At the Pioneer Collective, we focus on providing an atmosphere where local entrepreneurs and small companies can grow their businesses, meet new people, and build skills. We attempt to supplement that experience with this blog, covering topics that are relevant to our membership base and our supporters. Since starting our business in 2015, we have come to realize that there is a lack of local media coverage of small businesses.
If I wrote a press release today about an app that summoned idle Lyft drivers to your house to clean your dirty dishes on demand (Dysh...), I'd probably get a write up in The Seattle Times, Geekwire, and The Stranger. No matter how outlandish the idea, consumer tech is sexy right now and the press eats it up. The Times has dedicated writers for technology, Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing, yet small businesses, with the exception of trendy restaurant openings, get little to no coverage in its pages.
Articles about small businesses probably don't sell a lot of ads, but the scrappy little store is one of the only forces left between us and a Gary Shteyngart dystopia where Amazon is the fourth branch of government. Fortunately, we don't have to monetize this blog, so until someone else steps up to fill the role, we will cover as many exciting mom & pop shops as we can through this recurring feature.
For the first installment, we interviewed our neighbor and proprietor of Division Road Menswear Boutique, Jason Pecarich. He opened a retail location of Division Road on 1st Avenue South in Pioneer Square last year. His goal was to "create a post-modern industrial haberdashery for a man who wants to shop without a stopwatch, hang out with his coffee, or just come by to speak the goods." We caught up with Jason to learn more about the state of retail, the city, and what exactly the term heritage means.
What does heritage mean?
Good question. The term heritage is ambiguous to some, but fairly concrete to those of us who have a passion for products that fall under that category. In short, it refers to brands that are manufacturers first and those that make products to old world standards of quality. Some associate it with workwear, but while we at Division Road look for items that have workwear durability, we try and create and select items that are more refined classics and can be worn by a wider audience. First, we look for brands and manufacturers that have a legacy in producing a certain category of clothing for decades (at least 50 years): Dehen 1920 has been doing pretty much the same knitting and outwear pieces, Gitman and New England Shirt Co are classic Northeastern shirting manufacturers, and Private White has been doing Britain’s best outwear. In footwear, our youngest company is Viberg which was founded in 1931, and our oldest is Tricker’s that is coming up on two centuries of footwear production, and all of our brands in that category remain wholly family owned businesses hence the reference to legacy. Even the younger brands we bring in and work with are producing items with older techniques and to quality standards that are not common in manufacturing.
For those of us who don't know, how does a large chain brand go about making a pair of jeans vs one of your heritage brands?
Well this is a long explanation; I’ll try and shorten it so people don’t pass out from too much information. During the 1960’s and 70’s most manufacturing in the US was starting to be outsourced and offshored. One of those industries was garment and fabric production. Up to that point the US had the best denim manufacturers and denim textile production, which was largely the same since the late 40’s.
In the 70’s and 80’s the vintage levis market exploded in Europe and Japan specifically. The Japanese began purchasing shipping containers worth of worn denim and started buying the old shuttle looms from the shuttered mills of the US manufacturing complex. These looms are older, narrower and run slower. The biggest difference is quality: self-edge (now called selvedge) denim is run on looms that can handle thicker yarns and produce fabric at higher tension in narrower widths. Not only that but the Japanese took what we were doing with denim and perfected it with a technical and artisan approach, making some of their denim the best in the world, period.
Most denim in the major marketplace is made from commercial loom fabric that’s about three times the width of a vintage shuttle loom. The fabric made on these looms has a lower tension and a lot of material in the middle which has “dead-slack.” Jeans that are cut out of this material wear quicker and fall away from the body over repeated wearings and washings. That’s why most commercial denim looks best the first couple of wearings and washings while selvedge denim looks better with age and forms to the wearer better over time.
There are a lot more qualifiers to quality differentiation than just the material used such as yarn development, rope dyed indigo, chain-stitched production, re-enforcements, finishing material, and a ton of details that quality selvedge jeans companies use that are not employed in a jean made by major market brands. That is not to say that any jean made with self-edge material is great. It’s probably better in comparison to mass market brands, but there is also a lot out there that promises quality when it’s not, especially in the entry self-edge market of $100-200 that sells the idea that you can get the same product as a $200-$300 jean, which is generally a fallacy.
