If you were born in Charleston or have lived here most of your life, chances stand at close to 100% that you know about clothier M. Dumas & Sons. The men’s retail store has been a fixture on King Street for 105 years. Luckily for the influx of newcomers to the area, they have a chance to become acquainted with the legacy of the Dumas family and its evolution as the go-to resource for high-quality heritage brands such as Barbour jackets, Duck Head chinos and Filson outdoor wear for men.
Despite its longevity in the industry, the store has made some changes to its inventory. “One thing that is consistent is that we have been changing and evolving frequently since 1917,” says Gary Flynn, president and co-owner of M. Dumas & Sons. When Mendel Dumas initially opened the store, it provided moderately priced sportswear. Later during wartime, it morphed into a supplier of uniforms for the local Navy officers stationed in Charleston. After the war, when M. Dumas returned to its focus on casual sportswear, it was the first retailer to bring Levi’s® jeans to the Southeast. In fact, the big Levi’s sign behind the counter hearkens back to the store’s early days, a gift to the Dumas family by the company for selling the most jeans in the state.
Today, David Dumas, the third-generation owner, and Flynn, his business partner, have tripled M. Dumas & Sons’ revenue to $10 million by staying true to the long-standing brands customers expect to find, such as Southern Tide and Johnnie-O, while adding new, luxury Italian-tailored clothing from brands like Kiton, Sartorio and Ferragamo. The new Italian luxury lines include suits, dress trousers, shirts, ties and shoes. “When we introduced Italian brands into the mix, we surprisingly found that both tourists and our current customers gravitated toward these new European brands,” says Flynn. “They were already buying them; they just were not able to find them at M. Dumas until now.”
There is a men’s shoe department, which is located beside the tailored clothing section in a space formerly occupied by a next-door business that closed. M. Dumas was able to take over the space and increase the size of its store. “We have the best assortment of shoes in the state,” Flynn says.
Flynn has been happy to return to his roots in clothing retail for the last six years in partnership with the Dumas family. His background includes 27 years at retailing giant Nordstrom, and he served as senior vice president of merchandising for North America at Hugo Boss. In recent years, he also clocked time in merchandising for Samsung. “I missed the clothing business and moved to Charleston to be at M. Dumas after never even having been in South Carolina before then,” he says. He has worked closely with his partner to bring heritage brands to the forefront of the store and was the guiding force in introducing European brands into the marketplace. “Brands come and go at many fashion stores, but we have many brands that have been with us since they were founded,” Flynn adds. “Southern Tide’s preppy coastal clothing is a good example. Our store is this clothing collection’s number one volume seller.”
One of the recent changes the leadership made was to create an e-commerce presence for M. Dumas & Sons, fortuitously in late 2019, almost immediately before the pandemic shut down many businesses. Today, Flynn says the website gives customers a feel for what the store currently offers and provides a chance to explore what they like before coming in to shop. Or they can add items to their online carts and shop that way if they prefer. “Customers usually come in to see our individual team members in the store. They have their favorite salesperson and oftentimes a longstanding relationship with that team member. It’s not only our fabulous downtown location but that personalized relationship with customers that sets us apart. We create an environment where customers want to spend time,” Flynn says. *
Dana W. Todd is a professional writer specializing in interior design, real estate, luxury homebuilding, landscape design, architecture and art.