Jay Sjoholm is the founder and editor of men's lifestyle site Red Clay Soul. We first met Jay in the early days of our brand, and he has been an H&B supporter since 2015. He always provides great product feedback and fresh insight on the current state of men's style. We recently visited him on his home turf for a round of golf at Atlanta Country Club and chatted about Red Clay Soul’s origins, menswear trends, and all things Georgia.
Thanks for hosting us at ACC today. Red Clay Soul focuses on men's style and obviously it is a passion of yours. What are your earliest memories of being interested in style and apparel?
I blame it on my dad. He was a commercial real estate broker, still is, as my mom won't let him retire. Some of my first memories were of him wearing a suit to work every day. He took that seriously. Being in a business that is full of optics and relationships, he understood the meaning of dressing well and feeling right.
I remember him coming home almost every night and shining his shoes. Years later, he told me the story about how he paid his rent with his first paycheck and bought a pair of Johnston & Murphy shell cordovan tassel loafers with his second paycheck. He used shoe trees every night and shined them up every day. There was pride and joy to that, and it resonated with me. I noticed how much he took care of those shoes and his appearance in general.
Watching him get ready for work in the morning, he was always smiling while tightening his tie and grabbing the shoe horn to put his shoes on. It wasn't really a vanity thing. It was more like getting ready for battle and making sure you are ready to go. I think that is what really got me into the menswear world. Everybody knows the Deion Sanders quote “If you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you play good”, but for me it's more about feeling “put together” and letting that become part of your natural ethos.
We used to read men's lifestyle blogs such as A Continuous Lean and Red Clay Soul back in the day. Several years ago, we decided to reach out to you given the alignment of your readership with our brand. Do you remember our first interaction?
I do. At the time, there weren't a lot of brands in your space doing interesting things. You guys were sort of the first golf apparel brand creating appealing tech fabrics and shirts that didn’t look like a shiny polyester garbage bag with a huge knit collar. You reached out to introduce yourselves and get my take on the product, as you understood the RCS aesthetic. You wanted to see if it would play down south, so I gladly accepted a few early samples.
There are a number of fashion and men's apparel blogs these days. Can you give us some background on when and why you started RCS and where you get your inspiration?
RCS came into being between 2007 - 2009. In the mid-2000’s, there were only a handful of menswear blogs online. The Ask Andy forums, Styleforum, and A Continuous Lean were a few bigger ones. They were writing about stuff that was largely only talked about in GQ and Esquire, but there was this really vibrant online space that gave a fresh new viewpoint.
The first iteration of Garden & Gun was out and some cool stuff was going on around the South, but nobody in this region had an actual blog about it. So having no ego and thinking that I was going to solve some equation, I decided to start blogging.
I had no idea what I was doing, but just wrote about what I liked and enjoyed and established a few core principles out of the gate. First, RCS is not about me, it's about the “us” - the collective guys that were probably in a fraternity, enjoy golf and like to dress well. I focused on talking about accessibility. How to look great and put it all together, but also transition seamlessly to a good barbecue. It was fun.
I started writing two to three posts a week in the beginning, taking a lot of inspiration from what was out there and trying to turn it into something digestible and easy. It was a year or maybe a year and a half of me trying to find my way and get it in a good spot.
I’ve always looked at RCS as a hobby and use a lot of self-deprecating humor, which goes over pretty well. I guess it was around 2011 actually, that I decided to make an investment in it. I bought the domain name, redclaysoul.com, and put some real money around a theme to start to build it out properly. It really took off once I did this, and I saw probably a 10x growth in traffic and engagement with my posts and articles.
You’ve been at this for over a decade now and have a front-row seat on the menswear scene. What brands are on the rise, what is trending etc.? Where do you see the industry right now and where do you think it is heading?
Right before COVID everybody was in sport coats and leaned toward nicer stuff. Now, we’ve reverted back to casual. It’s smart, but it’s still casual. You see styles like five-pocket pants take off and you see some tailored polo options come into play. During the 2014-19 timeframe, my readers became really conscious of how they looked. Then we all got nuked in 2020 with Covid, and style reverted to baggy pants and t-shirts. Our dry cleaning bill went from a car payment a month to almost nothing.
Now that we're through COVID and everybody is starting to live their lives again, I’m seeing guys gravitating towards more casual attire because it’s more widely accepted. Stealing a line from 80’s womenswear, I feel there's this “smart casual” world we're transitioning to. For example, a golf shirt that looks great and works on the course but also wears well on a date. You can throw a cashmere sweater or sport coat over it, and it doesn't have to be a $250 specially-made poplin dress shirt.
Instagram is the main marketing platform for you, and you have a loyal group of 19,000 followers. It’s obviously important to your blog, but can you give us your thoughts on the app in general?
