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Dressing for success Gambert cousins rejoin forces to keep their businesses going in changing clothing industry

Cousins Skip Gambert and Suzanne Gambert are co-owners of High Bar Shirt Co. in Newark.-(AARON HOUSTON)

Nothing brings family together like changing consumer habits.

Sounds awkward, but cousins Suzanne Gambert and Skip Gambert really did reconnect a set of long-separated custom dress shirt family businesses in part because it furnished an opportunity to adjust to the way people shop today.

They were both running businesses that traced their roots back to Joseph Gambert, who started a Newark clothing business in 1933. Over the course of generations, the traditional shirt manufacturing company split into different businesses.

The original business, The Gambert Shirt Corp., was being run by Suzanne Gambert, but has since closed its doors to coalesce with Skip Gambers’s ongoing shirt manufacturing operation and create a new brand — High Bar Shirt Co.

“The important thing is that everyone went their own way, but we’re coming back together now,” she said. “With (High Bar Shirt Co.), we’re able to do things the same great way we’ve been taught to (by previous generations) but get more technology involved and take a new approach.”

That new strategy departs from the family’s original model of custom shirt-maker shops, which have largely become a relic of the past.

“There’s little interest anymore in shopping at retail stores,” Gambert said. “Everyone is buying online. So, we launched a website a year and a half ago, which we’re currently redoing. We’re using (an e-commerce model) with factory-direct prices.”

Being a wholesale manufacturer to the trade offers a significant cost difference. And it’s not always, depending on the retailer, an apples-to-apples comparison — not all retailers are invested in the same quality that has been the Gambert family’s calling card for almost a century.

“A lot of what you see today is crazy markups — shirts made in China for $12 and then sold for $100,” Gambert said. “For us, we don’t see the quality control when you’re not there. … We still do it here. We employ mostly Newark residents and have about 140 employees.

“This doesn’t go on too many places in the U.S. anymore.”

The company touts having material for its local shirt manufacturing from some of the best mills in Europe. It also markets dress shirts that can be customized down to the last button.

 “We’re introducing more casual wear, too, because a lot of people don’t go to work in suit and tie anymore, just a nice shirt with khakis,” Gambert said. “But people still want to get it the way you want it to fit.”

The Gambert cousins combining forces represents them both identifying a need to reach a younger demographic — one that likely has little, if any, experience with customized shirt shops.

 “Really, the whole industry is trying to figure out how to get to this younger guy,” Skip Gambert said. “He doesn’t come into the store, so you have to go to him, which the internet allow us to do.

“The business dynamic is changing. We needed to make an adjustment, as it’s something truly necessary for us to keep on.”

The company still has a lot of work to do in terms of getting the word out. Promisingly, Gambert said that, when people do order, they tend to reorder, and in batches of almost a dozen sometimes.

What goes hand-in-hand with the company’s efforts to keep customers satisfied is the customer service team that the family business has recruited for its rebranded shirt line. Aside from that, the company is keen on staying true to its roots.

“This is a chance to reinvent ourselves as shirt manufacturers who have always been behind the scenes,” Gambert said. “But it will really be the quality we’ve always had that makes the difference.”

Brett Johnson

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