Dan and Jon Feldman
If Marlon Brando and James Dean had a bromance, Feltraiger would be the modern-day stylistic embodiment. From Boca to Brooklyn, Dan and Jon Feldman have authentically built a brand on “cool”. When you finish rolling your eyes, hear us out.
One of the reasons this brand works so well is because instead of trying to force themselves into an existing community, they’ve authentically created their own. It’s not just about the clothes, it’s about the hair, the hobbies, and the hustle. They won’t just sell you pomade. They’ll invite you to the speak-easy barber shop behind the flagship where Carlos will give you a cut and show you how to style with it.
The camaraderie of the brand runs deep. So deep, in fact, that the “TTC” is a thing, which stands for “Torch Tattoo Club”. We’re sure you can figure that one out. For those less inclined to needles, there’s an elite posse of brand ambassadors, known as Heartbreakers, who earn their initiation. During our interview, the room had its first silence when the initiation details were requested, but we did get a great story about the time a pin design caught the unwanted attention of a notoriously violent local biker gang. Turns out, specific number and shape lock-ups are a thing too.
The symbiotic result of this camaraderie is a community of customers who’ve bought into a style that was built on fraternity. The origin of the classic American t-shirt and denim look stemmed from a time that was all about the family built outside out blood. Young men returning from WWII sought the connection they had with their soldier brothers, so they recreated this with motorcycle gangs and bike shops. Their style was rebelliously simple, with a touch of military. Modernize this with the brotherly love of a Brooklyn barbershop, and you have a winning recipe for brand devotion at a cultural level.
On Getting There
DF: We grew up in South Florida, and both went to school in Orlando. I moved to NYC for a record label and was bored out of my mind. I ended up leaving for What Comes Around Goes Around, a vintage clothing company, learning how to do design and production for a brand. I had all these designs in mind, but was stuck with a question: “How do I get production done?”. So I took a few classes at Parsons. I was convinced that nobody could teach you how to design, but wanted to learn how to make stuff. I had a handful of internships (WGACA, Unis, Mishka) and then started locally with the sources I had. I used factories in NY, photographer & design friends, and just tried to see what happened if I went for it. I put a lookbook together with my first 5 pieces and Time Out NY wanted to do a profile. After that Antenna NY wanted two of the pieces so I took it as a sign that it was time to do something.
JF: As I was graduating school after studying Interior Design, the housing market crash really impacted the role I’d have to play, and I wasn’t into it. I had also studied, and was really into, photography so I started shooting. Around that time, Dan was getting some traction with the first collection he put together so he was like “Let’s just do this”.
On Keeping it in the Family
JF: When we kicked this off, I never considered it not working out. We had a serious conversation, we wanted to pour all of our money, blood, sweat, and tears into something for ourselves. The fact that it’s our family name carries a certain sense of pride- you can’t let the ship down. It’s so natural because we believe in it, and we’re not trying to sell something, we’re just telling a story.
DF: When this was just an idea, I went home on holiday and was talking to my family about starting a clothing brand. The first thing my uncle asks was if I was planning on making everything in China like everyone else (This is the kind of guy who won’t get an E-ZPass for tolls because it eliminates people’s jobs.). I hadn’t even considered production yet, so it sparked this thought- why don’t we keep production in America? This then dictated the style, design, and direction of the brand. When it came time to choose a name, we wanted to use something that we wouldn’t get sick of. Feltraiger, is my family’s old name (which was Americanized in Ellis Island to Feldman), so it was a no-brainer.
JF: We’re in it and living it. Our grandpa and dad had barber shops so we always wanted recreate that environment where all the homies come and chill and talk shit and have family time in their neighborhood. We’ve never wanted you to come in and do a lap and leave. We want you to come in and take time looking at stuff and chat with us. If you’re interested in our hair products we want to take the time to show you how to use it. We grow a lot through our relationships. We share this stuff because we believe in it. It’s authentic because it’s us, our friends, the community of family we’ve built.
JF: Heartbreakers was just one of those classic cool smartass things- all these rad dudes involved in the community would swing through, grab some new clothes, a new cut, and go out. Girls would be into it, but when you’re focused on creatively hustling, nothing else really matters. You’re just doing you, breaking hearts. One of the first products that really brought Heartbreakers to life was our pomade. We had people coming in asking “how do I use this?” so we brought in Carlos to go from “let me tell you how to use this” to “let me give you a quick cut and show you”. When we find someone who we think is really rad, and really represents who we are, we initiate them with a backpack and denim vest and feature them on our site. They’re people we’re proud to have as ambassadors of our brand.
