Sartorial Sustainability Sunday: A Conversation with Jack L. Carlson of @RowingBlazers

last week…

Recently I discovered the Rowing Blazers End-of-the-Day Rugbies. I was immediately impressed with the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the brand. I reached out to the founder, Jack Carlson, to get his insight on sustainability and social responsibility.

Rowing-Blazers-About-350073611-1556224324108.jpg
Credit: Rowing Blazers About page

L – For those who do not know, you have a Ph.D. in Archaeology from Oxford. Does that perspective inform the Rowing Blazers brand and if so, how?

J – I’d like to think so! An archaeologist is a person who studies material culture, objects. Whether I’m excavating pottery shards in an Etruscan temple in Italy or hunting for vintage blazers in Cambridge, England, I’ve always been interested in studying objects and their stories in a fairly deep, rigorous way. I think fashion in general can be quite superficial. Words like “authenticity” are so overused that they are virtually meaningless. At Rowing Blazers, there is a culture of looking and learning more deeply; of being a student of objects (in our case, clothes). This also means we don’t do things just for the sake of doing them, or just because something looks cool. We would never slap a made-up “crest” or coat of arms onto a shirt. Every graphic we use has a meaning (sometimes a cryptic meaning); everything we do has a reason. I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on visual representations of power, and I used to help design coats of arms for people at the British government institution responsible for heraldry. So I’m very finely attuned to this.

L – I make an effort to be more sustainable by consuming less and when I do, select items that are going to be timeless and classic. Rowing Blazers certainly falls into this camp but does one better, as the End-of-the-Day Rugbies are made of left over fabric from Rowing Blazers Rugby Shirts. At what point did you become cognizant of the potential for this item? Was it sustainability that inspired the End-of-the-Day Rugbies or was it born out of practicality or otherwise?

J – The End-of-the-Day Rugbies (a rugby shirt made from the scraps of fabric leftover at the end of the day) is a double win, because it is born out of sustainability, but also looks extremely cool. We use scraps of fabric from our own rugby shirts, and even scraps from other brands. These double wins are what we look for. When a product not only looks good, but also makes sense or gives back in some other – often much bigger – way.

L – On that note, I was impressed to read that Rowing Blazers gives back to the community. Last year you collaborated with Noah to produce a capsule collection with proceeds going to Row New York. Can you share what inspired the collection and giving back, and do you have plans to integrate more philanthropy in the future?

J – Row New York has been really important to me for a long time. As someone who has been involved in the sport of rowing for a long time, including on the national team, I can say confidently the lack of diversity in the sport in the United States is a big problem. Row New York is an amazing organization not only for changing the sport, but also for changing the lives of thousands of high school kids in New York City. We will continue to support Row New York, and we also have several other charitable partnerships: Play Rugby USA, a similar program to Row New York with the sport of rugby; and the Honeybee Conservancy, an organization dedicated to bee conservation and sustainability. We have a few more exciting partnerships on the horizon. Animal welfare is extremely important to me so look out for some partnerships in this area on the horizon soon!

Rowing Blazers End of Day Rugby
Credit: Rowing Blazers End-of-the-Day Rugbies page

L – I could talk about philanthropy forever but to get back to the End-of-the-Day Rugbies, without disclosing trade secrets, are there more or different design considerations that go into the End-of-the-Day Rugbies, as opposed to the standard Rowing Blazers Rugby Shirt?

J – Ha! No, I’d say there are fewer. End-of-the-Day Rugbies are what I’d like to call semi-random. Which is great, because you discover color combinations that work beautifully together that you’d never think of otherwise.

L – I love the unexpected color combinations. I also think there is also something to be said about a one-of-a-kind item also being a trophy item. It takes limited edition to the next level.

J – Yes? I completely agree! Once we posted a photo of an End-of-the-Day Rugby Shirt on our Instagram after it sold, and the person who had bought it wrote to us in a panic, concerned that their shirt wasn’t one-of-a-kind after all. We explained that the photo was of their exact shirt – not another one just like it. But I think that shows what you say is true: people view these as trophies because they are one-of-one.

L – I am sure that there is a lot of demand for a one-of-one item. For those who want to shop them online, how frequently do you update the End-of-the-Day Rugby page?

J – We usually put one new one up on the site every Friday (an end of the week End-of-the-Day rugby), and then every once in a while, we put 20 or so online all at once. But there are always many more in our store (161 Grand Street in New York).

L – To manufacture products locally is another sustainable practice. Speaking of New York, are any of the Rowing Blazers products made in NYC, or more broadly, in the United States?

J – Yes! Most of our products are made in the United States actually. The majority of our blazers are made in the Garment District in New York, and we know all the people who sew the jackets personally. Our woven shirts are made across the river in New Jersey, and some of our hats, ties and belts are made in Queens and Long Island. We make some of our other products in other parts of the U.S. as well: in Virginia and on the west coast. It’s not a hard and fast rule for us — we make some things in Europe and Asia too — but where possible we like making things locally or in the U.S. at least. We do this, because it’s best for the environment to produce locally, and because we can monitor production practices better when producing domestically.

L – As of right now, the only Rowing Blazers women’s product category is blazers. I happen to love dressing from my husband’s side of the closet, but do you have any styling advice for ladies who have reservations about dressing from the guys department?

J – The way we look at it, the blazer is the only thing we do that’s gendered. Everything else, to us, is unisex. And a huge percentage of our customers for things like rugby shirts, “dad” hats, polos, even pants, are women. I think the only thing it requires is confidence. My girlfriend wears our rugbies and wide leg pants all the time. She has her own women’s blazers but also steals mine. And there’s nothing sexier than confidence and genuinely cool clothes.

L – For those who are shopping online and are on the fence about hitting the Order button, what is the Rowing Blazers return policy?

J – We have a hassle-free 14-day return policy!

L – Other than the online store, where can people shop Rowing Blazers?

J – We have a store in Soho, New York, at 161 Grand Street. The store started as a pop-up, but we decided to turn it into a real shop! Other than that, we are in a very select group of shops around the world from Nantucket to Tokyo, LA to Madrid. The full list is here.

L – Does Rowing Blazers ever do pop up stores, at regattas or other events? If so, when is the next one?

J – Our NYC flagship started as a pop-up (that feels weird calling it a flagship because we called it a pop-up for so long!). We have done events and pop-ups at other shops, polo matches, rowing regattas, vintage car races and all sorts of other crazy things in the past. Follow us on Instagram (@rowingblazers) to keep posted on what’s next!

L – Can we expect to see Rowing Blazers expand into any new categories this year?

J – I don’t want to give too much away! But… (whispers) rugby dresses?

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