The term ‘streetwear’ seems to be constantly growing bigger. What was once a small subculture in the fashion industry has become a global phenomenon. As a result, printing tees and hats isn’t enough to set you apart from your rivals. While some brands are trying to look into the crystal ball for the next trend, many are looking back for the people and pieces that have stood the test of time. Seattle’s Ebbets Field are one of those brands that seem to have been around forever, making the same great heritage gear, but have never gone out of style. Over the past 25 years, founder Jerry Cohen and his team have been crafting some of the dopest (and most historically accurate) throwback sportswear using the same top-notch fabrics and construction methods their forefathers did before them. In the last few years, Ebbets Field have unexpectedly found themselves on the front lines of streetwear as everyone from Supreme to Odd Future has hit them up to bring their timeless heritage flavor and fabrics to these modern brands. We have nothing but respect for brands that stick to their original vision season after season, year after year, and succeed doing it, and Ebbets Field have been doing just that for 25 years. We caught up with Jerry and his team and got the story behind the brand and how they became so in-demand in the streetwear game.
Ebbets Field Founder Jerry Cohen
(Ebbets Field founder Jerry Cohen at the new store launch)
HOW BIG IS THE TEAM AT EBBETS FIELD?
We have about 15 people on the team now, including Lisa and myself.
WHAT IS ‘EBBETS FIELD FLANNEL’? HOW IS IT MADE AND DO YOU SOURCE YOUR FAMOUS MATERIAL?
The “flannel” we use for vintage baseball jerseys is vintage baseball uniform fabric and must be specially-milled. It cannot be sourced as a fabric anyone can buy. For obvious reasons we are very closed-mouthed about how we make it and where we mill it. The same is true of our vintage cap wool.
WHAT’S THE BEST PART ABOUT CREATING AUTHENTIC HERITAGE GEAR?
The best part is to take something dead and two-dimensional, like an old black and white photograph, and through what I call the “alchemy” of what we do, turn it into a living, breathing article of clothing that can be worn today – and years into the future.
ON THE FLIP SIDE, WHAT’S THE MOST FRUSTRATING PART?
There are a few small frustrations. Among them is that sometimes we just cannot find or make the right fabric to get all the beauty and charm inherent in an original piece into a garment that we can make. It’s also frankly frustrating for less-creative competitors to steal our research by using our products as the basis for their own.
HOW MUCH OF THE BUSINESS IS ‘OFF-THE-SHELF’, AND HOW MUCH IS CUSTOM?
Other than t-shirts and a select group of about 25 caps styles, we do very little off-the-shelf. Our business model has always been to not speculate on inventory, but instead to have the raw materials on hand to make almost anything fairly quickly if our customers demand it.
EBBETS HAS BECOME ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED NAMES IN SPORTSWEAR, MENSWEAR, AND STREETWEAR, AND YET YOU’VE MAINTAINED SUCH A LOW PROFILE. HOW HAVE YOU MAINTAINED THAT BALANCE FOR 25 YEARS?
It hasn’t been intentional! We have basically been stubborn and continued to do things the way we believe is right. Eventually more and more people “discovered” us. This seems to have reached critical mass only in the last two years or so.
Jerry, you’ve said that you grew up hearing stories from your father about Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers, how cool was it to do the uniforms for the ’42’ biopic?
JERRY, YOU’VE SAID THAT YOU GREW UP HEARING STORIES FROM YOUR FATHER ABOUT JACKIE ROBINSON AND THE BROOKLYN DODGERS, HOW COOL WAS IT TO DO THE UNIFORMS FOR THE 42 BIOPIC.
That was coming full circle for me. My Dad’s stories about Jackie Robinson and the proximity of my birthplace to the old Ebbets Field ballpark site were founding emotional pillars of the brand. To go 25 years into the future and actually bring my Dad to the premiere of 42 after we worked on the film was perhaps the most satisfying moment of my career both professionally and personally.
WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL OR DREAM FOR EBBETS?
I am living it now. To become a vibrant, respected brand which had gotten there by remaining true to our principles has put us in the position of controlling our destiny and finally having the resources – human, creative, and financial – to realize our potential without diminishing our values.
Lisa Cooper & The Team
WHY DO YOU THINK TRADITIONAL MADE-IN-USA COMPANIES LIKE EBBETS, PENDLETON, AND WOOLRICH ARE BECOMING SO POPULAR WITH MORE MODERN FASHION AND STREETWEAR BRANDS/RETAILERS?
That is some great company you have put us with. Thanks! Pendleton and Woolrich long ago set the bar high for all of us, and both companies should be regarded as National Treasures. Neither ever went off-shore or closed their doors and they have such rich histories.
In regards to Ebbets, most likely folks respect the fact that we have done the work and stayed true to our core message all these years. We do things a bit differently and finally it seems we have come into our own. Garnering the public’s understanding of exactly what it is we are doing is a huge reward. We no longer toil in self-imposed obscurity. We are story tellers and innovators, and quite passionate about it. I think that keeps things interesting.
