While out in San Francisco this past week, I stopped into Unionmade to see what the guys have been up to since I first profiled them on ACL two years ago. First of all, the SF store has grown considerably with a recent addition of the space next door, which in its former life was a dry cleaning shop. The addition more than doubles the selling space and houses a little book area, tons of Alden shoes and the shop’s new Indigo collection. On top of all of the happenings at the original shop, Unionmade is also about to open a new outpost at the Marin Country Mart, which will be the third store for the burgeoning Americana-loving outfitter.
It really is a remarkable thing what Todd Barket and the guys at Unionmade have done. The selection rivals any store in the world, corporately owned or private. In fact, there’s actually a rumor going around that Unionmade is owned by a certain preppy-cum-rugged East Coast retailer. A rumor that Todd says is totally untrue. In my mind that hearsay is easily dismissible because there’s no way a big company like that could actually get out of their own way long enough to make something as good as Unionmade actually see the light of day.
When I talk to friends and clients in the business the opinion on Unionmade is almost universal: Unionmade sells a lot of product. I’ve heard it from a host of different brands. Visiting the shop and seeing the selection and careful merchandising, it’s no wonder that stuff is flying out the door. It’s a funny thing too, because the “heritage” obit is in the paper everyday. Heritage is a sneaky little bastard like that, all refusing to die and everything. Refusing to allow the growing segment of young creatives who view themselves as “real” blue collar dudes to stop being so pissed off because a bunch of “hipsters” co-opted their shit.
It’s my view that “heritage” is going to morph into some other shit for awhile until everyone forgets / thinks they are on something new. It’s my feeling that “heritage” is to the aughts as preppy was to the eighties. Especially in the way that preppy was extremely popular at a point, but then also something that never really went away. That’s my prediction about “heritage,” that it may wane, but it won’t disappear completely.
After I left Unionmade I walked a few blocks down to Delfina to have dinner with Tony Patella and Pete Searson from Tellason. These same topics came up at dinner and eventually the conversation shifted to domestic manufacturing, The Tellason guys had some interesting thoughts on the subject. “Made in USA is a movement, not a trend.” Tony said while we ate and debated the fate of the style that made schlubby guys from Cleveland into authors of quasi-popular (and quasi-interesting) websites.
I think Tony is on to something because “heritage” seems to be wrapped up in a larger shift in the way guys think about style and what they are buying. It’s an appreciation of the old companies that have survived over time by making good shit. It’s a return to people actually wanting something that can last more than 30 seconds from when you get it home. It’s a complex and debatable issue (and one that I’m not going to be able to truly break down here), but I really think that the “heritage” thing is (for better or worse) here for the foreseeable future.
Who knows, one day we might even see Mr. Schlossman (a man who in his past life dedicated many columns of the internet to “heritage”) wearing some double monk Bean Boots and a waxed canvas cut away, thereby allowing “heritage” to live on…