Here’s a challenge. Go into your closet and see how many clothes you have that are old enough to be of legal drinking age. Since guys tend to hold onto stuff longer than women, there’s an extra credit assignment, too. If you have owned garments for more than two decades, how many of them have you actually worn in the last six months?
Most men probably don’t make it past the first challenge. Our culture, and fashion in particular, has become very disposable. Forget about wearing jeans for years, with the rise of fast fashion, a pair may not make it through an entire season before being ditched for a more of-the-moment style. In that sea of fleeting consumption, Manuel Rappard is tacking in the opposite direction. A former Google employee, Rappard recently launched The Quarter Century Jacket on Kickstarter. The jacket, which is inspired by military designs from the 1950s, is backed by a 25-year guarantee. Made with heavy duty duck canvas and military grade buttons, the coat has clever touches like an interior utility hook to hold your keys and an interior port for your headphones, so you can keep your phone in the jacket pocket without the headphone cord flopping around the front of your jacket. With 23 days still to go in the Kickstarter campaign, the jacket has already raised $146,038, exceeding its $20,000 funding goal by 730%.
Rappard was born in the Netherlands and lived in Germany until he was 17, when he moved to Michigan. His mother always stressed the importance of quality over quantity, and that is a lesson he took with him when he left the tech sector to start his apparel brand RPMWEST in 2013. He launched the brand with jeans made from prized Japanese selvedge denim that were sewn in the United States. That first Kickstarter campaign was fully funded within 48 hours and went on to raise more than $100,000. It also showed Rappard that there were customers out there who wanted garments that they could wear for the long haul and be proud of.
We caught up with Rappard, who was just back from a visit to one of his factories in Los Angeles, to find out more about the inspiration behind the Quarter Century Jacket and why he feels confident that it can hold up for 25 years.
Were you surprised that the Kickster took off the way it did?
I didn’t expect this level of success but I’m obviously very excited about it. This can be attributed to so many factors, some can be controlled and some cannot. I think we had the right idea at the right time, but there was certainly an element of timing and luck involved.
What made you want to create this jacket?
I always had an affinity for high quality goods. My mother always taught me if you buy something, buy something of quality; buy one instead of 10. When I entered the garment industry I was always looking for premium fabrics and good construction. I thought Made in America goods had an edge to them, and they were supporting the economy. And I personally didn’t have a jacket that lived up to these expectations. I felt that everything we do should live for a very long time both on the quality side and the design side. I looked at what guys from the ‘50s were wearing and the deck jackets the Navy pioneered. I used that as an inspiration and then really worked backwards. I said, “How do we construct a jacket that that has the longest shelf life no matter what you do?” So we looked at which duck canvas, which has extreme durability but comfort and allows you to move, and we worked from there.
What makes you feel confident that this can actually last for 25 years?
It’s all about the construction and fabrics that we use. It starts with using Made in America fabrics. Our canvas comes from Mount Vernon Mills, which is the premier mill when it comes to duck canvas. From there, it’s the best craftsmanship right in LA. We make sure that we use the best sewers and threads and so on. Can this garment sustain every scenario? No. There will be situations where the customer experiences something that falls short. But we really want to live up to the service level that comes after that. We will repair it, or if it can’t be repaired, we’ll replace it. The brands that I look to are the Filsons of the world. These companies have been around since the 50s and they’ve kept this spirit alive. They put their name behind it and if anything happens they will stand by our product. I want to build a company that compares to the best in the industry on that level.
Do you think customers are willing to buy less, but buy better?
There’s a lot of different customers. There are customers that want a new product every week and for those the fast fashion world is great because they change their style very quickly. Then there’s customers on the other side of the spectrum that really want a couple of really quality goods. We only target men because men have that intention more often. Then there are customers in between. We want to be the guy that gives you those staple pieces. We are not going to follow every hot trend that comes around the corner. As the company founder, I always say “What are the pieces that I want in my closet for 25 years? What are the pieces that I have from 10 years ago that I still want to wear?” We believe pieces can be timeless.
How did you find yourself making jeans and jackets?
I was born in the Netherlands, grew up in Germany until I was 17, and then moved to the United States with my family. I went to NYU and from there I always had a passion for technology and something new. That led me to Silicon Valley, where I started working at Google. I worked on Google Maps for a few years. That taught me a couple of things. On the highest level, it was that successful businesses have a certain belief behind it. Google is a mission driven company—the mission of making information more available to people in a spirit that helps humanity—and it really seeps through to every single employee. Having a vision that aligns with doing something good resonated with me. I decided to leave google and launched a small denim line. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was successful and I stepped into the garment world. It was very different from the technology world. In technology everything is about efficiency and communication and sharing. The garment world is a little bit like the Wild West. I moved from the Bay Area to LA. I started in a shipping container that I had remodeled and slowly but surely we grew.
What did you learn from making jeans that helped you with this jacket?
Jeans are an interesting product because 99% of people wear jeans or have a few jeans in their closet. You’re coming into a highly saturated market and you have to differentiate yourself. I think I did something intuitively right. I started at the common denominator, which is always the fabric, and said we’re going to use Japanese selvedge denim, which is the gold standard in the denim industry. That served us really well. Two-and-a-half years ago, Japanese selvedge denim didn’t have same cachet as it does today. So it gave us a bit of a differentiator. More importantly what it did is because the fabric was so good it set the prerequisite for everything that came after it. If you start with great fabric, your construction tends to be better because your sewing facilities realize “Hey these guys aren’t using two-dollar fabric,” we have to step up our game. With the design elements, I kept things really simple. That simplicity from the start is also something that I would like to keep. So we learned a lot about how to make our jackets from the learning curve that we had with our jeans.
Why is it so important for you to make products in the U.S.?
There’s a bunch of different aspects to it. Let me start at the production end. If we made it overseas we don’t have the capability of overseeing that. So we’d be basically throwing ingredients into a soup and hoping the soup comes back and tastes the right way. That makes me uncomfortable. If you have production in you backyard—I just came from our production facility—there’s a relationship and a trust that gets built. In addition I do believe that making goods in America has a quality advantage. Last but not least, I think a core part of our business should be that attempting to do something good, and what better than to maintain jobs in the United States? I also feel, and this is not just a cliché, that I am sitting in this chair having this interview with you because I am in America. It is one of the few countries where if you have an idea and are willing to fight and grind it out, you can really make it here. I do believe the American dream is still alive.
How would you describe your personal style?
The good thing is that my personal style is very aligned with brand. I’m not necessarily designing for myself, but I wear pretty much jeans or chinos every day. I probably wear jeans four days out of the week, and chinos the other three. I don’t really wear anything but leather boots, very simple classic leather boots. A button-up shirt or a T-shirt. My style is simple, sophisticated, and I hope approachable. I like to showcase that I care about what I wear.