Colorado Springs clothier on a mission to help ‘worst-dressed city in America’

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James Proby in his store, Men’s Xchange, in Colorado Springs, May 10, 2024.

Men’s suit seller James Proby does not mince words when it comes to the community he is trying to clothe.

“Here in Colorado Springs, we have about the 40th-largest city in America, and I would argue the worst-dressed city in America,” he said, dressed on this particular day in an aubergine suit, crisp black dress shirt, and polka dot pocket square.

“You would think everybody just came from working out, from a hike, from playing basketball.”

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James Proby, founder of The Men's Xchange in Colorado Springs, May 7, 2024.

Proby believes it is not always a question of money.

“They’re wearing Lululemon yoga pants with a Patagonia jacket,” Probs explains, brands that cost a pretty penny.

Speaking of coin, bemoaning casual culture would seem a natural way for a haberdasher to make some. But Proby’s primary goal is not to rake it in. It is to create community.

Proby is the founder and chief ethos officer of The Men’s Xchange, which, for now, is on North Tejon Street in downtown Colorado Springs.

“We carry some brand new suits at $200, but the vast majority of items in our shop have been donated.” The used clothing, all of which is dry-cleaned, according to Proby, sells for $50 or less. But what’s key is what’s free.

“For every nine or so people to shop with us, we get to dress one person in our community at no cost.”

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The Men's Xchange store associate Malek Scott suggests some trousers for customer Jamie Gutschick to try on, in Colorado Springs, on May 10, 2024.

Photographer Robin Schneider was among the first beneficiaries six years ago. He had landed a job as the manager of an art gallery in town.

“My clothing was artist clothing, which means it’s usually rags.”

He needed something sharper and got connected with Proby.

“James came over and measured me,” Schneider said. “He came back the next day and is like ‘Here. I have all this for you to try on.’”

The two pairs of slacks, several shirts, and a couple of jackets Schneider received yielded many different outfits.

“People saw me differently for sure.”

That is precisely Proby’s goal.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Men's Xchange store owner James Proby helps customer Jamie Gutschick try on a jacket, in Colorado Springs, May 10, 2024.

“We meet somebody and we immediately make a snap judgment about them. A huge portion of that is the way we’re dressed,” Proby explained. “I have a huge problem if I walk into a room and I’m the worst-dressed guy. I don’t have a problem if I walk in and I’m the best-dressed.”

Proby speaks with the passion of a preacher about business benefitting society and about being his brother’s keeper. Perhaps because he is the son of the late Reverend Dr. Milton E. Proby, longtime pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church of Colorado Springs, a participant in the 1963 March on Washington, and the first Chairman of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The younger Proby, meanwhile, was drawn more to pinstripes than to the pulpit– although father and son’s community-oriented missions are not dissimilar. 

Being displaced by downtown’s success

Unlike many other downtowns, the commercial vacancy rate in Colorado Springs is low– exacerbated by a destructive 2023 fire that displaced four businesses. Rising rents are the result, including Proby’s. He said his own rent has climbed 70% over the last six years. And the landlord wants more.

“We have a vibrant downtown,” Proby added. “The challenge is that the individuals who own the dirt, who own the property, who own the buildings are going ‘If I hold out, I could probably attract a generic big-box or I can sell out to a developer and make a lot more money.’”

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The Men's Xchange store owner James Proby gets ready to take some measurements for customer Taber Gutschick, in Colorado Springs, on May 10, 2024.

Proby said June 11, he was close to signing a new lease, but on a space outside of downtown.

It is the kind of loss Susan Edmonson, president of the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs, hopes to prevent. It is why her organization helped create a loan program aimed at tenant ownership.

“We know the more our local tenants and local businesses can own their location, that both stabilizes them and stabilizes downtown. I think that's been part of our success in the past,” Edmonson said.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Men's Xchange in Colorado Springs specializes in fitting customers with used men's suits and related clothes. May 10 in Colorado Springs.