You can’t be faulted if you’ve never heard of a one man brand before, they’re something of an oddity in the era of ready-to-wear and fast fashion. But they’re exactly what they sound like, fashion brands run by and employing just one person.
The work is back-breaking and expensive, but the rewards for the consumer are twofold. One, you get a beautiful piece of clothing, oftentimes made just for you and two, you can sleep easy wearing it, knowing exactly who made your clothes and that they weren’t mistreated in the process. You know, because they’re their own boss.
There’s something romantically old-school about the one man brands. Maybe it’s just the idea that someone had a dream but maybe it’s because these designers and makers feel like cowboys on the frontier of an an industry that has become so boring and predictable.
If you want to talk about one man brands, you have to start with Roy. Roy Slaper is a jeans-maker located in Oakland with a fanatical devotion to doing things the old-fashioned way. A former metalworker, Roy is almost entirely self-taught, refusing to deconstruct an existing pair of jeans because he felt like that was “cheating,” instead opting to create his jeans piece by piece until he had it right. But his commitment to his craft has paid amazing dividends. Roy’s collections drop around every three months and usually sell out within twelve hours.
Slaper uses only the finest materials, sourcing denim from the last U.S. selvedge denim mill, Cone Mills, and sews using vintage sewing machines, most of which date back to before the 1950s. To someone outside of the rustic circle of denim enthusiasts, this attention to detail might seem absurd, even crazed, but the leagues of rabid fans seem to prove otherwise. There is no weak link in this organization, because it’s only Mr. Slaper.
Red Cotton Denim
Red Cotton Denim is another jeans-maker whose fortunes are closely tied with Roy Slaper. Red Cotton Denim was founded by Camillo Love, who, during his time with the US Navy had a chance to experience the denim scene in Japan. Attracted to the Japanese craftsmanship and later to designer American brands, he was upset that nothing quite fit his 6’ 5″ frame. So he did what few clothing fans ever do and started up his own damn brand.
Camillo found lots of support from other designers in the bay area, learning the value of high-quality materials and vintage machines. Love began making made-to-order women’s jeans, but soon found the men’s jeans he made on the side were becoming extremely popular first among his friends and then the denim community at large. He currently has two different cuts offered on his website, made from Cone Mills selvedge denim and both are on sale!
Like a Wild West vigilante taking the law into his own hands, Love simply up and decided that he didn’t like the way things were run in the denim brands he had seen and decided to fill a gap in the market. His innovation can be summarized in what may seem like a small detail: the omission of the coin pocket. Almost all conventional jeans have a small coin pocket on the left hip, but Love said he never used so he removed it. The brilliance of the one man brand comes in the little things like this.
Of course one man brands aren’t all about denim, L.A. brand Tagsmith specializes in leather accessories. Owner Steve Neal first worked with leather when he was playing in bands and needed a better guitar strap. Then slowly but surely he began devoting himself to making better and better leather accessories. So while the material may be different from our other brands so far, the impetus for taking fashion into his own hands was the same.
Steve is devoted to supporting other lovers of leather, like two of the last American tanneries, Wickett & Craig of Curwensville, PA and Horween of Chicago, IL. These tanneries have both been in business over a hundred years and make some of the best-wearing, sweetest-patina-ing leather around. He uses Natural leather, English Bridle leather, and Latigo leather to keep some variety amongst his wares.
Tagsmith makes the wallets, journal covers, and card holders by hand. The accountability that comes with the one man brand is absolutely crucial for leather products. Leather accessories are an investment that get better over time and with one devoted artisan at the helm you know that the accessory will in fact last long enough to get the wear you’re looking for.
My introduction to the world of the one man brand came from Greasepoint Workwear’s Instagram. Located in Seattle and run by skateboarder and former peach farmer, Amos Culbertson, the brand specializes in high-quality, durable double-knee pants. Culbertson has created a truly unique brand that’s all about functionality. He sources the best materials and then sews and rivets the hell out of them until he has a basically indestructible pair of pants that also just look really good.
His work jeans and trousers are complemented by a selection of shirts, all of which are made to order. Culbertson managed to dilute the strength of say, a Carhartt work pant, while pushing the envelope stylistically. All of his products have a slim, but not too slim fit that still encourages movement and hard work. And what Culbertson has done is create a brand with a reputation for near-indesructability and curated a totally unique aesthetic all at the same time. He doesn't lean on heavily branding his products either, but the double knee, the heritage workwear-inspired front pockets, and custom knife pocket speak for themselves.
And like with all the one man brands featured here, though you pay a premium for their products, you are ensured that your garment will represent all the best aspects of the one man brand while
W.H. Ranch Dungarees
At his studio somewhere in Kansas, Ryan Martin is toiling constantly, making each pair of jeans for his “Heritage Collection.” A loud and proud sixth generation sewer, Martin really knows his denim history. His Wild West aesthetic may not be for everyone, but it is certainly well-researched. Martin meticulously bases his designs on vintage jeans and unlike many other Levi’s-centric designers, he has a soft spot for old Lee jeans.
His historical accuracy is second-to-none, although his website has a curiously standoffish tone. Custom-making all those jeans could make a fella grouchy, I reckon. But W.H. Ranch Dungarees is a love letter to a long-gone style of manufacturing and design and Martin is fiercely defending a vanishing work ethic and skill-set. While his relatively new ready-to-made collection is made in Los Angeles, the Heritage Collection maintains his status as a One Man Brand. He refers to his work as “heirloom construction,” in other words a level of quality and durability that has been handed down generation by generation. In fact the construction techniques he speaks of (he won’t be specific, it’s a family recipe) were in large part pioneered by his grandmother during the harsh years of the Dust Bowl in Kansas. He maintains a level of care that was necessary for a generation who had to make what seldom clothes they bought or made last nearly a lifetime.
If you want practical clothes that are chock-full of history and have a kind of soul they just can’t teach you at design school, then look out for Martin’s WH Ranch Dungarees.