Get To Know The Man Behind Californian Clothing & Lifestyle Brand, Rails – Forbes
Jeff Abrams is Cali cool, and so are his clothes. He’s a native of Los Angeles so as you’d expect he has style, comfort and luxury down. And this is where his brand Rails comes in.
Established in 2008 by Abrams, Rails has massively grown not only in apparel offering but also as a lifestyle brand. He went from a single hat to the full shebang – womenswear, menswear and clothes for the kids too. Impressive.
And now you’ll find the brand in leading stores globally and worn by the fashionable; from Gigi Hadid, Beyoncé and Chrissy Teigen to Miranda Kerr, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Kate Hudson, they’re all loving the relaxed and refined sensibility that goes hand in hand with Rails and the oh-so-easy sophistication.
Felicity Carter: What was your first fashionable memory?
Jeff Abrams: I grew up immersed in the arts – painting, sculpture, photography – with a deep connection to the aesthetics of fashion. I have two sisters – one older and one younger – and each of them have pursued paths in the arts. Growing up we were very close, and I think those years helped shape my own creative sensibilities and helped me understand what is important to a woman, and how her life and fashion choices intersect.
I have a specific memory of my dad wearing three-piece suits to work every day. As a stockbroker in Los Angeles, this refined elegance was unusual, and made me appreciate an elevated sense of dressing. This attention to classic style helped shape my view of fashion and subtly inform the creative direction of our brand today.
FC: How, when, why did you get into the industry?
JA: It was in my early twenties living in Europe where I began to concept what would become the Rails collection. I envisioned a brand that blended a refined European aesthetic with the innate effortlessness of the Southern California lifestyle. But with no technical background in fashion, I was forced to develop the collection from the ground up. I began with a simple hat and a hoody, and through a combination of trial and error, sheer determination, and a focus on classic styles with incredible hand feel, the Rails brand grew to what it is today.
Today we are selling in more than 40 countries, by 1200 retailers, including Saks, Neiman Marcus, Shopbop, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, and Trilogy, among others. We have a network of 15 global sales agencies, 8 PR agencies, and from an investment of $5000, have generated more than $500 million dollars at retail.
FC: How would you sum up the aesthetic?
JA: Rails is at its core a Los Angeles brand, bridging the gap between comfort and style, with everyday pieces that transcend seasons. By blending the effortless ease of our California roots with a refined global sensibility, we have created a collection of everyday essentials that can take you anywhere.
The collection includes our signature luxe shirtings, knitwear, outerwear, and dresses among other categories, with our focus always being incredible hand feel. We spend countless hours innovating new luxe fabrics, so that our Rails customer feels simultaneously at home and sophisticated no matter where he or she travels.
This idea of travel is woven into the Rails lifestyle through our seasonal campaign shoots across the globe. Campaign locations include Rome, Puglia, Positano, Marrakech, Kyoto, Copenhagen and Santorini. We recently shot our Spring 2020 campaign in Cape Town, South Africa and are excited to see where our travels take us next year.
FC: What is luxury to you?
JA: Luxury isn’t about price, it is about craftsmanship and quality, and the artisanal efforts that make the product. At Rails, we originate all of our fabrics and patterns and create a product that feels like nothing else on the market. We want our customers to appreciate this creative journey, and know they are wearing something special.
FC: Who is your customer?
JA: Our core customer is a young professional who is traveled, cultured and aesthetically minded. She’s sophisticated, but approaches style with a graceful effortlessness and appreciates casual comfort.
While we are designing for the contemporary market, our brand accesses a wide range of customers. In addition to our core customer demographic, younger shoppers are seeing influencers and taste-makers wearing our product and moving up in price, while a more mature demographic may be shopping premium contemporary doors and buying for the amazing hand feel and quality.
It has been incredible to see so many people connecting with the Rails brand and following our journey from primarily a shirting line to a full lifestyle brand of knitwear, outerwear, dresses, and lounge.
FC: What are the cornerstones of your company?
JA: We are focused first on product and continuing to deliver incredible collections season after season. We take pride in being fabric innovators and creating luxe patterns and textures. We don’t buy available fabrics in the market, rather we custom develop yarn constructions, color palettes, and prints that reflect our brand DNA – effortless silhouettes for everyday living.
Most importantly, passion drives our company. After more than ten years in business, our first, second, and third employees all still work at Rails. Even now with a team of more than 100, we operate like close knit family, with each person deeply committed to the creative and business success of our brand. This is our journey together.
FC: Which was the first-ever piece that you designed and how did it come about?
JA: I started the line in 2008 with no technical background in fashion. I was looking for a way to jump start the brand, while I learned the ins and outs of designing a full collection. I sewed the word Rails onto a single black hat and hoodie and walked into stores unannounced trying to get orders. I got into Fred Segal and both pieces quickly sold out, but I knew I needed to evolve beyond these initial items.
When I first started making shirts, most of the button downs in the market were in some form of a stiff cotton fabrication. I saw a unique opportunity and wanted to bring a luxe cashmere-like feel into the classic shirting category. I made a unique rayon blended fabric that at the time no one was using, and this was the turning point for Rails. Luxe hand feel became the brand’s cornerstone and we launched new categories with this ethos in mind.
In the early days, our product range was focused almost exclusively in shirting, specifically our hero product: the Hunter Plaid. But season after season, we evolved the collection, creating related product categories such as jersey, knitwear, silks, dresses, and outerwear, always with our Rails hand feel in mind. Today we are a complete collection, delivering our customer a full lifestyle assortment of everyday essentials.
FC: Currently which is your favorite piece and how do you wear it/them?
JA: I’m currently loving our over-sized v-neck Eleanor sweater from the Fall collection. Made of a luxe cashmere blend in a delicate animal print, it’s perfect for day to night dressing. You can pair it with denim for the everyday look, or layer over a slip dress or midi skirt for something smarter.
I’m personally loving our new mens offering. I often find myself in our Thomas trouser and Bryce sweater from our fall collection. It’s something that can take me from the board room to photo shoot or wherever my schedule leads me.
FC: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given when it comes to handling the industry?
JA: I’ve never had a mentor in the industry guiding me along the way. I dove in headfirst and had to rely on innate decision making. I trusted my gut and I feel that this method has ultimately made us successful.
But what I learned through the process is that there is no blueprint for creating a successful fashion brand. You have to follow your creative instincts, try not to be everything to everyone and be innovative in a way that’s marketable.
Like any start up endeavor, I had to wear many hats in the beginning: design, production, shipping, accounting. It was at times an overwhelming task, but the early years helped define our direction and foster a grassroots company identity that we still carry today. It taught us to be nimble and react quickly to changing market demands. To make decisions with confidence and resolve, but to be flexible when evaluating their impact. To think creatively about how our products, marketing, and brand strategies could differentiate us from our competitors’.
See more and shop the brand on their website.
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