Yeah.

Crayton: Smoking a cigar.

Kirby: My favorite guilty pleasure is in fact hand-pressed sheets.

Crayton: Very good. Favorite movie?

Kirby: Ooh, “The Game” with Michael Douglas jumps out.

Crayton: Favorite day of the week?

Kirby: Sunday.

Crayton: Hidden power, hidden superpower or talent?

Kirby: I wonder how people answer that. I don’t have any hidden superpowers that are funny, but I’d say that one of the superpowers that I’ve come to embrace through work is the ability to really relate with other people. And that’s something that I think I’m good at and it’s something that I enjoy. And it’s something that I think has allowed me in the YouTube channel to do it well, is really being able to explain other people’s virtues better than they can. And that’s a big part of what I help people do, is to understand what makes what they do special and articulate that, in many cases, better than they would otherwise articulate it themselves.

Crayton: Well, part of being a gentleman is rapport and making people feel special.

Kirby: Yeah. And I enjoy that. I mean, there’s so many incredible people that have these just magnificent stories and can’t tell it themselves. I mean, you do this with your work, is helping people figure out how to really champion their own stories. And we do that for people that I think deserve to be helped and saved. I mean, I see that a lot of these heritage brands and these bespoke artisans, I mean, it’s like an endangered species, and I think that they need all the help they can get because what they do really is special and valuable. And so to be out there and bang the drums, advocating for their work is something that I think is significant.

Crayton: Last question. One person alive or dead if you had to pick to have dinner with, or a cigar, who would it be?

Kirby: Who would it be? I would love to have a cigar with King George.

Crayton: Great pick. Great pick.

Kirby: I often joke, it’s like anytime I’m in a beautiful place, all I can think about is smoking a cigar there. And we did this lighting round with Eddie Sahakian once of top 10 places we want to smoke a cigar, and I think number one is Buckingham Palace, because how cool would it be to smoke a cigar in Buckingham Palace?

Crayton: I imagine you will have that chance before too long.

Kirby: Yeah. And those walls, it’s been too long. I know you’re trying to wrap up, but I’m going to tell a funny anecdote, which is that I was in New York recently and I was at one of the clubs there, one of the gentlemen’s clubs. And New York, of course, you can’t smoke indoor anywhere. I’m a staunch believer that the only civilized place to smoke is inside. Smoke cigars, not cigarettes. It’s different. So I’m not advocating lighting up a cigarette in your mom’s living room, but it was a cold, windy night, and I was like, “I really need a cigar.” So I went into the library, and it was empty, and lit up a cigar, and I was smoking inside, very much against the rules of the club. It’s holiday party season. Finally, someone comes in to kick me out after 30 minutes, and I joked that my cigar smoke was the only civilized thing that that library had seen in a week of holiday parties.

Crayton: Did they agree, or they still kicked you out?

Kirby: It somehow came off cynical, but I meant it like…

Crayton: I’m doing you a favor.

Kirby: Yeah, I meant it more humorously.

Crayton: Kirby Allison, it is so impressive to hear your stories and how you have harnessed the power of YouTube. Three quarters of a million followers on YouTube, Kirby Allison and Thanks so much for joining us and we’ll see you next time.

Kirby: Pleasure is mine. Thank you.

Crayton: Thank you. See you all next time on Reputation Matters.