In your experience, does the buy once principle hold up financially over time? Other than being happier because I have nicer stuff, will I also have more money in my pocket?
This depends on the individual, but in general, if you run the math it works out. The best example for this principle is footwear. Say you buy 1-2 pairs of boots/shoes per year for work/dress/casual purposes and after a year or two they are garbage and look bad, so the buying cycle starts again. Conversely, you can buy a product that’s built more for lifetime wear, produced by manufacturers that offer re-soles and re-building, and never really wear them out. Say you pay $200 for a disposable shoe, that’s $200-400 per year, so we’ll split the difference and call it $300 a year. A pair of Tricker’s will last for literally decades and cost $525 or so. Thus if you compare your disposable purchase of $300 per year to $530 once, in two years you have more money in your pocket. Approximately every two years you can send the shoes back to the factory for a full re-sole/build for $100 +/- depending on the sole you want, and in five years you could buy two pair and still be saving money. I will say there is a lot in the $300-$500 category in footwear that uses the term “lifetime” and offers the ability to be re-soled but is still junk within several years, so one has to find a resource and brand they can trust before running the math.
Furthermore, it’s the math of sustainability: the only real method of such is to buy goods that are made in developed nations with better environmental regulations and fairer worker rights, and buying those goods once versus disposable items that wear out and literally devolve to trash. Products that have a heart and soul to them like those that are crafted with purpose, quality, and intention have a way of making you feel better about both what you’re buying and how you look. Conversely, products created for conspicuous consumption have less yield hence they make people buy more in order to obtain that feeling of gratification, which in turn fuels an endless cycle of buying more at cheaper and cheaper price points with less longevity and less satisfaction to the consumer. That’s how they make money.
Contrary to prevailing trends, you've committed to operating a storefront in addition to your online business. Has that decision paid off?
The physical flagship is a portrayal of the brand and creates that connection with our customers, which is an important facet to the Division Road approach. Having that representation match in our virtual store is important: when our online customer comes and visits the brick and mortar location, they have a different yet consistent experience and take that home with them. One of the reasons we wanted a destination shop was so that when we have customers come in we can give them the time and attention they deserve and that we feel is necessary with our products. Our customers come by to just hang out and talk the goods sometimes, which creates a community around this niche industry and those who appreciate these goods. It’s interesting because we have just as many visitors from around the country and foreign nations that have shopped with us or know about us who make a point to stop by when they’re in Seattle, as we have locals who know about us. Once more people in Seattle find out about what we’re doing that percentage may change, but we see our business as based in Seattle with a broad approach to impacting menswear in our sphere. Regardless, our shop makes an impression on customers and they keep coming back for further experiences, which is really what shopping should be about. That is a reward in its own right.
I've worried lately that Seattle as a whole has stopped valuing small businesses, especially when compared to cities like Portland. It seems like a lot of people hate the abstract idea of chains taking over all retail, but don't actually care enough to seek out innovative businesses, especially if it's less convenient or costs more. Do you think that's the case or am I just being cynical?
I think you are at once correct and somewhat cynical, but then again I’m a cynic so I might not be the best to offer perspective on this point. I think there is a lot of talk around local, but less action in supporting those businesses. That starts from the top with regard to how big corporations are valued, given market opportunities, tax breaks and concessions from the local government, and small businesses are punished. Local publications do very little to prioritize the dissemination of information to the local market about small and local businesses, and all of that affects the community.
Seattle also is not an overtly entrepreneurial environment and many residents are employed at larger companies so I think some people have a hard time understanding that, without small businesses being supported locally, they will cease to exist. I see that a lot of people in Seattle show full support for local corporations like Starbucks, Amazon, Nordstrom, etc., but not the local innovator who’s trying to do something out of the box. I’m not sure if that behavior is new or old, but there are both new and established locals that do support local businesses and they should be commended. I think they’re keen to explore the great opportunities to connect with the decision makers, see more of what they want, get personalized service, and keep the businesses they want around for the long-term.
