James Proby - Every Triumph Starts With Somebody Trying

James Proby describes his road to The Men’s Exchange as long, winding, and diverse, peppered with an array of jobs, but his passion for what he does is evident. He first recognized this particular need while working in employment services. “Every community in America,” he says, “has a way for women to get dressed professionally, yet those same resources don’t exist for men. So, if I were working with a graduating student or a transitioning vet or somebody who’s come out of homelessness, and we’re trying to get them dressed for a professional interview, there’s no place that we can refer them to.”

Around that same time, he says, “as the universe would have it, I heard folks from the Colorado Institute for Social Impact talking about social impact and social enterprise businesses and the differences between what you can do with unrestricted funds versus having a 501(c)(3) and having donors tell you how you can spend your money.”

Social Impact: The business model is straightforward. “We do nothing but men’s business and dress apparel. Everything in the shop has been donated. Once it’s been laundered, it comes back to the shop. Anyone in the world can shop here, and everything is $50 or less. Sports jackets are $40. Shirts are 10 bucks. Slacks are 10 bucks. We do full sizing and fittings with everybody. We talk to them about how a suit is supposed to fit on your shoulders, your chest, your sleeve length and how pants are supposed to fit on your waist, your seat, and your pant length. And then, for every nine or so people who shop with us, we get to dress one person in our community at no cost.”

The folks in need are often referred through The Men’s Exchange’s nonprofit partners. “We add one to four new nonprofit partners every quarter, such as the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center and One Nation Walking Together. Each one of those organizations can send us one person a month that we will dress at no cost.”

Even then, he sometimes deviates from the plan, for example, when moving into the store’s current space. “As we’re moving in, I get a phone call from the Rescue Mission saying, ‘Hey, I need to dress these six guys.’ We’re not open, and I just spent every dime that we have...and then it just washed over me. The universe is working in our favor. I said, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but come in.’”

Larger lessons: In launching this enterprise, James says, “The first thing I had to do is embrace that mentality: the universe is working in my favor. Thought is predictive; words are predictive. They are the things that generate creativity in our universe. And when you say, ‘I knew this wasn’t going to work and nothing works in my favor and everything’s against me’ that’s what you generate. But when you literally think, ‘I don’t know how this is going to work out, but the universe is working in our favor. This is working to our advantage,’ it’s amazing how that creates an opportunity for it to do so. Before you reach for ‘no, I can’t do this, and no, that doesn’t exist, you’ve got to reach for the yes. You’ve got to say, ‘Okay, I’ll try.’ Every triumph starts with somebody trying, embracing the love and trying, and then showing up with the best effort and the best energy you have that day.”