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In 2014, an unsuspected leather jacket from a new brand called The Arrivals hit the fashion scene. It was everywhere—in headlines, on the shoulders of the stylish. It the first piece that co-founder and creative director, Jeff Johnson, dreamed up. At the time, he was a fashion industry outsider working in architecture and design but felt inclined to create an accessible direct-to-consumer outerwear company that was both functional and design-friendly. Since, the brand has launched several other clothing and accessories lines—including Soft Wear (tees and hoodies), Packables (packable jackets into backpacks), and Eye Wear in this year alone.
Whitewall spoke with Johnson about the evolution of The Arrivals, how the brand is changing the landscape of traditional shopping with pop-ups, and why #OutThere is encouraging us to get outside.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us a bit about your background leading up to starting THE ARRIVALS?
JEFF JOHNSON: I have always been obsessed with products, design, and the way things work. Formally, I began my career working as an architect in California, then New York, and most recently in The Netherlands at UNStudio—a contemporary Dutch design firm renowned for their diagrammatic approach toward Architecture. In 2013, my architectural trajectory quickly shifted when I ran into Kal Vepuri in New York City. With outerwear as the catalyst, our conversations quickly evolved into building a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand, focused on product function, design, and accessibility.
WW: You founded The Arrivals as an industry outsider five years ago on the Bowery, in downtown New York City. What was it about the area, or the time, that made you start the company?
JJ: It’s no coincidence that we launched The Arrivals as a DTC brand with an iconic leather jacket. When we began building The Arrivals in 2013-2014, DTC brands like Warby Parker, Harry’s, and Everlane were in the early stages of proving that smart, nimble DTC brands could disrupt massive industries. At the same time, we were immersed in NYC’s downtown cool, where a leather jacket was a right of passage. Nine months later, The Arrivals was born with a best-selling jacket that was one-third the price of its luxury competitors. To this day, creating products that balance identity with function and value remains paramount.
WW: Tell us a bit about the beginning of your brand—going from one jacket and online-only, to today.
JJ: Since inception we have been focused on a simple yet ambitious mission—making high-quality outerwear accessible. Our first step in this process was educating ourselves on the product development cycle here in NYC. In 2014, we spent six months working in NYC’s garment district in Midtown Manhattan to create what would become our Rainier moto jacket. We were learning what differentiates a luxury quality leather jacket from everything else on the market, understanding product fit, and immersing ourselves in every component of garment construction. On October 16, 2014 we launched TheArrivals.com with nine styles. To this day, we adhere to the simple principles of creating the highest quality design-driven outerwear and an accessible price-point, and continue to challenge our design and development process in order to deliver on that promise.
WW: Have your designs grown to accommodate any type of demand?
JJ: In 2017, we launched our AER Down Puffer category addressing the need for a high-performance, light-weight down coat at an accessible price point. This was a small test in order to better understand whether The Arrivals customer was purely fashion driven, or rather a function-driven consumer in search of high-quality outerwear essentials. That Fall, we decided to run an extremely limited production release including one unisex silhouette, available in two colorways—space black and mars. We launched the first AER Down puffer online and in store in October of 2017. Within the first two weeks, the Down Puffer test had become our best performing product release ever, selling through 100 percent of inventory during its launch weeks. Since 2017, our outerwear offering has continued to evolve away from fashion trend toward high-function, high-value outerwear essentials.
WW: Rather than having a traditional shopping space for products, The Arrivals hosts pop-ups. Can you tell us a bit about the concept you have for shopping the collections and how it’s evolved?
JJ: Coming from a background in architecture, creating a physical environment that further articulates a brand vision was extremely exciting. Similar to our other brand initiatives, we approached our first popup as a test, with the goal of understanding how we can create a localized brand experience that reinforces the identity and values of The Arrivals product and brand, while bridging the digital gap of an online DTC brand. Over the past three years, this has evolved to become a core part of The Arrivals product strategy, providing meaningful platform for our customers to engage with the product and brand through the lens of architecture.
WW: Tell us a bit about your latest collection for the Fall/Winter 2019 season.
JJ: Rather than launching it as a single collection, more akin to traditional fashion houses, we have adopted a design-centric product drop cadence, grouping product releases by function rather than season. Internally, this drop cadence allows our design and development teams to fully immerse themselves in fabrication-specific design, ultimately creating a more thoughtful product for our consumers. Drop 1 of our 2019 release pays tribute to the mid-century functionalist school of design. Driven by a “less but better” philosophy, as coined by Dieter Rams, Release 6.O is comprised of alpine-inspired high-function shearling essentials.
WW: What is your #OutThere tag all about?
JJ: We believe we are at our best when out in the elements. In a study released by the Environmental Protection Agency, it was revealed that Americans spend on average 90 percent of their time indoors. This staggering yet simple statistic inspired us to build a brand and product that helps us get back #OutThere.
WW: Sustainability is becoming increasingly important for the fashion industry. How are you thinking about sustainability when designing in NYC, sourcing, or manufacturing (in USA, Turkey, China, Peru, and Portugal)?
JJ: In a landscape driven by fast fashion consumption, we have the opportunity to develop a consumer culture around responsibility. In 2017, The Arrivals launched its lifetime warranty program, covering all leather outerwear goods sold on thearrivals.com. In doing so, we made a commitment to our internal practices, those whom we work with, what products we make, and what practices are used. Our hope is that this commitment empowers our community to invest in Outerwear products that will stand the test of time, and ultimately encourage others to do the same.
WW: Where are you culturally inspired?
JJ: Living in and working in Amsterdam had a massive impact on me. One of the most inspiring elements was the way in which art and design seemed to infiltrate every facet of life in Amsterdam. In general, it felt as though the Dutch and more broadly, Scandinavia, had a deeper appreciation for contemporary design.