The Arrivals: a fashion brand built on architectural principles and unconventional business moves.
Jeff Johnson was at a defining point in his architectural career when he walked away to launch The Arrivals. Three years later, the predominantly unisex outerwear label reveals traces of his former life through its functional designs and thoughtful materials. You can take the architect out of the industry, but the approach is hard to shake.
Before launching The Arrivals in New York City, you were based in The Netherlands. How did you end up there?
After completing my master’s at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, I was offered a position at UNStudio—a progressive international architecture firm located in Amsterdam. It was a leap of faith, but I couldn’t turn it down.
We ended up winning a project for a university, and a six-month job turned into about three-and-a-half years abroad. Working on something so large-scale armed me with a skill set that’s been a big strength when applied to ideas of function and material, even after switching careers.
What spurred the decision to leave architecture and launch an outerwear label?
While on a brief recruiting trip back to New York in 2013, I connected with Kal Vepuri, a serial entrepreneurial and longtime friend of mine. He had, through his experience, observed an undeniable pattern in brands and business models that were disrupting the market by combining true product differentiation, accompanied by a strong brand and lifestyle component. A dialogue opened up when he proposed the idea, “If you ever wanted to build something real, I’d love to do that together.”
Why fashion? It’s not an obvious next step.
Fashion was my creative outlet and there were a lot of brands in New York at that time that we coveted but that felt unattainable, like Alexander Wang and Acne. Their products resonated with us, but when a leather jacket costs $2,000, it can start to feel like the people inspiring the designs are being priced out of the brand.
We asked ourselves, “Can we change that?” By utilizing a direct to consumer business model, we’re able to produce with the same factories and materials while positioning our products at a third of the price. In this way, the romantic and creative aspects of my background came together within this business opportunity, and so we decided to start with outerwear and build the brand around that.
Have you carried any architectural codes or lessons over from your first career?
We approach the design process through an architectural lens, incorporating fundamental design principles of material, function and silhouette to create an outerwear archetype that works within the unpredictable nature of an urban environment. While the idea of flexibility is carried over from my architectural background, there are also higher-level considerations, like providing value both in function and emotion.
Do you consider unisex design a trend, or does it represent a shift in collective thinking?
Function should always transcend gender. Whether I’m cycling into the city, or my girlfriend is on her commute, our rain jackets should perform the same. Occasionally fit does require differentiation; men have longer arms for instance, so in that case we’ll design a sleeve extension. The broader question is how we can create styles that don’t discriminate by gender and so we look to limit product complexity, focusing instead on creating great, timeless garments.