LISA, YOU HEAD UP ‘THE COLLAB TEAM’, WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Mostly, it means keeping up with everybody’s brilliant ideas and a constant wrangling all of our suppliers. It keeps us hopping, that’s for darn sure. We try not to put up barriers or obstacles and generally have an attitude of “BRING IT”. We have a supply chain of specialty raw goods 25 years in the making, and our minimums are low, so what you get with us is markedly different. 98% of our collaborative partners become friends and co-conspirators for the long haul so it can be quite the love fest around here. It’s also a little-known fact that the collaborative sales team is 100% girl powered. I think this helps with the process; a bit less ego and a lot more ‘let’s figure this puppy out’. Vanessa and Meghan are stunningly beautiful, talented, whip-smart and positive. And then there is the wonderful Kevin Gates, ‘K-Gee’, our production magician for collabs. He may be simultaneously the luckiest/most stressed out guy in Seattle. He owns a deadline like nobody’s business. We all have a really good time and I could not ask for a better team.
HOW DO THESE COLLABORATIONS COME ABOUT? ARE BRANDS GETTING IN TOUCH OR ARE YOU SEEKING THEM OUT?
Everyone has sought us out. We are so lucky and are very thankful about this. We just opened our new retail location that is worthy of our brand. One of the things we are doing is focusing back on our collaborators in the store. Many good things to come.
THE COLLABORATIONS ARE ALWAYS INCREDIBLE, FROM CLASSIC RETAILERS LIKE J.CREW TO ODD FUTURE CREW MELLOWHYPE, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE COLLABORATION(S) SO FAR?
It sounds like such a cliche, but it is impossible to choose just one. We just had a really great pop up shop/25th anniversary party with the PF Flyer and Brooklyn Circus folks – curated by Ouigi and Alyasha Moore. What a fantastic bunch of people and oh the shoes. The PF Bob Cousey natural canvas should be everywhere and the Ebbets/PF Center High using our pinstripe wool flannel are lovely indeed.
We just love the team at J Crew. They are huge champions of Ebbets and we feel they are the ones originally responsible for the collaborators that have come our way. J Crew opened up worlds to us and we are forever grateful.
Recently I saw a photo from the Kith guys – they did a red satin windbreaker with New York on the front in creme felt. It is gorgeous. The photo has the NY skyline in the background. Whatever they did to the photo to get that red satin to glow the way it does was inspired.
Nin Truong of Maiden Noir/Black Pine Workshop is right down the street and an early supporter and collaborator. Nin designs for Stussy, has two of his own highly in-demand brands, owns a coffee bar in Seattle, and is a landscape architect who teaches at the University of Washington. He is the nicest, humblest, and hardest-working guy on the planet. Mad respect for Nin.
I could go on and on on. Raised By Wolves, the whole Odd Future Crew, Bill Bennett and Gary Gersch of The Artists Organization, The Baldwin Denim Gang, so so many and I wish I could call out every last one of them.
We are blessed.
WHAT’S IT LIKE SEEING YOUR FAMOUS CLASSIC FLANNELS RE-PURPOSED FOR OTHER BRANDS? WAS IT A NATURAL PROGRESSION FOR EBBETS OR WAS THERE HESITATION TO LEND YOUR NAME AND FABRIC TO OTHER COMPANIES?
It’s less lending our name but rather making other folks designs using our materials and patterns. We really like it. We would never have allowed in the first 5 years or so of the business as our message was 100% authentic only. But then it naturally progressed. We used to do all of David Letterman’s merchandise in the early 1990s, he would order 500 jerseys or jackets to be used as Christmas gifts. That was the beginning of us looking at it and saying ‘hmm, well, there is something to this’.
We have outfitted so many pro teams, movies and plays over the years so we are just really geared for it now. The thing that is tough about custom collab jerseys is the pricing. Folks tend to design jersey lettering using a more is more philosophy, not realizing the crazy-expensive cost of US-made 100% wool felt. So many times the end result is lettering that costs 5x the amount of the jersey itself.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EBBETS HAS KEPT THE SAME FOR THE LAST 25 YEARS?
Staying true to our customers. We want everybody happy and coming back. We work really hard to make it right and we’re determined to be the best in products and in service no matter what.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE EBBETS HAS MADE?
Good question! I think it may be the collaborations. The last 4-5 years has really changed the shape of our business in wonderful ways, specifically globally. For instance, we never would have known Jayass of Humantree in Seoul Korea, or Man of Eleven after Eleven in Hong Kong, or Keita Senaki in Japan; such great people who genuinely love what we do.
We have definitely grown up from ‘the best kept secret’ to a worldwide specialty brand.
HOW HAS SOCIAL MEDIA IMPACTED THE BUSINESS?
Huge. In some ways it makes it easier and in some ways it makes it harder. I get a kick out of the interesting conversations at Ebbets and share things. We do need to up our Instagram and Twitter game. We will be working on that next.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR EBBETS?
A big old knitting machine. It will be here in about 4 weeks. We are going to train on it and then bring in more of them. Get ready for all sorts of vintage knit sweaters, jerseys, strirrups, etc. We have such a tough time sourcing dependable US-made knits and really wanted to shore that up. Our caps are getting knocked off all over the place so we figure people will have a much tougher time doing the same to our knit goods.
We just want to keep on growing – doing what we do and expanding the market. We were the ones to bring light the storied pasts of lost players and leagues: the Minor leagues, Negro Leagues, Latin Leagues that were not on anybody’s radar when we started doing them in 1988. Through Jerry’s research and cataloging all of them are well-known now.
We have more to debut. We are an idea factory. Because of all the collaborative projects we now have the resources to expand upon this in bigger ways. It’s very exciting.
Big thanks to Jerry and his business partner Laura for giving us the scoop on everything Ebbets. Stay tuned for tons more incredible stuff from this storied brand.