Image courtesy The Arrivals
Interview

Jeff Johnson

09.24.15

The Arrivals is the brainchild of Jeff Johnson and Kal Vepuri. The two men noticed a vacant spot in the marketplace for high quality outerwear at a justifiable pricepoint. Many designers and brands deliver one or the other, but rarely are these two qualities able to coexist. In order to maintain a luxury status of construction, detail, and fit the two needed a different business model. They opted to offer The Arrivals via direct-to-consumer, an ever-growing retail strategy that essentially cuts out the the middleman, and a huge markup in the eventual price of a garment. Johnson, by training is an architect, and is able to apply a certain multi-dimensional perspective to the design process as an outsider. Vepuri is an entreprenuer and investor – together they have perfected outerwear for men and women, that based on their principles, should stand the test of time.

Interview

Why did you make the jump into fashion from architecture?

In 2013, I came to the U.S. for a quick visit–I was working in Amsterdam at UNStudio at the time–and while I was here, Kal and I had started talking about our mutual awareness of how the creative individual lacked access to authentic brands that aligned with their enthusiasm and ethos. We felt we needed to create something unique in the apparel category that blended the merits of an architectural design approach with an online, direct-to-consumer retail model to provide this at an accessible price point. About six months later, The Arrivals was born. We continue to be inspired by the creative community.

What was the learning curve like?

The Arrivals draws heavy influence from modern, contemporary architecture. At its core, we design with precision and protection in mind, two core principles of architectural design. When I first went to the garment district to meet with factories for production, they were impressed by the level of detail and precision within our design approach. In an industry where emotionally inspired sketches are interpreted by factories miles away, I wanted to ensure that each and every detail we envisioned was carried out exactly as we intended them. When designs went from paper to fabric however, there was a significant learning curve, where I found myself absorbing a wealth of information from a highly skilled team of pattern makers, technical designers and fit technicians. Despite the early learning curve, our team has grown in size and specialization and now thrive in the technical design process.

You must have the function element for your designs nailed?

Ha–we try! Design is problem-solving driven by functionality and aesthetics. I think that simple idea has driven my design approach as an architect, and continues to now in designing and engineering outerwear. We then build each piece using progressive materials, our fabrics for all of our garments are chosen for their performance properties, like waterproofing, rubberizing, and breathability.

Do you think your 3-D approach to design sets apart your brand?

Definitely, I think this has given us an edge where many designers might feel limited or intimidated by technology, we’re here to embrace it. We have 3-D printed zipper-head designs to see same day prototypes and modeled garments in Maya (a 3D software program typically used in architecture) to run material fluidity simulations to better understand drape and silhouette.

Was it tough meeting the right people to get on board with another new brand? i.e. patternmakers, factory?

NYC’s garment district turned out to be full of craftsmen that were tired of a broken wholesale system where new designers could only pay once their product was picked up by a retailer. We brought to them a product and a business model that did not rely on external factors to pay our bills, but rather encouraged a simplified relationship that was mutually beneficial. I think they shared our vision and in turn have provided us with industry leading pricing, construction, and quality, all of which we have been able to pass on to our customers.

The desire to create an affordable leather jacket is noble (we fashion people are grateful!) – but how do you use great materials, produce in New York, and make money?

We wanted to purposefully design, develop and produce heirloom quality outerwear and price it to exclude all of the typical fashion industry markups. Without the wholesale markup, it allows us to provide phenomenal product at a phenomenal price point to our customers, which is something we can be proud of and something we think they’ll be excited about now, and in the future.

Why did you decide to launch both men’s and women’s?

We feel like there is a symbiotic relationship in balancing men’s and women’s design, they bring unique opportunities and challenges that often result in a more carefully considered product.

Do designs for one gender come easier than the other?

We’ve found that there is a synchronous rhythm when designing for men and women. We start with a specific silhouette which often inspires a treatment for a garment of another gender, or maybe even result in a unisex style.

Having a non-fashion person as your partner is the smartest business model a designer can follow. What has been the most valuable ideas Kal Vepuri has brought to the table?

I think every successful brand needs that balance of creative and business. It creates a blend of high-level business goals while allowing creative growth to happen simultaneously. Kal is one of the most innovative entrepreneurs I’ve ever met, he sees the hidden opportunities beyond the status quo. He believes in big ideas and employs a trust in the creative team to get there, which makes for an ideal co-founder and leader.

What’s the rest of your team like?

The team represents a cross-section of the creative community, with a shared appreciation of good design and a belief in wearing black on a daily basis. We are a multi-talented group, with a variety of creative and strategic backgrounds ranging from web engineering to young entrepreneurship.

Being direct-to-consumer only – how do you introduce yourself to new customers?

Word of mouth has been really important for us and that also speaks to the quality of the jackets. People will stop someone to ask where they got what they’re wearing. In addition, we launched our referral program this month which allows customers to spread the word via a shareable link and receive a $25 credit when a referred friend makes a purchase. Our goal is to build a lasting relationship with both new and returning customers through personalized email and social media outreach.

Do you ever anticipate wholesaling your collection?

The reason we’re able to provide such high quality at a realistic price, is because we don’t wholesale, so there’s no markup. Our web-centric business model allows us to maximize the product value that we provide to our customers and this is something that’s really important to us as a brand.

Do you have a bestseller for Fall 2015?

One women’s style that we are particularly excited about for Fall is the Moya, our oversized waterproof shearling moto. Moya is our first shearling style, which we’ve been able to make waterproof through innovation with our partner tannery. ​Customers who bought and loved our leather pieces wanted to know what was next in the category. Moya, was designed to answer that question, made from waterproof Spanish merino shearling and offered at a price point under $900 and we think it’s going to be a really popular one.

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