A LITTLE ABOUT 'OWNERSHIP'. OWNERSHIP IS A SERIES DEDICATED TO OWNERS/FOUNDERS ALIKE WHO RUN GREAT BRANDS, LABELS, COMPANIES, BUSINESSES, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. THERE'S JUST ONE CRITERIA, THEY PUT QUALITY OVER EVERYTHING.
In this section of Ownership we talk to Jerome Peels, owner of the customizable work wear clothing brand.
A scroll through Instagram is all it takes to find some social influencer wearing the quickly classic Peels shirt. And as of late, names like Like Bill Murray, Finn Wolfhard, and Mark Gonzales have been seen sporting the brand. That's not mention the dozens of micro social media influencers, who in their own realm have cult like followings.
It's not hard to tell that Jerome Peels is doing something special. Encompassing creativity, resolve, and the benefits of something as small as conversation; enjoy this conversation we had with Jerome Peels.
I've read about your relationship with the Japanese brand, PROV. How did that relationship come about?
I was all coincidental. I didn't think anybody would wear work shirts with their name on it or I didn't think workwear was on that kind of fashion level. I know Carhartt is cool, Ben Davis, and Dickies is cool, but I didn't know people were about to be interested in wearing a shirt with a painting company on it. So in Japan, they kind of follow New York skating pretty closely. NY skating is huge there. Same with San Francisco, but for some reason everyone knows the lurknyc videos and just about everybody knew more about New York skaters than I did. There are kids that lose their mind over that dude Pat Hoblin or Chachi. For example I saw this dude that got the same tattoo as him just because he had it. So, yeah, when they saw my homies wearing Peels, they just got interested in it. They really care about it. They take a lot of pride in what they wear.
I've heard of that, but never really knew it was that serious! Besides Prov, do you actively contact other retailers to stock peels?
Um, I've been pretty picky about it, just because we’ve been alright. My goal with the company is not to be as exposed as possible. I don’t mind keeping it small and keeping it manageable as long as I can be able to go out to dinner and be able to pay my rent. That’s really the biggest deal for me which is why I've been selective.
Prov, for example have been super cool since day one, I could send them whatever size order I wanted. It could be 10 shirts or 100, It was manageable and I felt like my stuff fit in there so I went with it. When it comes to bigger stores I know nothing about or stores that don’t seem compatible, then I’ll just pass it but when something's right I’ll definitely consider it.
There’s definitely a lot of value in being selective and staying true to the brand.
I don't care for people reaching out to me just to make money. I want to see a relationship being built. While I was in Japan I made a lot of great memories with the people of Prov. That's the kind of bond that I'm looking for.
That's good to hear! Can you tell me about the coming of age for Peels where were you before this started?
The way I look at it, there basically was no other choice but for me to start this brand. I was working a Barista job, things were getting kinda sour and I would remember time to time wearing the Peels shirt. What's funny is that customers would ask me about the shirt, where can they get it, and what company it is? These people would get so interested that next thing I knew I was selling the my shirts at the coffee shop. My boss wasn't too happy about that. The idea that he was paying me hourly while I was making money on the side just bothered the fuck out of him!
Time was passing like that just getting more and more hostile, but Peels was getting better. I asked for a couple of days off to focus on Peels and my boss fired me right then and there haha I remember thinking how I wasn't ready, little did I know that was the push I needed.
Sometimes we need that pressure to survive. Just a little fire to get motors going.
Exactly, when a company starts out with a big sum of money or investors, it makes it easy to make poor decisions. Just a little slack to get lazy. I didn't have that, in fact I started Peels with about $200 and my ex's basement and that location didn't last long after we broke up haha
To be honest that was a worrisome moment. I had no place to make clothes and I had probably a few more weeks before I was going to call it quits. Luckily I was saved by Rob the owner of the Barber shop upstairs, Mildred New York. We actually got a really good deal with this location.
To be honest, a lot of people might call that luck, but what I see is that you've created a lot of great relationships that have helped you along the way.
It's the hustle. My intentions is to work with people I've always looked up to and I'll take every opportunity to start that relationship. Also, Peels is always in my mind and that's gotten people upset at times haha It's my life right now and even when I was in Hawaii with my ex at the beach, all I was talking about was a poster I wanted to get done for Peels. I've become obsessed about it and have taken every moment to work on it, even if I'm in the streets skateboarding there's something I can do to benefit Peels
Right. People can easily say that you got lucky but you’ve built those relationships through hard work. It’s not easy doing what you did and a lot of people can’t do that.
