Smile Politely

This expo’s for you, gents

Gents: if you’re hankering for a shoe shine, a straight razor shave, or a customized fragrance, next Wednesday and Thursday’s C-U Gentleman’s Expo is the event for you. 

CUGenEx is the brainchild of Jeff Grider, who works with J. Hilburn, a custom men’s wear line that helps men design their personal style. Jeff said he noticed that while there are several events and presentations around C-U that cater to women, events designed for men are less common. While men and women alike are invited to attend CUGenEx, the showcase will highlight products and services that interest many men.

I talked with Grider about what CUGenEx has to offer.

Smile Politely: What is the concept of the Gentleman’s Expo? What can people expect to experience?

Jeff Grider: Our goal is to create an immersive experience for gentlemen. At events like this one, most men are looking for something they can do and something they can engage with. We want to give gentlemen the chance to interact with top quality products and services they can find around the area. The idea grew out of my business, J. Hilburn. I sometimes do pop-ups, and I wanted to grow that idea. I talked with a number of other small businesses in the area and realized we are all trying to reach the same target audience. So we decided to collaborate on the expo.

SP: Tell me more about what you do with J. Hilburn.

Grider: It’s called a concierge custom men’s wear line. The “concierge” part refers to the fact that I meet clients wherever it’s most convenient for them. I mostly work out of a suitcase, and I meet people at their homes, coffee shops, offices, or anywhere else they prefer to meet. We take a full suite of measurements, from there I help them design their clothing in terms of how they want it to look, fit, and feel. I manage everything from the first meeting all the way through the delivery of the products.

I also work with groups. Recently I led a couple workshops for some fraternity members. We called it a “School of Style.” These young men are getting ready to go out into the world, and I wanted them to understand some of the non-verbal challenges they might run into based on how they present and dress themselves in different arenas. We called the second part of the workshop “Dress for the Job You Don’t Deserve but Landed Anyway.” I talked with them about what to wear for what context. We hear terms like “business casual,” or “business modern,” or “casual Fridays,” but we don’t always know what those mean.

SP: What are the specifics of what can people see and experience at the Gentleman’s Expo? 

Grider: I don’t want to give too much away. But there are several things I’m very excited about. Andy’s Barber Shop will be there doing straight razor shaves on site during the expo. They will also bring their chair there, so they will be doing men’s cuts on site. At another station, men will be able to create their own essential oil scent. People will be there to talk to them about the benefits of different kinds of oil. Infinite C-U, a personal training studio, will be there doing consultations. They will also have a physical challenge.

One that I’m really looking forward to is Smith & Bradley watchmakers. They’re based out of Sidney, Illinois. They build watches that are similar to the quality you’ll find in major brands, like Rolex and Tag Heuer. Most of their business is international now. But they’re looking to build up their custom watch line, and the Expo will be their first chance to have exposure. Indio Cigar Factory will be there. He’s got a press and a roller, so he’ll be rolling cigars right on site. Rejuvenis medical spa will be on site conducting facial treatments and talking to men about skin appearance and health. Those are some of the things that people will be able to experience.

SP: Do you think CUGenEx will continue in future years? How do you think the concept will grow and change?

Grider: That’s the plan. We’ve hired a videographer. My goals for this year are to break even, not to smear anybody’s name, and to create a really fantastic experience for men. We’re not going to have a perfect experience this year, but we’re going to get pretty close. Our goal is to host it this year, learn from it, and then to create something lasting that will be here in central Illinois. 

CUGenEx takes place May 27th from 5–9 p.m. and May 28th from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. at the City Center in Champaign (503 S. Chestnut). Admission is complimentary.

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