We are all products of our environment, and the most successful brands are usually the ones that channel their roots and never lose sight of them as they grow. Ventura is a unique location in Southern California and is one of the last remaining towns in the area that hasn’t lost its gritty, working-class roots, and the people that hale from there are quick to claim it.
Thom Hill and Jackson Chandler fit the Ventura bill and it shines through in their passion for surfing, motorcycles and now in their new US-made brand Iron & Resin. The apparel company grew out of the duo’s work with Hill’s primary business, developing private label branding programs for surf shops around the country for the last 14 years. Iron & Resing came to fruition this spring with the brand’s first line, and rapidly evolved with the opening of its first store, The Garage, on the Fourth of July.
“I’d had the idea for Iron & Resin floating around in my head for a few years and had been formulating what I wanted the brand to be about,” explains Hill. “We brought Jackson on board a few years back and he really became a catalyst for making it happen. He and I shared similar passions and InR (Iron & Resin) really became a labor of love and a refreshing departure from a lot of the more commercial projects we have to work on.”
We caught up with Hill recently to learn more about the brand, it’s new store, which focuses on US-made products, and the trials and tribulations of domestic production.
Tell us about the inspiration for the brand and where you got the name.
The brand is really a direct reflection of our own lifestyles and experiences. We draw heavily upon our own backgrounds—growing up in the late ’70s and ’80s—surfing, skating, riding motorcycles, and music all play heavily into what we put into the brand. The brand name itself is a nod to motorcycling and surfing. The parallels between the two have always been very obvious to me. Surfing is an individual, soulful experience. As is riding a motorcycle. Both activities involve being interconnected with your craft—really an extension of yourself in a place where you are fully exposed and in tune to your environment. It is one of the few places where I feel like you’re really living in that finite moment in time and hyper aware of what is going on around you. The freedom of surf and moto lifestyles are intertwined within our own lives and we’ve just connected the dots with the brand.
How does this translate into product and the brand’s aesthetic?
Ventura is and has always been a pretty blue collar, working class beach town with an eclectic mix of oil roughnecks, cowboys, surfers, and Hell’s Angels. Makes for interesting people watching any day of the week on Main Street, Ventura. We all live together in what is one of the last So Cal beach towns that has not been gentrified and bulldozed down to build McMansions and luxury condos. With world class point breaks at our front door and amazing mountain ranges out our back, surfing and riding go hand in hand and provide plenty of inspiration for the brand.
What did you learn from your fist line this Spring and how have you incorporated those lessons into upcoming lines?
Most of our line is made in the US and I was a bit shocked at how well that resonated with our customers. Going into SS13, almost our entire line is milled, cut, and sewn in the US.
Get a sneak peek at InR’s S/S ’13 look book:
What’s new in that line?
In addition to our graphic T and accessories programs, we’ll be rolling out boardshorts, made with a unique lightweight stretch denim, wovens that incorporate our chambray fabric with a sprinkle of aloha print here and there and some great color block dyed knits and tanks. As always, we’ll have some of our key accessory items, including our handmade leather goods and we’ll be introducing some buffalo-hide gloves for riding.
With focusing on domestic manufacturing, how hard has it been to source materials and production?
It was way more challenging than it should be. This country should be top of the heap when it comes to manufacturing. We’ve got some great factory relationships now, but it took some serious discovery missions to find them.
What do you see as the biggest pros and cons of manufacturing in the States?
Pros: quick turn times, lower minimums, and great quality, in the right factories. The only real con would potentially be price. However, we’re finding that our customers are willing to pay more for quality, made in the USA goods, so this hasn’t been an issue for us.
What do your price ranges look like? How much is domestic production adding to your costs?
Graphic tees are $36. Wovens are $72. Boardshorts are $66. Fleece is $56-$72. In terms of price, we’re at the high end of action sports and the lower end of premium. I’d say, on average, domestic production adds a minimum of 30% to our cost of goods.
What have been some of the biggest lessons from getting domestic production up and running?
There’s really just two of us designing, sourcing, and marketing the brand. Being short handed, we’ve been burned a few times by not having a production coordinator or quality control person in the factories during prototyping or production. That will be the first person we hire.
Where are you producing the clothes? LA?
All of our knits and wovens are made in LA. Some of our accessory items are made in the US, but outside California, a few of the pieces like gloves or some of the headwear are made in family-owned factories that have been in operation since the early 1900s.
You have a healthy list of retailers both here in the States and internationally. What has your strategy for growth been?
We’ve been trying to grow the brand pretty organically. Other than trade shows, the brand has picked up quite a bit of exposure through various blogs and through our social media outlets.
Follow the jump to learn more about the Garage, Iron & Resin’s shop that opened in Ventura on the Fourth of July…
What’s your elevator pitch for new retailers? What makes you different and why should they carry you?
In a mass produced, disposable world, Iron & Resin is a product of "one-off" culture. Where men still build, by their own hands, the craft they ride, be it water or land. Our goods are carefully hand crafted and printed one at a time in California.
Love it. Congrats on opening your new store on the 4th in Ventura. It looks like a great representation of the brand. What all are you carrying and how are you using this as a platform to better showcase Iron & Resin?
The store was fun to put together. We wanted to not only build a place to showcase what the InR brand was all about, but to show where we felt the brand sits at retail. We’ve got a pretty interesting mix of brands in the store from key heritage brands like Schott, Barbour, and Redwing to newer brands like Tellason, Taylor Stitch, Poler, and Herschel. We’ve also got a cool little apothecary section with everything from beard oil to mustache wax and pomade. Surfboards and vintage motorcycles are also in the mix for sale. On top of that, there’s some great artisan food items to snack on out on the deck when you get hungry.
Take a quick tour of The Garage, Iron & Resin’s shop in Ventura, California:
It sounds like a great place for events as well once you get the back patio finished. What do you have in store?
We wanted to have a social hub for the brand and a place where we could have regular events to give the community a place to gather. We’ll be having regular happenings from art shows to bike and board swaps to music events and rides. We’ve got a great outdoor area with a huge deck we’re putting in later this month to be able to carry on all sorts of shenanigans.
You guys are focusing on other brands that are made domestically as well. How much of an advantage does that give you and how are you telling that story?
With our economy suffering as much as it has and unemployment rates as high as they’ve been, people are more conscious than ever about using their purchasing power to affect change. Made in the USA means more today than it probably has at any other time in our history. We are one of the only men’s lifestyle stores between LA and the Bay Area in California, and, the fact that 85% or more of the product in the store is made in the US differentiates us from every other retailer in that region.
What trade shows are you going to be at this season?
We’ll be at Agenda Long Beach and Project New York and Las Vegas this season showing S/S ’13.