It’s fashion week again and the world’s most stylish cities are gearing up to be overrun by twiggy models floating in a Valium haze and the balding photographers who sell their photos. Starlets will be wearing priceless couture and promoting their latest terrible movies while pop stars turn up to the tents with a different hair color every day. It’s a magical time for those with the access and why shouldn’t it be? Good clothes deserve appreciation, but they don’t necessarily need a spectacle.
Such is the thinking of Brandon Svarc, the founder or Naked & Famous denim. If you’ve been in any high end retailer in the past few years you will have spotted N & F jeans, unique for their high quality and no frills approach to packaging. During a conversation with Svarc, self-appointed “denim nerd” and Candadian Jew, he spoke about how his brand started as a reaction to celebrity-obsessed culture and how his Jewish roots shaped him into the shrewd businessman who wouldn’t send Justin Bieber a free pair of jeans.
How did Naked & Famous get started?
My family has been in this crazy industry for 62 years, and even when I was growing up people would ask me what my dad did and I would say, “He’s in the shcmatte business”. So I knew I was always going to go into it with my dad was making jeans and workwear forever. Four years ago we launched the brand, February 2008 was our first time on the market. We saw all these brands that were such bullshit, True Religion and Rock & Republic, all these silly Hollywood brands, and they’re not selling jeans, they’re selling sex and glamour and advertising, so I thought how can we make a brand that is far superior to them for a better price, because this was when the economy started to go into the crapper. So that’s why, to offset those brand all all that Hollywood bullshit.
What’s the overall idea behind your brand?
My brand concept is we go to Japan and find the most rare, the craziest and most innovative denim we can get our hands on, we take everything back to Canada where we’re from, we’re the crazy Canadian denim nerds, and we make all of our jeans proudly here where we’re from, all raw and simple. We don’t do any washes, any embroidery, there’s no gimmicks or chains or funky crystals on our jeans, or tattoos or dragons or any of that shit. We do that for two reasons, one is that we like clean jeans and we think that’s they way they should be and also it enables us to make a more expensive product but for a better price. All those crystals and shit on your jeans cost a lot of money, we don’t want to raise the prices of jeans without making them better, so we keep it simple.
Not only is our model and our goal to keep the product simple, but we keep our company stripped down to the core as well. Now we sell in over 30 countries all over the world and it’s only me and my sales manager doing the sales. We have no distributors, no sales agents, no reps, no PR company, none of that shit, so there’s no middle man. We also don’t do any advertising ever, you’ll never see us in a magazine or online or on radio. We don’t do any giveaways, especially not celebrity or athlete giveaways. We get requests all the time, we just had Justin Bieber’s stylist request some jeans and we always tell them the same thing: we give them the address of Barney’s in Beverly Hills and we tell them “It’s no problem, they have valet parking, I’m sure you can find it.”
That is definitely a unique approach to business.
Yeah, well we think it’s ridiculous. We think it’s crazy that somebody would buy a product because they see somebody famous wearing it. You should not buy a pair of jeans because you see Brad Pitt wearing them, you should buy a pair of jeans because it’s the best pair of jeans you can get for the money. That’s why we called the brand Naked and Famous, that’s why I have this naked lady pop art logo, not just because we thought it would be funny to but boobies on our jeans, though we did think it would be funny. If you know what Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein did when they made pop art, they were making fun of celebrity obsessed culture. We’re not making fun of celebrities themselves, we don’t give a shit or know anything about celebrities, we just want to make fun of people who obsess about them and will buy a pair of jeans because some celebrity endorses them. Brands like William Rast try to sell you sex and advertising and Justin Timberlake and that’s all in the cost of their jeans. And we think that’s ridiculous. Brands like that will spend $110,000 to get an ad in GQ and that is what you’re paying for when you buy their $300 pair of jeans.
What about the jeans themselves?
We use this old special fabric called selvage denim that’s made on these old machines in Japan that got left behind in the 50’s when people decided to fuck quality and focus on mass production. We use less denim, denim that’s better quality, and sell the jeans for half the price. And that’s why we created the brand.
What’s your Jewish identity?
I grew up fairly religious but in a weird zone, I went to Jewish elementary school and high school, I can speak decently broken Hebrew, but we were modern Orthodox. My dad basically just made up whatever rules he wanted. I had friends at the Hebrew Academy who whose parents were really strict, but then had other friends who didn’t really give a shit, who’d go home and eat bacon and use the phone on Shabbat. We were somewhere in the middle of that, we’d watch TV on Shabbat but not use the phone. I kept kosher into my twenties but now I don’t really give a shit, I go to synagogue on the holidays to respect my dad but I’ll eat anything now, I’ll eat bacon or horse or octopus, whatever.
What’s the Montreal Jewsh community like?
It doesn’t compare to NY, but it’s very tight knit and close and I love it here, I plan to live here for the rest of my life if I can.
How do you think your Judaism has influenced your brand and your approach to business?
I knew from grade five that I would be in the schmatte business. All four of my grandparents are Holocaust survivors. My grandfather on my mother’s side was actually on Schindler’s List, saved by Oscar Schindler, we have a copy of the list with his number and everything. My grandfather was liberated from Auschwitz and came here and started a company so I always knew that’s what I’d do, it was built into my identity that I had to follow in those footsteps. If my grandfather survived the Holocaust, came here with nothing, started a clothing business and my father took it over, I knew from when I was a little kid that there was no way I’d be a lawyer or a doctor or any of those things that young Jewish kids are often pushed into. I knew 100% that I was going to do what I’m doing today.
When I decided to go into the denim business people told me , “You’re great at marketing, use the celebrities and the magazines and be like all of those other denim brands,” but my grandfather, before he passed away, he pulled me aside and said, “Don’t listen to all those idiots, all you gotta do is one thing: make a better product than your competitors for a better price, that’s all you have to do.” What a strange, novel concept.