We also have pretty a similar story. Me and Nick were actually working full time, Tony was in school and We had no time for skateboarding, Buried Muse, or anything that we cared about and at one moment we decided to take the risk. It’s scary like you said, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Will we get work the next day to pay the bills? It all depends on you. But the way i see it is, If all these businesses can do it then why can’t we?
Yeah! When I first started peels there was steps of just starting something. Like we put out a list of all the items out without doing a lookbook because of timing. I wanted to get this book out before the seasons changed but one day I just said fuck it and put all the items on the shop and wrote look book will come soon, haha. There is a certain way to do things and we might just be lucky but sometimes it’s better to just roll with it.
What’s interesting about peels is that it’s not just a product but it’s also a service. you are stitching people's names on the product and customizing the pieces for almost every order. I remember reading in pond magazine that you didn’t plan for any of this to happen. That you never imagined making and selling shirts. what I was wondering is, what you would've been doing right now if you hadn't started peels.
Well I’ve tried a few different business ideas for 2 years before peels. I was trying to not be influenced by other brands when I started. I would check to see if an idea was already done and decide from there if I was going to pursue it. The shirts were only supposed to be for me and my homies. Until people started to DM me and ask for shirts is when I decided to make a site and stuff. Once the site went up it was a dream. I was able to make simple transactions without having to ask make sure people would pay me. But if I wasn’t doing Peels I would definitely be working as a barista. Screwing up peoples coffee who I didn’t like or what ever, haha.
What about fucking up people's shirts?
haha Yeah that’s a little harder to do. I will say that sometimes when a homie comes for a free shirt I would maybe put their name krooked or something. But yeah, I definitely try to not to torch people I don’t know. We make sure to keep the quality control pretty high.
How does it feel going from just making shirts for your friends to making shirts for Bill Murray and the Fin dude from Stranger Things.
Every time it's so nuts to me, the things that happen in the city. In Florida it’s really chill and nothing really happens there. People don’t judge you in Florida. Here in New York it’s different, everyone is cool. So when I saw Bill Murray was wearing my shirt online I wanted to go out and scream “Bill Murray is wearing my shirt but you can’t do that here in New York without someone looking at you like you're a psychopath. I remember when I was drunk my friend showed me Lady Gaga wearing my shirt, I started screaming in times square, haha. It was really funny. I didn’t expect any of this. It really gets me stoked every time I see someone I look up to wearing my shirt. Everything is always a surprise to me. It’s not like oh there’s another Celeb wearing my shirt. I always immediately have to celebrate after the great news.
You also got the Gonz, which is crazy too!
Yeah! That happened pretty early because I served his wife coffee. One day she walked in while I was working so I was like hey I have these shirts and she ended up blessing it. It’s crazy who you can catch in the city. I’ve been lucky in that regard as well.
There’s the luck aspect but then there’s a lot of people that wouldn't take the opportunity to talk to those people.
Ohh man, and when I saw Andy Roy I was hoping Jake Phelps would be with him as well because I had a shirt for him. I was right, when I got there I came up to him and was like I got a shirt for you. He was like I don’t want a shirt right now, I’m skating dude. I told him you have to take the shirt anyways, your name is on it. I don’t care about being awkward or anything. I’ll come to anyone and say anything. Like I would go up to Kanye and be like your wack. I don't fuck with you because I don’t like you. Look it isn’t about getting a shirt out to as many celebrities it’s about giving a shirt to the people that I look up to.
The one person I want to link up with is Mac DeMarco. I'll find a way. I will like literally bring a shirt out to LA and just carry it around with me till I see him at one of those stupid clubs haha Sometimes I can be a little pushy. Especially when it comes to press I’m very persistent. And they tell me “have a little patience” and I’m like fuck that! I don’t have patience. Patience will never get you anywhere!
Ha! Have you ever just asked yourself “I can’t believe this is happening right now?”
I don't really think like that. Sometimes I just come down here if I'm bummed or something and I tell myself "I got a lot of nice shit" and that's the closest to it. But I mean it's still so small it's not a huge thing.I have stock and a cheap ass basement. It's not like I'm sitting in a penthouse in SoHo and I have a beautiful view of the East River.
Well i deintiely wish that for you haha
I think I've got all the info I needed! Is there anything else you would like to share?
I definitely have been experimenting with a lot of different styles. I'm still trying to figure out where to go with the brand but I do have a lot of ideas and we're just going to keep refining things and learning and progressing.