DF: There are guys who are so loyal that I’ve never seen them not wearing Feltraiger. We have this group of repeat customers that have been loyal to supporting the brand for years (s/o to Zeus) that we’re turning into this posse.
DF: The New American Classic is where I think cool comes from. In the 50s, these dudes are coming back from WWII, and wanted to recreate the camaraderie of the military. They started things like motorcycle gangs, and building choppers, all while integrating in elements of military style. The idea of denim and workwear started with these guys coming home from work, changing into jeans, and getting in the garage. Then you start to see the intro of the t-shirt with Marlon Brando (Wild One) & James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause), which was the first time that dudes were wearing undershirts with no button-down over it. I grew up watching these movies so that’s what was cool to me. Jeans & a t-shirt, working on an old bike, was just it.
JF: There’s certain things I learned from Interior Design school, such as textile studies, physical design, and the rule of thirds that I really carry into my work. Our car tables are a great example of this. We had this discussion once where we thought it’d be cool to have a muscle car in the store, but it wouldn’t really fit, so we came up with the functional concept of crushing cars into a block. We added glass tops and repurposed the doors as slide-out drawers, and they came out really awesome. Overall, we’ve been really inspired by rebellious subcultures, which have driven the focus of our collections.
On the Importance of Styling
DF: The styling of shirting, the way things are cut, are a modernization of these things we love from the 50s. A lot of American-Made brands can easily get costume-y with it, which is too far for me. I don’t like the peacocking thing… it’s not about dressing up and looking like a mechanic from 1930s, it’s about pulling those vintage pieces into your own style.
DF: Being in menswear and working with classics is the exact opposite of trends. Your denim vests, your button-downs, your jeans, t-shirts, and chucks- they’ll always be in. I’ve been wearing the same shit for 10 years, and I’m sure when I have kids in the next 10 years I’ll still be wearing my Vans and Levis. That’s where we fit in. The goal of Feltraiger is to get guys to care about “American Made” quality and investing in timeless pieces that will last beyond a lifetime.
JF: We grew up wearing our dad’s stuff, and we want to recreate that vibe. A denim jacket is always going to be a classic staple, and we make it very well. We stand behind our product guarantee because we want you to have it for 20-30 years and then pass them down to your children.
On Lessons Learned
DF: When we expanded to Japan, we learned a ton about how the market differs from America. Firstly, we started making XS. The way they buy is very trend driven. It’s all about the pieces. They’ll carry your pieces and then drop you for a bit, based on season. In our American stores, they want to buy into a brand. They want full collections- it’s about the holistic relationship with the brand.
JF: Japan is a great market to be involved in, but thriving over there takes more work. We’d prefer to start curating collections specifically for them. This gives us more leverage and helps us better control our brand perception over there.
DF: When we started with wholesale, we did a lot of printed shirts that buyer’s didn’t really get. Their job is to make the most money possible so they’re playing it safe and buying the things that they know are going to sell- which takes all the fun out of making cool interesting weird shit. You have this practicality vs what you really want to design… that constant back and forth between “I want to make this cool thing” and “it’s not going to sell”. This creative freedom was another driving force for us to focus on direct-to-consumer.
DF: My background is all in music- I was in and out of bands, working for booking agencies, was in the studio all the time, and I started to see a change. Because of the internet and technology, people could start recording where and whenever (in Garageband and release it on iTunes). Paired with social media, they had their marketing and distribution — what did they need to pay their label for? I feel like the same thing is happening in the clothing industry. What do we need the “label” for = what do we need the stores for? We have the internet and social media, so we came to a decision this year to move forward with our decision to pull out of wholesale.
JF: We’ve been working on making our Instagram (@feltraiger) shoppable, and utilize our website to focus on content that supports the brand. Retail is really where we do well, because of the in-store experience. We’re working on exploring how our digital presence captures that.
On Moving Forward
DF: There are a lot of things that I want to make that are expensive, like a Perfecto Jacket or peacoat. It takes time to get that right, and it takes time for a brand to get to the point where you have customers who are willing to spend that with you. Our decision to go direct-to-consumer is our first move in this direction. Taking out the middle man allows us to charge less for these things. Where we were using $8-$10 flannel for a shirt before, now we can spend $15 on super high end Japanese cotton- with no expense to our customer.
JF: Just because something is expensive for the consumer, doesn’t always make it better. Our varsity jackets are made by the same company who works with Thom Browne, but we charge less than half of what they do.
DF: We think the next Men’s frontier, as men start to get older, is Feltraiger Home. We’ve been talking to a few companies about collaborations with modern home goods companies.
Visit Feltraiger’s Brooklyn flagship at 155 Grand St, and be sure to check back later this month for a deeper look into the products that make up the brand.