By Anna Grace Moore
Photos by William Hereford
Radcliff and Mary Menge first met as law students at Washington and Lee University. After graduating, getting married and practicing law in New York, the couple moved to Birmingham in 2013 to continue their legal careers closer to family. Since making their first Tensaw Jacket in 2015, the adorable pair has created a nationally-known brand that embraces the “classic Americana” look.
“Tom Beckbe started out as a hobby of ours,” founder and owner Radcliff Menge says. “[It] started with a jacket that became the Tensaw Jacket.”
Now, Radcliff agrees that attorneys are typically logical and reasonable thinkers. But for him, this career still didn’t satisfy the itch to create something bigger.
Drawing upon his experiences at his grandfather’s hunting camp, which is nestled near the Tombigbee River in Washington County, Alabama, Radcliff began toying with sketches, attempting to crystalize the idea of a multi-purpose jacket on paper.
The jacket “needed to be rugged enough but look classic enough that it would fit in a professional environment, bridging both worlds,” Radcliff explains. “We wanted it to have a more American look than the more commonly seen British style. We played around with some different variations and ultimately landed on the design that became the Tensaw Jacket. We’ve been making them now for six years. It continues to be our most popular item, and the core of the whole brand.”
Radcliff admits, “The challenge was how do you get that flat, 2-D sketch and turn it into a 3-D, wearable garment?” The dynamic duo found a pattern maker to produce an initial prototype of the Tensaw Jacket, and Radcliff’s vision shifted into reality. Soon after, some friends complimented his newly-fashioned custom jacket and requested the couple make more, prompting them to name their newfound hobby.
Paying homage to his time spent hunting with his grandfather in South Alabama, Radcliff came up with the name, “Tom Beckbe,” because it is a spin on an early spelling of the Tombigbee River.
Fast forward nearly a decade, and now the brand boasts more than 80 wholesale partners, nearly 30,000 followers on Instagram and a popular brick and mortar corner front in Mountain Brook Village.
Although, “Starting a business found us accidentally,” Radcliff admits. “Mary and I are both drawn to new challenges and are comfortable with a certain degree of risk that we feel like our legal backgrounds give us the tools to manage.”
Years ago, however, his answer would’ve been: never. Never, Radcliff says, would he entertain the idea of abandoning the practicality of his career for a more artistic ambition. Thankfully, he and Mary felt they could do so thanks to the support of the Mountain Brook community.
Radcliff says, “The growth in the business and the demand on Mary and I to run the business is all driven by a great customer base that has a desire for us to continue.”
And continue he shall. In fact, Tom Beckbe’s clothing line is ever expanding, selectively. While the brand doesn’t make everything under the sun, it does tailor its products to the needs of its ideal customer: a true outdoorsman or outdoorswoman.
“The most important thing for us is [how] the growth in the business has been entirely customer driven. We try to be very attuned to what our customers want and need. I think our number one goal is to be responsive to the folks that have gotten us here,” Radcliff says.
Crediting others for the success of the brand is something Radcliff and Mary do well. They rave about their Emmy award-winning designer in residence, Janie Bryant, who not only helps design Tom Beckbe’s apparel, but also designed costumes on shows such as Mad Men, Deadwood and 1883.
“Janie [lent] her talents to bridge the gap from those period pieces- 1883, Deadwood– she’s now designing 1923, which is the next installment in the Yellowstone series. She did a great job with helping us incorporate some different looks that are very much in fashion right now and very complementary to what we’ve been doing with the brand.”
Two such items are the brand’s newly-released women’s frock coat and men’s Chatom Jacket.
“We focus a lot on durability, longevity- [a] classic look and feel,” Radcliff explains. “Most of our line is cotton-rich. We do some synthetic things when appropriate. [We make] materials that age but only improve as they age. Everything that gets added should be a core piece of anyone’s closet that they can wear for years.”
While the line ranges in price, every item is quality-made, proving purchase only rewards the buyer years down the road. Even as a customer enters the store for the first time or the fiftieth, he feels “a call to adventure with a bit of nostalgia.”
That sense of pride in one’s journey refers back to Radcliff’s own personal testament. It can be a scary, often uncertain choice to leave one’s career to embark on a different road less traveled.
To other, young, hopeful entrepreneurs he says, “I work way more now than I did as a lawyer. There’s no silver bullet. The work and the tools you need to be successful in any career are a lot of hard work. Unfortunately, there’s no short cut.”
Difficult, but not impossible. That’s the foundation Radcliff says is laid for any aspiring business owner. He and Mary encourage anyone with a dream to take that risk, however, because no itch can be scratched without a little creative reach.
Visit Radcliff and Mary at Tom Beckbe in Mountain Brook on weekdays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Stay up to date on new apparel launches by following the brand on Instagram @tombeckbe or by visiting online at tombeckbe.com.