Illustration for article titled The Independence Brothers Discuss Their Vision of a Timeless Fashion Accessory: Leather Jackets

Graphic: Ignacia Fulcher

Top Product: Double Rider | $350 | Independence Brothers

There’s nothing more classic than a leather jacket. I’ve been enamored with them ever since I saw Micheal Jackson’s iconic red Thriller jacket, and the love solidified after seeing classic movie stars like James Dean donning a pair of Levi jeans, a white T-shirt, and a fitted leather jacket in Rebel Without a Cause. Fashion changes and evolves, but the simplicity of a leather jacket has remained a mainstay of pop culture, similar to the little black dress. You can’t go wrong with a well-fit jacket, and it can clearly finish any outfit—casual or professional.

Recently I’ve gotten to know a new online shop that specializes in customized leather jackets. They’re called Independence Brothers and its founders are, you guessed it, a brother duo who created the world’s first customization app, bringing a usual up-close-and-personal tailoring experience to the world of leather. I asked them about their vision and how their leather jackets will transform the already classic market for the better.

Illustration for article titled The Independence Brothers Discuss Their Vision of a Timeless Fashion Accessory: Leather Jackets

Graphic: Ignacia Fulcher

When it comes to jacket design, what inspires you and your brother?

The jacket design is tough because neither my brother nor I am fashion experts by any stretch of the imagination. I come from an engineering background so I’m always geared towards the quality and durability of materials, so I typically ask others to help me with designing new ideas, or I look at competitors and see what’s trending right now. I’ve had everyone from tailors, high-fashion managers, to my buddy who loves clothes give us inspiration and ideas. As far as I’m concerned, everyone’s opinion is valid when it comes to fashion!

Why leather? What made you guys get into the leather jacket business?

Leather is timeless. The same double rider style invented almost a hundred years ago is still just as badass today. I can’t think of any other product that can be worn any day, anywhere, on anyone, and instill confidence in them as much as a leather jacket does. It’s truly an emotional connection for each of our customers, and I’m so excited that I get to make people feel good about themselves each and every day.

Why do you guys think leather is so versatile?

Leather has been used for centuries in our society. It’s got an incredible history to it and you can see it everywhere. From very thick hides in your leather sofa to thin hides making a nice wallet. It’s truly versatile because we’ve spent so long working with it that we’ve really mastered the art of tanning, and are able to create an almost endless range of properties in the leather itself. As a result, we know leather jackets from pop culture like The Terminator riding a motorcycle, to remembering your grandfather wearing a bomber jacket he’s had for 40 years. It’s everywhere you look, and the styles allow you to dress it up or down easily.

What are the signs of a well-fit, well-made leather jacket?

Shoulders are huge. T
hey must have the shoulder seam at the point where the arm plane meets the shoulder plane. Everything else is pretty much up to you and what you think looks cool. If you want baggy arms, go for it. If you like your jacket cropped, go for it. If you want your sleeves to drape further than your wrist, awesome. Most of our customers prefer a slimmer fit as it’s in fashion now, but things change! I wouldn’t judge anyone for how they prefer their jacket to fit. But yeah, shoulders are key for almost any fashion style.

What are your favorite styles of leather jacket, if you have any?

Everyone needs two leather jackets in their closet. A black double rider with silver zippers for going out on a date and feeling badass, and a brown bomber for relaxing with friends. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot (kidding! … sort of).

How did you guys come up with the concept of Independence Bros.?

One day I decided I wanted a leather jacket. So I went on Reddit and found everyone obsessed with “Temple of Jawnz,” which was this South Korean guy who was pretty mysterious, with a barebones website (I think it was just a blog) and a huge cost of $800 upfront, paid through PayPal. I decided to trust Reddit and go for it. 12 months later with no jacket in sight, I demanded a refund (which they graciously gave) and thought, “There’s gotta be a better way than this.” So, I went online and found a manufacturer in India. Bought a few samples and loved what I received. I figured, “Why don’t more Americans know about this?” And Independence Brothers was born. Over the years we’ve vastly improved operations and manufacturing, but the simple idea of producing a budget leather jacket, with high-quality leather, and a custom fit remained.

Advice on purchasing a great leather jacket? What should someone look for?

Look for the fit first of all. Buy custom fit if you can find it … (or from us!), but after that make sure the stitching is even, there aren’t any mistakes or frayed seams. Use the zippers or snap buttons a ton and just see how they work, if they feel “loose” don’t bother, it’ll only get worse. I’d give advice on inspecting the leather, but truly it’s almost impossible just walking into a store and trying to determine the leather quality. It’s more about if you enjoy the feel and sheen of the leather.

How does Scott pick out high-quality leather, and what does the jacket-making process look like?

We traveled to Mexico to start our workshop two years ago, and at that time we visited various tanneries to inspect conditions as well as the quality of leather. We focus more intensely on the production of the leather because that typically leads to the end result better than simply looking at the end. You can always tweak a finish to give it whatever “appearance” you want, but to ensure the leather lasts and meets our standards you have to focus on the tannery first.

The jacket-making process is quite a difficult and long one to explain! But essentially once you have sourced your materials and set everything up, there are two major stages. The first one is one that most companies don’t have to deal with each jacket, but we do since all our work is custom. That’s called pattern-making. The pattern is a dimensioned drawing that specs out precisely what leather needs to be cut, in what shape, and what size. This is based on the measurements, the fit, the style, etc.

