Jeff Johnson specializes in outerwear, but 2017 will see The Arrivals co-founder tackle a sometimes-intimidating frontier for online-first brands.
The offline world.
Johnson talked about the direction of his brand and how an architectural background informs his career in fashion on the 39th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast. Alongside co-founder Kal Vepuri, already a successful investor, Johnson began developing The Arrivals in late 2013.
“This was an opportunity to create something that was very beautiful, very meaningful and create product that really represented our aspirations,” he said.
The connection between architecture and fashion may not be obvious, but Johnson is well-versed in both categories. After getting his master’s degree at the Pratt Institute, Johnson went to work for an architectural design firm in Amsterdam.
On a trip back home, a conversation with Vepuri set into motion the idea that would become The Arrivals.
“I [was] really inspired by continuing this design trajectory and continuing to communicate a story, visually, through physical product,” he said. “Jackets were something that carried the core tenets of architecture...It has this material and this necessity to shelter. There’s constant material innovation and this narrative that function should transcend gender.”
Recognizing a lack of competition in the market for direct to consumer outerwear, Johnson and Vepuri began creating the blueprint for their first line of jackets. But after delivering these visualizations to their manufacturer, Johnson began to bump up against the limits of his expertise.
“I came back and saw the prototypes they created. That was the first moment where I kind of [realized] ‘Shit, I’m not experienced in this.’ I had never worked with textiles or fabric,” he said.
After doing more than just surviving their launch—The Arrivals was immediately profiled by the New York Times and Vogue—Johnson began to discover the formula for long-term success: build trust with customers and create something authentic.
Johnson’s latest challenge is establishing The Arrivals in the offline world.
“We’re not a company developing an app,” he said. “Having that experience where you come in, it’s not just about the product.”
Thinking about the best way to create a consumer experience beyond a computer screen has forced Johnson to consider even more questions that go far beyond outerwear.
“What does a store look like? What does a store sound like? What music is playing? What does it smell like? Those are all things that reinforce our point of view,” he said. “The product is super important, but it’s also a manifestation of who we are as people.”
A pop-up in SoHo became the latest component of The Arrivals shopping experience, as Johnson transformed an old restaurant space into a store.
He described the retail experience as “opening a nozzle” and allowing The Arrivals to grow outside their direct-to-consumer space.
“While we launched as a digitally native brand, there are these pressure points that can be relieved by thinking of these traditional ingredients that go into traditional brands,” he said. “It now feels like all those things are really grooving and it’s an opportunity to take that next step.”