I was lucky enough to spend a few days in San Francisco last week and one visit that was top of my list was to see Evan Kinori's newly opened studio in the SOMA area of downtown SF. I'd heard so much about Evan, mainly through my super-keen Denim Dudes photographer, Ulysses, who was the one who originally gave me the heads up Evan was moving to Jack/Knife back in 2013. We even blogged about his joining the brand on the WGSN blog. I think I spent about three hours at Evan's studio that afternoon and got a real sense of the 'dude behind the denim'.
I'm not going to talk about how sad the end of J/K was, because everyone of merit seems to be going on to greater things and shit happens. Instead I want to focus on Evan and what he's doing right now, because its a great story thats worth telling.
Evan's story is a purist, slow-fashion, one-man-brand kinda tale but I found a great distinction between his work and other brands out there. The look is more contemporary, less tied to denim roots and more diverse in its inspiration. His passion and skill for his craft is tangible and genuine.... and he's got his head screwed on! I feel compelled to write something about him, because I get the feeling that he will be around for some time: what he's doing comes from the gut not the glory and I believe thats becoming more and more important in today's competitive apparel environment.
He told me about his first interaction with 'fashion' when he was just 11 years old and a skateboarding obsessive:
"Skating was probably the thing I was first super fixated on. But I hated skateboard sneakers. It was at the time when Vans weren't making any of their classics, in the late 90's and early 2000's. They were making the high-tech, puffy, styrofoam stuff with coloured accents and all this crazy shit that aged horribly. At least with a cotton canvas pairs of shoes, they get destroyed and you can kinda glue em or tape em or patch em and they still look good. But styrofoam or whatever the hell they were making with at the time, it doesn't age well, in fact it looks terrible. I was always looking down at these ugly shoes that I also didn't wanna change out of when I was done with skating, I just wanted a pair of sneakers that looked good all the time. And that got me thinking."
Its funny when we look back on past experiences with hindsight and realise that these seemingly simple thought processes in our youth go on to make up the essence of who we are today. Evan didn't realise it at the time because hell, who does at age 11?! But he was a fan of simple, quality, classic pieces even as a kid and he had realised the age old rule: that classic design remains timeless, and flashy design gets thrown in the trash. In fact, later in the conversation, he sums it up rather eloquently:
These items in my collection have a deep place in the bedrock of clothing for me. The word timeless is a little over-used but thats what I'm going for; its not really seasonal, its not too trend driven. I think that if these pieces were worn 100 years ago, then they will probably be worn 100 years from now. I'm a textile person first and foremost so everything comes from that focus: everything's clean and simple from the outside, the inside of the garments is where my work is done. Everything I'm making for this first run and everything I have planned next, these are all things I've been wanting myself: I've been wearing this field shirt and these pants all day every day for about a year.
Evan grew up on the East coast but moved down to San Francisco for school and was actually in the middle of a bachelors degree in french and philosophy when the fashion nudge came a knocking:
I think something told me to take a goofy fashion class and the task was to make a top out of bottoms. I was the only guy in the class and I did some really wacky frankenstein thing, I couldn't sew so I stapled it, I taped it, but it felt way more at home to me than anything I'd done before and the next week I signed up at the fashion institute of design and merchandising for the pattern making class. It clicked in ways that nothing had clicked before, I was top of my class and all that fun stuff. It was the first time I was fully able to discipline myself because it didn't feel like work.
A sure sign he was onto something! I really got the impression that Evan had been lucky enough at that early age to tap into something that he now knows was his calling. And he's been working with garments and pattern cutting ever since. He finished his training three years ago and through friends, he was introduced to Nick at Jack Knife. Up until then he'd worked mostly on womenswear as the program had no menswear tutor and he'd focussed primarily on shirts and jackets. When Evan saw what Nick was doing at J/K with jeans, he was knocked sideways:
By no exaggeration or subjective take on it, he made the best jeans in the world I've seen, ever. Its hard to explain to even the best connoisseurs because it it wasn't a smart idea, a genius business idea, or a scalable model but if you bought one of the custom jeans, well..... I haven't seen anyone making anything better. It didn't look like any other product I'd touched or felt before: every seam hand felled, everything hand bound, so that feels very different to anything else. Nick was all about making the best product he could and so I studied and worked with him for a year. Going into it I just wanted to make quality stuff, I didn't have so many hang-ups on construction methods as I do now, he's burned me forever with that one!
