Interview by Kelly Harrington and Will Varner
(Reproduced from Trademark Blue)
"Have you ever met someone that’s good at everything? Well you have now, meet Eric John! Investment banker, turned jeans maker! Not something you hear every day, right?
Eric’s story is one of motivation, passion and determination. He gave up life in the financial fast lane to pursue a career in making made-to-measure jeans in his Brooklyn studio. Oh, and did I mention: he’d never made any jeans before! Fed up with not being able to find a perfect pair of jeans that fit him properly and a lack of custom made-to-measure outfitters, Eric went out on his own and filled a gap in the marketplace for himself and others wanting the same.
In 2014 he taught himself to sew, set up a workshop and, well, got to work. Fast forward a couple of years and FITTED Underground continues to make custom jeans for clients in good old New York City. As if that wasn’t enough, Eric also brings the NYC denim community together via NY Denim Hangs, an Instagram account who hold regular denim meet ups throughout the five boroughs. Add to that Eric’s humble and modest demeanor, attentive and mindful approach to life and general positive outlook and you’ve got one hell of a guy. Who wouldn’t want to know how Eric John got here?
Q: Who is Eric John?
A: I’m a physicist turned Peace Corps Volunteer turned investment banker turned jeans maker. …a few beers later and this will all make sense.
Q: Tell us, have you always been into denim, clothing and fashion?
A: Always into denim, yes. Clothing and fashion, not so much. But I’ve always loved design.
Q: How did you find yourself in the denim community?
A: My uniform has always been a well-worn pair of jeans and a t-shirt, but it wasn’t until I started FITTED that I jumped down the raw denim rabbit hole.
Q: Tell us about your brand, FITTED Underground.
A: I started FITTED Underground as a one man brand in 2014 making custom jeans for men in Brooklyn, New York. I literally knew nothing about making jeans when I started, so I taught myself the trade from the ground up. I developed a process for fitting clients, got a certificate in patternmaking, bought some old industrial sewing machines and taught myself to sew.
Today, I have a small ready-to-wear presence, but mostly it’s still me creating custom jeans one at a time. I’m expanding my collection to offer more workwear inspired products with a focus on premium selvedge denim. But I’m still obsessed with fit because that’s the starting point; if something doesn’t fit you don’t want to wear it.
There’s a lot more to come, but I believe FITTED makes some of the highest quality, best fitting jeans in the world. And because I’ve done zero advertising, only a handful of people know about it, which I think is pretty cool.
Q: You worked in the financial sector before starting FITTED Underground. Tell us about this change and the decision to start a denim brand.
A: Before FITTED I worked in investment banking for J.P. Morgan. I actually loved the skill set (building models and making jeans have a lot in common), but the hours were brutal and I knew I didn’t want that life the rest of my life. So after four years in the industry I was ready for a change.
I had always had a tough time finding clothes that fit, so when I moved from Johannesburg to our New York office, I decided to have a custom suit made. I was impressed with the product, and a light bulb went off: “Wouldn’t it be cool if all my clothes fit so well.”
I was most passionate about denim, so I asked the tailor if he could make me jeans. He said that he could, but he didn’t. So after thinking about it for a year, I decided to quit my job and do it myself.
Q: Is FITTED Underground your full time pursuit?
Q: What is a typical day for you?
A: Our son gets up at 6AM and I’m out the door a little after 9AM. I bike to work with Chloe in a basket. (If I pedal the exact right speed, her ears stay afloat in the wind. It’s the best!) When I arrive at my workshop I write out my to do list, clean, and start sewing by 10:30AM. My goal is to complete a new pair of jeans each day, which takes 5-6 hours, not including breaks. With the remainder of the day I reply to emails, conduct fittings, work on product development, and occasionally write blog posts for Kelly Harrington. I finish work between 6-10pm.
Q: What influences the product that the brand puts out?
A: Brooklyn first and foremost. I’m a third generation Brooklynite and I’m passionate about the energy, diversity and creativity that our borough represents. So I’ve incorporated Brooklyn-inspired details into my rear pocket arcuates, logoand front buttondesigns.
Beyond that I love ideas that are layered, whose simple presentation masks an underlying complexity.
Q: What is your favourite part of what you do?
A: Creating something new, and when a client has a really positive experience; when it all comes together.
Q: What’s so special about denim?
A: It’s the people’s fabric that gets better with age. What’s not to love??
Q: What advice would you give to someone starting out on a similar journey?
A: Begin. Then keep going. Build trust and a network. Listen. Don’t look back.
Q: What’s the denim scene like in NYC?
A: Strong. Some of the largest brands in the world are here, so representatives from the best denim mills are too, in addition to industry trade shows and events. That’s amazing to have at your doorstep.
Locally the main challenge is production; manufacturing is cheaper outside the NYC area. I’m committed to producing locally and hope to be a part of its comeback story.
Q: You also run the NY Denim Hangs IG account. How did this come about?
A: I’d been thinking about ways to strengthen the local denim community for some time. In late 2017 I was talking with a Victor (aka @selvedge1) who helped start LA Denim Hangs, and he encouraged me to start a NY group. So in early 2018 I created an Instagram page, put up a photo announcing our first hang, and incredibly three other people showed up. The group has steadily grown in members and visibility ever since.
Q: What’s been the best thing about NY Denim Hangs?
A: The connections. I love hearing when members hang out totally independent of me. We’ve created a platform where people are making real friendships. In our modern world, those are tough to find! When we all get together, we have a blast. It’s about the denim, but it’s really not about the denim.
Q: What would you tell your younger self?
A: Go with it.
Q: What inspires you?
A: When someone takes a chance on themselves.
Q: Favourite place on the planet?
A: Wherever my wife and son are. …Which hopefully is a beach in the South of France.
Q: What does NYC mean to you?
A: Family. Creativity. Opportunity.
Q: If you had to pick a song to describe yourself, what would it be?
A: Empire State of Mind
Q: Where’s the best coffee spot?
A: Brooklyn Roasting Company on Jay St.
Q: We get to visit 1 NYC denim store. Where are we going?
A: Brooklyn Denim Company. Frank does a great job supporting local brands.
Q: Describe how your favourite jeans make you feel in 3 words?
A: Cool AF.
Q: What is your earliest denim memory?
A: Struggling to close my button fly 501s in the 5thgrade.
Q: Tell us one thing that people might not know about you?
A: Nne, ndi a kona u amba nga Tshivenda. …I speak an African language.
Q: Favourite cuisine?
A: French. C’est bon!
Q: When will we see Chloe Bear the Cockapoo sporting some selvedge?
A: Ha! I want to see that too! …Right after you see my son sporting his.
Q: Describe the last dream you had?
A: I started eating peanut butter cookies and I couldn’t stop.
Q: What does the future hold for Eric John?
A: Shirting, jackets and ready to wear.