How Two Non-Designers Launched Your New Favorite Outerwear Brand

The Arrivals has arrived.
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Dhani Mau
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The Arrivals has arrived.
Photo: The Arrivals

Photo: The Arrivals

One of many things I've learned about the fashion industry since I've started working in it is that there are a lot of successful "designers" who never set foot in a fashion design school -- people who had lifelong interests in fashion but decided to become lawyers or work in finance instead, only to give up a more conventional (and less fun) profession to follow their dreams, often implementing the skills and drive needed in their first careers to their second ones.

That's why it's not so surprising that a promising new contemporary label, The Arrivals, was founded by an architect and a tech entrepreneur/investor. The Arrivals applies the same business model companies like Everlane and Warby Parker have banked on: selling direct to consumer online, thereby cutting out the overhead and commissions of traditional retail, and keeping prices down without sacrificing quality. The debut collection includes nine fall-appropriate outerwear staples for both men and women: For the ladies, there's a leather moto jacket, a parka, a minimal wool coat, a wool blazer and a hooded poncho. Everything comes in at under $700.

The company was founded by Jeff Johnson, an architect, and Kal Vepuri, an entrepreneur and investor in companies like Warby Parker, Harry's and Makerbot. Johnson did some design work for Vepuri while getting his masters at Pratt and then last year, while Johnson was working for an architecture firm in the Netherlands, Vepuri got in touch with him about starting an e-commerce apparel company together. About a year later, The Arrivals was born. And despite Johnson's and Vepuri's lack of fashion experience, it looks great.

"Last year, Kal mentioned to me he’s been seeing all these brands really come to fruition in the marketplace, like Everlane," explained Johnson at The Arrivals's shared office space. "I was looking for an opportunity to try design in a different scope, so I took this leap into something completely different and moved back in October." Johnson also already had in place what many young designers lack and need: Someone on the business side of things who has capital and knows what they're doing. Vepuri is currently the sole investor in the brand.

The duo then spent some time thinking about the category that would make the most sense to focus on. "We were looking at denim, t-shirts...what was an opportunity to really build a brand around? And we came to the idea of outerwear." They looked at performance brands like Patagonia as well as urban designer brands like Rag & Bone and felt there was a void to be filled at a slightly lower price point. "We saw a great opportunity by using e-commerce to go to the same factories, use the same materials and basically offer a product that we are pretty proud of at a price point that’s significantly different."

Photo: The Arrivals

Photo: The Arrivals

Since Johnson had never designed clothing before, he approached it the same way he would designing a building or piece of furniture. "That was everything from modeling it in 3-D digital programs to building little paper models to drawing blueprints. I took all this info to the Garment District because this is what you do, and I think it was super fun for the factory owners and pattern makers to see this different approach -- they were all like, 'Whoa this is cool, I wish all the designers would do this.'" Johnson and Vepuri also built a team of designers with experience at brands like Tom Ford, Burberry and Nike.

The resulting products are good. Since the line is small, you can tell a lot of attention is given to every detail, from quality to functional elements to fit. Nearly everything is made in New York, allowing the brand to turn collections around quickly, in about seven weeks. Customers can expect new product around every couple of months and the next range will be out before the end of the year. Customer service is a top priority for the brand as well: Shipping and returns are free and you might even find yourself with a discount and a free keychain upon returning or exchanging something.

While Johnson and Vepuri want the brand to grow slowly and steadily, they have some ideas for the future, including more product categories and brick-and-mortar showrooms where people can feel and try on the product. Actual brick-and-mortar retail would be further down the line.

The brand is starting out strong. If you're in the market for a good leather motorcycle jacket, you won't find much better than this one for the price; and the green parka, which has a removable shearling lining, is at the top of my shopping list. Browse the full collection below and shop it when it launches later on Thursday at TheArrivals.com.