Master of Many
The phrases “Renaissance Man” and “jack-of-all-trades” don’t even begin to describe the impressively varied skill set of Atlanta fashion designer Thomas Wages.
When I called his store one afternoon, I knew embarrassingly little about him. Over the course of the next hour, he had me awestruck, amazed, and laughing out loud more than once with his tales of previous jobs, his childhood in Athens, Georgia, and his passion for his store, his designs, and his customers.
As a child, Wages’ grandmother was the town’s go-to seamstress. She made custom “couture” clothing because there weren’t many department stores in Athens at that time. His grandfather owned a sawmill and had a farm, and he often wore custom suits.
Wages recalls his grandfather telling him that he dressed out of respect for the people with whom he did business, to let them know he respected them and took their business seriously. This is a lesson Wages has carried with him.
His eye for design isn’t the only thing he inherited from his grandmother—he is also a self-described “livewire.” Always ready to go and do, he says he sometimes drives his teammates crazy.
Leaving Jennifer Nettles’ tour bus at 4:00 a.m. one morning, in what was obviously a much too exuberant manner, he was told, “There is something wrong with you.” His response? “When you’re as old as I am, remember this and wonder how I kept up with you all!”
Now, you’re probably wondering what he was doing on a tour bus to begin with. Among other things, Wages started a record label, giving rise to such stars a Jennifer Nettles and John Mayer. His foray into the music world came before fashion design, but after his time at Turner Broadcasting, where he was on the team that launched Cartoon Network and Turner Classic Movies.
He also has a degree in advertising and marketing, and a masters in photography and design. Not to mention his study of landscape architecture, as well as being a licensed maritime captain and real estate broker. When asked about his varied interests, he explained that he studies various things, especially peripheral to his business, because he finds such joy being able to show those with whom he does business that he understands and respects what they do, and even shares their excitement for it.
So what can Thomas Wages not do? The answer to that question is not “cut his own hair,” because he does that too. Like most things he has accomplished thus far, Wages decided to do it and then made it happen.
Four or five years ago he bought a really nice pair of professional shears, and the night before Thanksgiving he gave himself a haircut. It took two hours, but the next day he got his family’s seal of approval, and he has been cutting it himself ever since. He said cutting hair is just like being a fan of architecture; he simply studied the design and structure. And he believes that if something doesn’t produce at least a little nervous fear, then he should evaluate whether it is worth it.
Three and a half years ago, with a healthy amount of nervous fear, Wages opened the doors of his downtown Atlanta men’s clothing store. At the time, his stock consisted of only about 15% items he had designed himself. Now that number is closer to 90%, and the items he doesn’t design himself come from small, mostly local companies. Wages is committed to only carrying quality, ethically-made products in his store. He personally knows everyone who makes the products he sells, and because of this he is able to offer his customers an unmatched level of customer service.
Wages considers himself and his team to be “customer service nerds,” and the excitement in his voice as he talks about his customers is impossible to miss. He delighted in telling me stories of video calls with customers who have moved away, showing them new products and then sending their purchases to DC or Washington State.
Wages says men are not raised to care about fashion, so he and his team work hard to create a level of comfort and trust with their customers. And he does such an incredible job with it that customers will call or text before events to get fashion advice or to share their excitement over an outfit. He has even gone to his customers’ homes to help them decide what to wear!
Initially, Wages opened his shop under the name Tweeds; he says he wanted a brand name that he could “hide behind” so that he could stay out of the spotlight. But with the encouragement of his peers and his customers, he has rebranded his store as THOMAS WAGES. The change came about mainly because Wages wanted to be able to collaborate with other brands and designers, such as a local cobbler with whom he has a project in the works.
In addition to collaborations with other designers whom Wages respects, he says the rebranding will also provide opportunities to expand his own brand. Lines of socks, denim, and other products will come as time and money align. His goal is to be a shopping destination where a man can get everything he needs, from complete outfits to dopp kits.
Visit THOMAS WAGES online or at 1009 Marietta St NW, Atlanta, GA.
Don't miss Thomas's monthly Texture article– each first Friday of the month! Read June's post.
Words by Ashley Hurst
Photos by Stephanie Davis and Wedig & Laxton