A TRADITIONAL CRAFT TAKES ON A MODERN MISSION AT THIS BROOKLYN CLOTHIER
BY CHRISTINE SIRACUSA
Daniel Friedman, a young Jewish tailor akin to Motel, everybody’s favorite mensch from Fiddler on the Roof, started Bindle & Keep in 2011, a Brooklyn based bespoke clothiers intending to serve New York City’s business professionals. This meant in large part the Wall Street set, current (and future) consultants, and CEOs aka the same clientele bespoke tailors have been serving for generations.
Had this original vision held, it’s easy to imagine Friedman’s business would be just as successful as it is now. That target market is self replenishing, with scores of new hopefuls flooding Penn Station and JFK each June. New York City is still the place to be, and one way to stand out in a talented crowd is to rock a killer suit.
But something happened that changed the course of this young entrepreneur’s burgeoning business. About a year after the clothier opened, someone named Rae applied for an internship. Rae identifies as Trans masculine and goes by the pronouns “they” and “their.” Rae’s experience with ready to wear clothing was so dismal and triggering that they finally mustered up the courage to be measured for a custom suit in a conventional Manhattan haberdashery. While the ultimate fit was good (possibly even life changing), the experience was extremely uncomfortable. Rae felt at a loss to explain to these traditional tailors what they were looking for in a suit what areas to minimize, which to maximize, and why. That challenge had a dramatic impact, and an image of a more compassionate bespoke tailoring experience took root in Rae’s mind.
Even with that history and vision, Rae didn’t come in to Bindle & Keep with a mission to transform it. They just wanted to learn the craft of tailoring. Their association with the company, however, boosted its profile within the LGBTQ community, and, gradually, some of its members made their way to a fitting hoping it could provide a fix for a vexing lifelong problem.
When those hopes were realized, word spread quickly.
Then, thanks to this growing number of happy clients, the New York Times ran an article, and the flood gates opened. Friedman woke up to 300 emails. “All of them weren’t even about looking for a suit,” he recalled. “Some were just saying ‘Thank You.’”
Friedman’s experiences measuring, fitting, and listening to grateful clients who were relieved at having an alternative to the square peg in around hole experience of mainstream clothing wasn’t just good for business; they helped him to see that life could be, as he put it, “beautiful again.”
This isn’t Friedman’s first enterprise rodeo. He was on course to be an architect, the kind of young professional more likely to be in the market for a bespoke suit than hand crafting one, but he was blindsided by a neurological disorder he later found out was caused by lead poisoning. Suddenly robbed of his ability to read, he had to completely change trajectory and find something he could do with his hands. After a period of soul searching (and couch surfing) he turned his keen eye for design to the art of tailoring. A newly acquired but seriously cramped Park Slope apartment became Bindle & Keep’s first headquarters. “The changing room was just my little bathroom, which was gross!” recalled Friedman. But clients didn’t complain, accepting it as an authentic Brooklyn experience.
Freidman’s ongoing struggles with illness sensitized him to the effect extreme adversity can have on one’s psyche. As more and more members of the LGBTQ community put themselves and their stories in his hands, he realized that using his expertise to help clients feel good about themselves and their world was healing him as well.
Providing a safe space in which a person who is used to being “looked at” can proudly declare themselves ready to “be seen” is now an integral component of the company’s mission.
“We want to give our clients their bodies back,” said Friedman. “Not hide them,” adding that a suit is designed to make its wearer feel powerful, and for some, donning custom threads from Bindle & Keep is the first time a piece of clothing has ever made them feel that way.
Early this year, another disempowered cross section of the population popped up on Friedman’s radar when the Manhattan headquartered Innocence Project nonprofit which is committed in part to exonerating wrongly convicted people asked if he would create a suit, pro bono, for a woman seeking exoneration. That experience proved so rewarding that Bindle & Keep committed to providing $50,000 dollars worth of bespoke suits each year to the organization so those newly freed can feel better about re entering the workforce.
When asked how his location in Brooklyn has affected business, Friedman hesitates, then offers, “I’m hard on New York” in one breath, admitting he’s not about to wax poetic on our fair city, though in the next stated, “But I don’t agree with that, ‘If you can make it there you can make it anywhere’ thing.” To him, there are simply so many people here that the odds of opening a successful business are actually pretty good. Whatever it is that you’re into, he explained, chances are high that there are enough people into the same thing and willing to pay for it to support an enterprise.
You just have to find them. And, sometimes, miracle of miracles, they find you.
Bindle & Keep
917.740.5002 / bindleandkeep.com