So thats Evan's past, in a nutshell! What happened next was really just a series of lucky happenings that have meant Evan was able to fully launch his website just a few weeks ago. At collage he won a competition where he had a cash prize of a few thousand dollars. It just so happened that a friend he had made in the fabric business in SF had a hook-up with a few factories in the area. One of them had a surplus of a certain 'shall remain unnamed' company's fabrics: the rolls weren't big enough for bulk production but just the perfect size for a small operation just starting up. I don't know who the brand was but boy, do they have great taste in denim! We're talking 7oz semi-sheer, butter soft indigo shirtings, insane Japanese woolen weaves with crazy structures and floating stitches, stunning linen selvedge 2x1's, indigo oxfords, you name it. So he spent all the money on these dreamy fabrics and started making. He played with made-to-order pieces for friends, who joked he was creating an 'EK Army' in San Francisco. He's focussed on 4 key pieces for now and has graded every item down to an XXS to enable the pieces to be dual gender, something that works very well, due to the simplicity and contemporary style he's created.
So what's next for the Evan Kinori brand?
The next important step is to do my research on retail. I like going into a store and I like how a store can tell a story so the next job is for me to basically research shops throughout the world and see which ones really feel right for what I want to say. I basically need to find partners that equal the passion that I have for the product and slowly and carefully grow the wholesale. Because I have heard so many sob stories of growing too fast. And its hard because I get so excited if some store in Japan responds to my work but I have to make myself pause and think: Who else do they carry? How are they gonna merchandise it?
Just a few days before my visit, a few pieces went into Reliquary owned by Leah Bershad and I happened to stop by the day before to see it in all its glory in the beautifully curated space. It looked spot-on.
Yes, thats a perfect fit, she's just launched a mens section and so I've been able to launch both mens and women's with her, thats the perfect store for SF and she's a good friend so it totally makes sense.
What about outside of San Francisco?
My first wholesale order outside of Reliquary is for a store thats opening in Tokyo this November called Craft and Perma Culture Country Mall. For the first season its stocking all made in California brands. And I think I'm gonna have some stuff in RTH this fall too. But it is hard to think of what shops would work because at the moment in menswear, its either black and stark and really modern or its very much part of the full denim and heritage scene.
And then that got us into a big conversation about heritage, contemporary, quality and sustainability, which was fascinating. Evan certainly knows the market he's getting into and how the current retail land is lying right now. "Menswear really feels like its having a struggle between two opposite poles: modern and heritage. Those seem like the only options. I hope to land in the middle; thats what I'm trying to do" but where we really got into it was on the subject of smaller, or one man brands and ethical manufactoring.
People like to talk about and fetishise the one man brand but people really don't know what goes into it, its a huge undertaking and consumers don't 100% get that concept now. The general message from all these brands is to pay more, but buy less. This is not communism, I'm not gonna tell everyone they only get one pair of pants! But its so well represented by the beautiful aspects of indigo, that dye represents the concept perfectly: you put the time and the energy into it and it becomes more beautiful over use. For me, thats the story right there, if its made beautifully well on the inside then you simply get to wear and enjoy that product for longer. Its a shame when things get twisted, sometimes with crowd sourcing and all these concepts: they're pushing the idea of 'look how cheap we've got these jeans for you' that you think you should buy 15 pairs of them. How are you going to appreciate the product when you have 15 pairs of them?!?
Oh Evan if only that were my problem, I have waaaay more than 15 pairs of anything! But I 100% understand his point and its something I think a lot of us are considering at the moment so I honestly think things are slowly changing for a better, more conscious world.
I don't know how its going to progress, its fun to watch though. These small companies are great, its so rad when they have 5-6 products because you know they have really dedicated themselves to boil down each product and execute it perfectly.
Sounds like someone else I know! Check out the lovely video below to get even more of a vibe from this awesome SF based brand.