The thing about Instagram and social media that's so funny to me are the people who take it too seriously. It's meant to be fun, entertaining, and a release from the normal day-to-day. From a brand standpoint, I do think it's smart to hire social media marketing companies. However, I think the brands that accept authenticity and the fact that we’re all human are the ones leveraging the true power of the app.
There's this weird level of social media crossing into reality, and we should all remember that everyone trips and falls. I think authenticity is really what wins at the end of the day. Nobody truly enjoys polished marketing schtick, and the content that is fun comes out on top. I think Instagram is fun and I enjoy it, but I’m finding myself eye rolling less-than-authentic content that just checks some box. Keep social media fun.
Speaking of Instagram and social media, where do you see the most engagement on your page? Which posts perform the best for you?
Honestly it's a tough balance for me because I don't want the blog to be about me, but I posted something the other day about my kid riding the motorized scooter we got him for his 5th birthday and it just crushed. So many people loved it, and I started to have this “Oh man, should I post pictures of my kids?” moment. I mean I'm not doing it for any reason other than “How cool is it that my kid is riding this scooter with no training wheels in his new helmet and maybe I'll capture his first broken arm on film”. On the flip side of it, most of my followers probably have kids too and they get it. It’s about building a community feeling around experiences.
I see a lot of engagement in my self-deprecating humor content as well. I think there needs to be a good balance between the product content and authentic storytelling. I don't do it for the numbers, I just do it for fun and to try to stay authentic and ultimately grow this great community of folks that enjoy it.
You have seen our brand evolve over the years. We’ve grown steadily each season, while staying true to our core aesthetic. Do you have any H&B favorites?
The Maxwell Shirt and The Macdonald Shirt are just money. I like the texture because they don't look and feel very tech. Generally speaking, I’m wearing one of those two styles on the golf course 90% of the time. It’s so easy with your brand because everything coordinates and matches. I can easily wear the gear on the course and then meet my wife at the clubhouse or out on a porch for some tacos and a pitcher of cold margaritas all the while looking like a gentleman who cares about how he dresses.
What are your thoughts on belonging to a club and why it’s worth it for you?
I'm not a great golfer, I'm never going to be a great golfer and I’m totally fine with that. I play golf to get a break from reality, have some fun with my boys and spend time with my wife on the course. We play together probably twice a month. She's a good player and has a great attitude. It’s a lot of fun out here no matter the group. I don't mind playing with golfers who are scratch guys, but I set the tone early that ‘fun’ is my priority. I’m not going to blast Metallica for 18 holes, but that doesn't mean that I'm gonna putt out every single six-inch putt.
My definition of successful golf has nothing to do with the scorecard. It has to do with spending quality time with folks I like. A bonus is when I can grab a club sandwich and drink a cold Miller Lite afterwards, feeling recharged and refreshed. I view a day of golf as a gentlemanly pursuit and a great way to break a little sweat.
The Red Clay Soul brand is growing, and you've built a loyal audience that is interested in your perspective on a number of topics. How do you keep it fresh?
Let's be honest, RCS is a dictatorship. I make the rules. If I don't like a comment that you leave, then I’ll delete it. If you don't like that, I don't care because I run the show. It’s sort of like my kingdom. I look at subject matter from a lot of different perspectives, and I’m always trying to explore what resonates with my audience. What helps them and what doesn't?
There are a lot of great brands out there that I like introducing on the blog. I really enjoy the thought pieces, roundups, and “Ask Me Anything” sessions on Instagram. I say all the time that you learn more by the questions you're asked than the answers you're giving. People ask me questions about everything from “What's the best five pocket?” to “I just got on the list for a Country Club. What do I need to do and not do?” Those are the kind of interactions that keep my account fresh and provide value to my followers.
When I think about what's next, I am definitely looking to continue to be a resource and evolve with the audience while keeping in mind that there are some younger guys just getting on board for insight on different topics.
Red Clay Soul focuses a lot on The Peach State. Can you give us a rundown of Georgia golf?
Georgia golf is sort of like the state itself. You've got the north Georgia mountains, which have world-class trout fishing. You've got SE Georgia, with St. Simons and the Georgia coast. Then you've got southwest Georgia, which is home to some of the best quail hunting.
Whatever you want in Georgia, you can get it. The private clubs are very private, but there are a lot of good avenues to be able to play some of these places. You can get a mountain course in Blue Ridge, GA, less hilly terrain in Atlanta or you can go south where it’s pretty flat but still challenging.
We’re out here on the beautiful ninth hole at your home club, Atlanta Country Club. Does it get any better than this? What’s your perfect day?
I'm an early guy, and I'm usually up around 6:30. My perfect day would entail grabbing a great cup of coffee, playing 18 here at ACC before lunch, and then going to the clubhouse for a Country Club sandwich with some chips and a cold beer. After that, I would head home for a nap and then make my way to the pool with my wife and the boys. From there, we would hang out for a little bit and relax. We’d close out the day with a sushi dinner (because that’s what Mrs. RCS would request) and be in bed by 9:30 watching the Braves.