When we heard that Brooklyn Tailors—one of our favorite Williamsburg menswear shops—was doing a partnership with the Gap, we just had to find out more. And who better to speak with than co-founder (along with his wife Brenna) Daniel Lewis? Nobody. So that’s exactly what we did.
Why did you originally decide to open your store in Williamsburg? How has Brooklyn Tailors evolved as the neighborhood has evolved?
We looked all over Brooklyn back in 2011 when we were opening the store, but Grand Street in Williamsburg seemed to have all of the elements we were looking for: a strong retail presence with a laid back atmosphere that was a little off the beaten path. When we saw it for the first time, the space looked totally different. It was very cramped and really dark with black walls and red brick, but we saw the potential for something brighter and more modern. Brenna and I still had our day jobs at that time, so we’d work until 6, head to Home Depot to buy supplies and then work on renovating the space by ourselves until about 10 every night. Brooklyn Tailors and Williamsburg have been on a similar trajectory the past few years. We have both seen an increase in interest and we’ve grown quickly. It’s been exciting to watch the neighborhood evolve over time.
How would you describe the Brooklynite that is a Brooklyn Tailors customer?
Our customer tends to be very well-educated on suiting. They know what they’re looking at and what they want. We’re a small operation off the beaten path, so most people don’t just wander into our store, they’ve done their research. Some of them wear a suit for work and other functions, but we also get a lot of guys getting married who want to invest in a custom suit that they’ll have for years. One common thread for most of our customers is that they have a somewhat creative profession, be it in music, art, food, advertising or publishing. One of the best parts of the job is getting to talk to people on a daily basis who lead interesting and exciting lives.
How did you end up being selected for GQ’s 2014 Best New Menswear Designers in America? Was it something you applied for or expected?
There is no application process for the award, which makes it even more surprising. We met some of the editors at GQ when we showed at a trade show in Las Vegas back in 2012. That alone was a huge thrill for us! We kept in touch with them a little over the years—they did a small piece on us in late 2012, they came by our studio and looked at our collection last December, they pulled a couple of pieces for photo shoots, but nothing at all that would have tipped us off. We received a phone call totally out of the blue at the end of January from one of the editors telling us we were finalists for the award and we found out we got it a few days later. It was 100% unexpected and a huge honor for us.
Why do you think they chose you?
That’s a hard thing to answer! I’d like to think we have a modern take on traditional menswear. I am a big fan of old school tailors in Italy and Savile Row in London, but they aren’t for young people starting out in their careers. Those suits are impeccably made, but cost about $4,000 and have a design that caters to a much older audience. When I started Brooklyn Tailors, I was out of college and loved the way that Bob Dylan and the Stones looked in suits; it wasn’t this precious object that you only took out on special occasions, they looked well-worn and relaxed, while still tailored. I looked all over, from thrift stores to Dior, but I never found what I was looking for. I had no fashion background, but I spent a summer teaching myself how to make suits. After that, I realized my energy was better spent on the design side, so I started interning and then working in fashion on the custom and design sides while slowly working on what would become Brooklyn Tailors on nights and weekends. I came at fashion, and suiting in particular, as a frustrated consumer. I knew that I wanted a high quality product that would last a long time, and I knew the style I was looking for but couldn’t find, and I knew I couldn’t afford a $4,000 suit. My hope was to create a suit made the traditional way with a style that appealed to a younger, more modern consumer at an affordable price. My hope is that all of this comes across in our products.
Williamsburg is famously uneasy about bigger corporations coming in (note recent hate on Starbucks and J.Crew for moving into the neighborhood). Did you have any reservations about working with a company like Gap?
We are such a small company—there are only 6 of us—so the idea of working with such a giant corporation was scary. We weren’t sure what the process would be like, and if we’d be happy with the design, fit and quality of the collection. However, we were blown away by how smoothly everything went and how happy we are with the finished product. Our first meeting with them, they told us not to dumb anything down, which was a huge relief. The collection is in about 75 Gap stores around the world, in metropolitan markets, which is more of our sweet spot. We focused more on casual wear, but more so because shirting and casual suiting is easier to pull off at a lower price point. The collection prices out at about 30% more than regular Gap clothes, so we had more room to play with. Anything we wanted, they found a way to make happen for us. We had full say over every detail, fabric and fit. Honestly, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
What’s your favorite piece in the collection? Honestly, it’s all amazing! Is there a chance it will sell out?
My favorite piece is the gray corduroy suit. The funny thing about that is back in February, we had to present a full collection to the EIC of GQ, Jim Nelson, and the global creative directors of Gap. I hadn’t designed the suit as part of the collection, but I happened to be wearing a similar suit at the meeting, and Jim picked 9 pieces from our collection and then said he wanted the cord suit as well. Actually, many of the pieces have already sold out!
What’s next for Brooklyn Tailors? Another location? Collaborations? Womenswear?
We are in the early stages of a new, larger location. Nothing is set in stone yet, so there is no projected opening date, but we’ll keep everyone posted. We are also delving into womenswear. We already sell our women’s line to other stores, but haven’t brought it into our own yet due to lack of space. When the new space opens, we’ll launch women’s.