A version of this story first appeared in Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today for more stories like this one, plus receive a $15 gift card to the Gear Patrol Store.
For Tim Marvin, it all started two years ago. While tagging along with his wife on a work trip to Morocco, he came across a colorful striped blanket and was struck with an idea: its vibrant colors and classic pattern would lend itself nicely to clothing, perhaps a button-up shirt. The shop merchant referred him to a nearby tailor, who said he could use the fabric to make a copy of an existing garment. Marvin happened to have his favorite chore coat with him, so he had a version of that made.
"As soon as the guy handed me a coat, I was like, ‘Oh shit.’" Marvin said, immediately taken with the style. Back home, it got approving looks and comments. "The more I wore it, the more people complimented it, and it sort of snowballed from there."
Marvin has since parlayed that coat into a new clothing brand called Glor. Actually, "brand" might be overstating things — but that’s sort of the point. Glor has stayed true to that moment of kismet in that bazaar in Marrakech; it produces a single style of clothing (that trusty chore coat), crafted from vintage blankets and handmade by friends — a couple skilled in custom sewing — who live nearby in Northern California.
"I love vintage [clothing], I love old things," Marvin said. "The idea of finding stuff that has a story, and it gets a new story with whoever it goes to next."
Two years before Marvin laid eyes on his custom Moroccan coat, Sam Zollman, in the midst of an existential post-collegiate crisis, looked up how to make a shirt on YouTube. After taking some classes and asking for help at his local fabric store, Zollman now has a small business called Slow Process in Burlington, Vermont. His recent collection of men’s button-up shirts made from used cotton grain sacks is surprisingly sophisticated. "I want to make something that feels important," Zollman said. "Whether that’s the fabric, the fit, the details like the button — or, more broadly, the story I’m trying to tell with a particular garment."
He brings up the feedsack shirts. "To me, those have a narrative to them, as well as the beauty of the material itself. All of that comes together to make something that, I feel, you can’t replicate on some large scale. That’s what resonated with me — this shift toward something that’s more like an authentic exchange between the customer and the maker."
Both Marvin’s and Zollman’s projects reflect a new way to make clothing — or rather, the rediscovery of an old way. Call it a turning of the tides, of sorts — away from the slick, industrialized, mass-produced apparel we’ve come to know. These are humble, handcrafted garments made by one person to be worn by another. This is the way clothing was made before industry scaled things up — but today, to have an artisan make a shirt or chore coat for you feels like a fresh kind of humble extravagance.
Glor and Slow Process are part of a nascent wave in the menswear world. The best-known brand of this ilk is Bode, the acclaimed New York label founded by Emily Adams Bode in 2016 that upcycles vintage quilts and other textiles into clothes that look like soulful incarnations of the workwear worn on the Oregon Trail. But many other labels are popping up too — like Reclaimed Los Angeles, which cut-and-pastes its way through worn blue-collar Carhartt jackets, and Karu Manufacturing, which uses sourced Indian textiles to create breezy clothing touched with far-flung romance.
"Appreciation for craft and well-designed products will definitely define the years ahead," says Michael Fisher, a vice president at the trend forecasting firm Fashion Snoops. "I truly think one of the bright spots of the pandemic has been our continuing shift away from our reliance on fast fashion and mass design. We want storytelling, and most of all, we want to feel good about what we buy."
"I’m going to keep doing this because it’s really fun, and people seem into it," Marvin said. "I don’t have some five-year business plan. I don’t need to make a million dollars or have corporate sales." In a system so focused on capitalist gains, Marvin’s motivation is much more pure — even poetic, in its way. "I have a job I love, so if I did something it had to be fun and important to me. I like the coats and it seemed really fun to sell them to people that also like the same thing I like. Having cool people dig what you dig — that’s pretty fun."