On Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, 60 fortunate players walked across the stage, shook commissioner Adam Silver or deputy commissioner Mark Tatum’s hand and put on a hat bearing an NBA team’s logo.
For many, the hat is the only part of their NBA draft night ensemble that isn’t planned out and expertly crafted by a team of tailors and stylists.
For Utah center Jakob Poeltl—a 7-footer from Vienna, Austria taken No. 9 by the Toronto Raptors—Thursday night was the first time he wore a suit that was custom tailored to fit his 37-inch waist and 51-inch outseam.
“Jakob’s pants go above my chest, like a dress,” says Ge Wang, owner of ESQ Clothing, a Chicago-based men’s custom clothing company that outfitted six players in the 2016 NBA draft, including Poeltl.
A former real estate lawyer, Wang became frustrated with purchasing ill-fitting suits and in 2012, decided to start his own business in Chicago. He started with little knowledge of tailoring, 50–60 different fabrics and a client base of mostly lawyer and bankers. Wang, who holds a J.D. from DePaul University and B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, traveled to Italy, China and other countries to learn the tricks of the sartorial trade. Today, ESQ Clothing offers 35,000 choices of fabrics and various suit styles, and works with 150 athletes across several sports.
Last year, Wang dressed 19th overall pick and former Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant. His navy blue suit and skinny tie with a gray pocket square landed him on many best dressed lists. But the suits for this year’s roster of players—including first-rounders Poeltl, Kris Dunn, and Damian Jones—had a little more pop than a simple pocket square.
“We often times have to talk these guys down a bit because they come in with crazy ideas,” says Wang. “We figure out how to tone it down a little, while still standing out and not ending up on the worst dressed lists.”
ESQ Clothing’s signature is quickly becoming custom-made linings. Wang recently hired a graphic designer to create the images that appear on the inside of the suit jackets.
“At first it was just something unique but now it’s something we’re known for,” says Wang of the jacket interiors. “A lot of people have done it for the draft but they would print it on polyester or they would try to sew something in. We screen print on silk. It’s a very tedious process.”
ESQ Clothing created two suits each for Dunn, Demetrius Jackson, Poeltl and Jones—one for draft night and one for Friday’s press conferences. Wang says another big part of this year’s draft outfits were the players’ shoes.
“We can make custom shoes so we can go crazy with that as well, as opposed to just the suit,” says Wang. Jones, the Vanderbilt 7-footer and the Golden State Warriors first-round selection, needed a size 17 custom shoe. “Everything is handmade and we color it on our own. It’s very clean and very sleek looking.”
Wang says his company’s custom suiting stands out because of expert sizing (many athletes have size 50 jackets and 32-inch waists) and small details, such as handmade buttonholes.
From the suits to the slacks and down to the shoes, Wang says his focus for this year’s NBA draft suits was sharp angles, vivid colors and clean lines. The lining is where things got wild.
“We don’t want you to look back in 10 years and say, ‘What was I wearing?’ especially on the biggest night of your life,” Wang says. “But we’re still only at the tip of the iceberg of how cool and how crazy we can get with these linings.”