Feature Interviews

Swell Attitude

Words by Mari Sheibley

Swell Attitude

Words by Cassidy Blackwell
Photography by Ashleigh Reddy

In a world where street wear reigns supreme and casual Friday has become the default dress code of everyday, the men of Swell Attitude are dedicated to resurrecting the art of the suit, one bespoke garment at a time. We met up with one of the Swell Attitude founders, Jerry Folly-Kossi (JFK) to get a glimpse into the sartorial inspirations of this Bay Area-based custom suit company.

Swell Attitude is the story of friendship, brotherhood and, above all else, style. The company was founded in 2009 by JFK and his longtime friend and business partner Khan Kanga. The two gentlemen grew up together on the West Coast of Africa in the Ivory Coast, JFK himself as the grandson of one of the country’s top tailors.

Both JFK and Khan spent time in Paris during university, which resulted in them both adopting strong European and French sensibilities in their style of dress. Despite both of them drifting into different professional fields, JFK to investment banking and Khan to luxury goods, they eventually both made their way to San Francisco. “We used to dress just like how we would normally dress when we went out, but people were always very flattering and complimentary of our ensembles,” JFK says in immaculate English with a strong French-African accent. “It was always pants, jacket, pocket square. You know, a whole complete look. After enough people came up to us to talk about what we were wearing, we decided that we need to start our own business.”

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What began first as “Swell”, a company that sold only custom mens’ shirts, evolved into “Swell Attitude”, which offered not only shirts, but also complete custom suits, bowties, neckties, pocket squares and the complete suite of apparel to produce a head-to-toe look. “Our first clients were taking our shirts and pairing them with their own pants and jackets and the look was not cohesive,” Jerry says. “We realized that we needed to address the full spectrum of mens’ garments.

We added the word ‘attitude’ to our name because for men, and especially black men, it’s not just about the way we dress. It’s about how we carry ourselves, how we address each other, how we treat ladies. So we focused on building out the complete package.”

It’s clear that both Khan and JFK fully embrace the tenants of Swell Attitude, not just in style but also in this concept of reviving class and chivalry en masse. They make sure to hold doors open for ladies. Their shoes are always immaculately shined. They are gracious party hosts. These gentlemen do not swear; if they do it is French.

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The Swell Attitude process begins with a style and lifestyle survey; a majority of the questions having nothing to do with clothing or fashion. “Your suit should not only fit you perfectly, but it should also reflect who you are as a person,” JFK explains. “We want to know what kind of car you drive, if you’re single or married, what you do, what kind of cologne you wear, what you prefer to drink.” Based on their clients’ responses, Khan and JFK are able to narrow down their range of over 3,000 suit styles and fabric options to just a handful to present to each client. Typically tailors take about 24 measurements, but the Swell Attitude process incorporates 54, creating a truly personalized final piece. The entire process takes about three weeks from the time the measurements are taken to the day your suit is delivered.

Swell Attitude clients span a wide range of ages, ethnic backgrounds, styles and professions. Some have extensive experience is fashion, while many do not, leaning on JFK and Khan their fashion therapists. Many of their clients attend Swell Attitude events and happy hours, coming together as a well-dressed and well-mannered community within some of San Francisco’s top lounges and bars.

Having lived equal parts of their lives on three different continents, Swell Attitude embraces a global perspective and aesthetic in their work. It is one of the Swell Attitude business goals that all of their pieces will be produced back in their home country of the Ivory Coast to support local artisans and tailors. In Swell Attitude’s suits, you’ll find vibrant hues inspired by Africa and crisp tailoring and lines influenced by their time in Paris. Yet all of their suits retain a truly American functionality.

“I don’t see that many similarities between the black populations around the world,” JFK says, “but there is one goal that they all have in common: to look fresh.”

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When it comes to style secrets, JFK is quick to share his a few of his own practices and tips for Bevel Code readers:

“I never leave my house without a jacket, whether its a sport coat or a blazer. I cannot stand carrying anything in my pants pocket. Not only is it heavy, but it completely distorts the line of your outfit which is distracting.”

“You can’t judge a book by its cover, but if that cover doesn’t look nice or well-put together, you’re not going to want to open that book.”

“Polish your shoes. Most people are reluctant to look you in the eye and where do they look? At your shoes.”

“What is the image you want to show to the world? Dress and act accordingly.”

“If you invest in a better suit, better accessories, better shoes, a better shaving system you’re just going to look at yourself even better. The rest of the world will too.”

For more on Swell Attitude or to schedule a style consultation of your own, visit their website.