(Article Courtesy of Memphis Business Journal )

A sewing class and a chance meeting with the president of his college led Clarence Jones down a path that would change his life and turn into an 18-year-old business.

Jones, who attended and played basketball at LeMoyne-Owen College, says one day he noticed French cuffs on the shirt of the school’s then-president, Burnett Joiner. He asked Joiner where he got the shirt, and was told that all of his shirts were custom made. Joiner introduced Jones to his tailor, who in turn introduced him to Nico Perkins, who would eventually cause Jones to launch CJ Custom Clothiers.

At the time, Jones worked for Promus Inc., which gave monthly $100 bonuses to top employees. Already possessing some sewing skills, Jones got the bonus every month for two years and bought shirts from Perkins every month with the money.

“He showed me the ropes and I went to work with those shirts every day to study them,” Jones says. “One of my best friends is (former NBA star) Tim Hardaway and I visited him in Chicago one day. He saw the shirts and he wanted some, so I called Nico.”

Perkins was busy that particular day, but told Jones to buy measuring tape and he’d walk him through the process of getting Hardaway’s measurements. The first two shirts turned out well enough that a few months later on Christmas, Hardaway wanted more shirts.

“Tim called me that Christmas asking for more shirts and wanted me to meet him in Atlanta the next day,” Jones says. “But Nico didn’t want to do anything until after the first of the year.”

Armed with Perkins’ fabric swatch book, Jones drove to Atlanta himself. Hardaway bought 25 shirts and the business was born.

“Tim said that would be a hell of a business to go into,” Jones says. “He said a lot of guys liked the shirts, but he’d never tell them who made them.”

Jones says despite the fact his client list includes multiple NFL and NBA players, athletes don’t like to refer him business because they don’t want anyone else having the same or similar clothes.

Michael Walker, vice president of client relations for ESM Sports, a Dallas-based sports management agency that represents NFL and NBA players, says he met Jones at the Senior Bowl one year. Jones makes clothes for Walker, as well as St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Brockers and Walker’s other clients.

“You don’t really have to recommend people to him because once they see what he does, they’ll ask you,” Walker says. “I just say CJ did it.”

In addition to Brockers, CJ Custom Clothiers makes clothes for Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, NBA players JaVale McGee of the Denver Nuggets and Miles Plumlee of the Indiana Pacers, and University of Tulsa basketball coach Danny Manning.

Jones estimates 65 percent of his business comes from athletes, while the rest comes from doctors, lawyers and executives who refer business to him. While the athletic business gives him high-profile clients, Jones says he wants to grow his clientele away from the athletic side.

CJ Custom Clothiers’ suits start at $1,250, depending on the material. Shirts start at $150. He says he averages about 60 suits and 175 shirts per month. After he designs the clothing, Jones sends the designs to his tailor in Lafayette, Tenn., where the clothes are made. The company’s revenue is around $700,000 annually.

Jones personally measures each client and helps them pick out accessories including buttons, cuff links, belts and shoes. Customers who buy multiple suits at once can receive discounts on the accessories. He says the most important part of custom-made clothing is making sure each piece is as unique as possible. And he personally delivers every new suit to his clients.

“I’ll go to their house or office, so we can sit and they can be comfortable,” he says. “I don’t duplicate designs; make five or six of the same suit. If you go to an event and five people have the same suit on, I don’t like that. I want everyone to have their own style.”