I will say that locally and broadly we all need to be challenged on putting our money where our mouth is. If we want more sustainability, less environmental destruction, fairer labor practices, and future opportunities for our nation, then we need to stop buying future landfill items from developing nations like China. If we want more local businesses that care about their customers and employees and that realistically know where their goods are sourced down to the components, and if we want to support families and generations of people who actually produce and make things, then we need to support the individuals and businesses that are offering those products to the marketplace.
What were you doing before Division Road...you mentioned Vancouver?
In a prior career I had a design-build architectural firm, but as a merchant I’m an old hat in the industry and have worked at almost every level in retail and product development over the last decade. A big part of my career has been at the contract and consultant level with branding, design, buying, merchandising, and management for retailers. I used to describe my business as the anonymous Jack of all trades for retailers. My passion has always been in product and retail, and I maintain that one cannot live without the other: this may seem simplistic but it’s often forgotten by the industry. This has afforded me the opportunity to live all over the place including Vancouver for four years, working for a number of brands and retailers up there. All the while over the last seven years I was working on strategy and the business plan for Division Road, waiting for all of the necessary components to come together and to launch the business in the best possible way, and in the area in which I believed it to be well-suited, hence Seattle.
What brought you here and how has the neighborhood treated you so far?
I looked at and assessed every neighborhood and possible situation in Seattle. The search started and ended in Pioneer Square after everything else was ruled out, and as in all I do there was a lot behind the decision. The historic nature of the neighborhood spoke to our brand, but we also knew that it meant there would be development. The likelihood of that development to fundamentally change the fabric and character of the area, however, seems fairly implausible. Being on the front end of an area’s emergence rather than the back-end was important. We want to create an impression and have a positive impact on PS, rather than just get lost in the spin cycle of expansion. Being a destination and having ease of access for our customers was important, hence the reason we’re on a block with more parking than others, yet accessible to major transportation. Lastly, we wanted to be in a place where there are like-minded people and businesses that support each other. We definitely get that in PS, and there are few places in Seattle that have retailers working with each other’s business in mind to create a broad experience for customers. Retailers like Clementine’s, Velouria, E. Smith, and Ebbets all foster a sense of community by sending customers to each other’s locations and thinking about future opportunities, which I think will only grow in the future. The Pioneer Square Alliance has been extremely supportive, and seemingly unrelated businesses like the Collective have been very helpful in getting the word out and appreciating our position. Most importantly Pioneer Square is a pleasant and cool place to be. Sure, it has an edge to it, which being from an inner city on the East Coast I enjoy, but it’s calm, engaging, nicely paced, and purposeful down here. With all of the great eateries, bars, galleries, and shops there is no better place to spend a Saturday afternoon in Seattle all while soaking up the history and cool vibe down here.
I don't want to make any more decisions. I'm a business owner and rarely need anything formal. Choose the bare essentials for me that will get me through Seattle's two seasons.
We’ve got you covered.
Ah, well, I think you are familiar with New England and one of my favorites is this Black Gingam, that you really can use and style with almost anything yet is unique:
or a Gitman Overdye Oxford, perfect all year long…
A good Reigning Champ Hoodie and Crewneck sweatshirt can give you endless layering options, perfect for Seattle almost all year around:
You can never go wrong with a nice Henley instead of a Tee or Button down, and the wings+horns Base Slub is perfect in every way:
The most important categories are Outerwear and Footwear to present being put together regardless of everything else, and whether your style is casual, formal, or whatever. Look at footwear as the foundation and outerwear as the punctuation mark. When those are right, everything else doesn’t matter. Choose classic styles for something that will take you through most seasons like:
A modern Bomber from APC:
Or a classic (totally Waterproof, yet breathing) Harrington Jacket from Private White aka The Best:
And finally, yet most important a Pair of boots that will work with just a t-shirt in summer, or fully layered in more dress clothes in winter:
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