Most companies create a pattern, then duplicate it 100, 1,000, 10,000 times for their inventory. Since we don’t hold inventory and custom-make each jacket, every single jacket has its own unique pattern. This is why it takes twice as much labor for each one of our jackets as a typical off-the-shelf piece. After this comes the cutting and sewing stages where the actual jacket gets made. To put it simply—leather is cut based on the pattern, stitched together, then hardware and lining are sewn or stamped. It’s an incredibly labor-intense process that is far more than a typical T-shirt, pants, or other material, especially so because once you put a hole or seam into a piece of leather, it’s permanently marked and cannot be changed easily.

Explain the vision behind the world’s first leather jacket customization app. How did you guys come up with it? How does it simplify or ease the overall customer experience?

The idea came because, after making 20 or so styles on our website, I realized that leather jackets all seem to fit within a certain pre-determined style range. You have zippers, you have quilting on certain parts, and you have snaps or buttons. Other than that, they’re all fairly similar. So we designed an application that can mix and match all of the features we had on all 20 styles at the time. Essentially allowing anyone to sketch their own design, only limited by their imagination.

We made the app because everyone kept asking us to modify small features on the jacket. “Move a zipper here,” “Change that collar,” “I want zippered cuffs,” so I figured why keep doing the work myself?

We have plans right now to drastically expand the app so that truly, you could browse the entire internet, and any design you could find we could replicate for you once you configure it in our application. I think it’s wonderful to be the first company in the world to truly say, “Hey you don’t need to be an expert, you don’t even need a design. Just come to our website and play with the customizer app like a bunch of LEGOs and construct your own!”

How is the customization app going to innovate the current market? Have you seen competitors with the same functionality?

I haven’t seen anyone else do what we’re doing. I think it’s quite difficult. We had to have it custom coded, and also hire a Photoshop expert to make sure the jackets look “real” even though they’re simply a patchwork representation. It took a lot of creativity just to imagine this app and a lot of hard work to put it into place.


Graphic: Ignacia Fulcher

What is your mission and what are you looking to achieve?

My mission is to make people feel confident in their own body, and feel good about purchasing a leather jacket. This means it has to fit your body, and it has to be produced ethically. Most leather jackets are mass manufactured to save money and to produce “fast fashion” which is destroying our environment. I think my generation is fed up with these practices and wants to return to a more “old-timey” way of repairing our own goods, keeping things longer, and having a more direct connection with the producers of goods.

I see that the site of operations is located in Leon, Mexico. Why is that?

We literally traveled the globe looking for who would work with us on our crazy idea. From India to Pakistan, to Italy, and eventually ending up nearby in Mexico. My brother and I both speak Spanish, the quality of the leather is outstanding, and the culture is wonderful in Mexico (and it’s a quick flight!). I couldn’t think of a better location. We considered making it in America, but everyone I talked to told me the leather industry here is dead, and I soon realized we would have to charge outrageous prices, and we’d only be catering to the rich folks. I wanted everyone to be able to enjoy our jackets, so the cheaper currency in Mexico, combined with their high-quality craftsmen was the perfect solution.

Do you think you’ll open a brick-and-mortar, or will you always remain digital?

We’ll always be digital. I dream of one day having customers able to get measured by us because I want them to have a seamless experience, but I realized it won’t be us that does it, so we are in talks with a few local tailors to start selling our products through their storefront. Stay tuned!

How is it working with your brother? I have two sisters and I know we bicker constantly. Is it similar for you two, or is it easygoing?

All my vario
us businesses involve my family. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My grandfather built a marine engine company with his two brothers and I always thought that was something to aspire to. Working with family can be stressful, but there’s comfort in knowing that no matter how heated your disagreements get, at the end of the day you’re still family and that’s all that matters.

What is the true difference between lambskin and calfskin? What season is better to wear each?

Lambskin is quite thin, flexible, and drapes well on the body. It will follow your curves. Calfskin is thicker and stiffer, as a result, it tends to appear more blocky and badass. Lambskin is better for warmer temperatures simply due to its thickness. Keep in mind these are just for our specific leathers—leather varies wildly, you may find another company’s calfskin thinner than our lambskin, or another company’s lambskin thicker than our calfskin!


Graphic: Ignacia Fulcher

What style would you recommend on someone just dipping their toe in?

Bombers are easiest for people to feel comfortable. A lot of people are scared of feeling like a “poser” or doing something that is beyond their confidence level. Brown is also a more casual color, with gunmetal or brass zippers. But hey, honestly, I wish people would go for the most adventurous styles first, because it’s such a great feeling when you buy something that is “beyond your confidence level,” and you put it on, and suddenly you feel 10 times better about yourself. Try it!

Where do you guys see yourselves in the next year? What’s your ongoing vision?

We have huge plans for this year. We just started our first marketing campaigns, we’re in talks with some large blogs. We’ve expanded our workshop three times in size and dropped our queue time from 10 weeks to four weeks. We’re going to expand our customizer app options. We’re adding about 10 new styles this year. We’re working with some local NYC tailors to offer in-person sizing. We’ve expanded our measurement points from eight to 12 to ensure greater fit and satisfaction. Our sales have already doubled from last year, and we’re looking to double it again by 2022!