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Inside Steven Alan

Studio Visit: FairEnds

  • Last week, we dropped by FairEnds’ studio in South Williamsburg for a visit with the brand’s co-founder, Martin Carvajal. Based in Brooklyn and Missoula, Montana, Martin and his good friend Ben Ferencz started the company just a couple of years ago, but their colorful ball caps quickly garnered a following for their pared-down aesthetic, minimal approach to branding, and a versatility that makes them feel equally appropriate for navigating the city or exploring the wilderness. We talked shop in their sunlit space under the Williamsburg bridge:

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    Martin and his dog, Hombre

    Where are you from, and what have you been up to since moving to New York?
    I’m from Colombia. I came to Boston to go to school 12 years ago, and came to New York right after, went to school for business, and somehow ended up doing this. I worked for Unis, then I went from there to Stella McCartney, and then to Freemans Sporting Club. I just moved to Amagansett.

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    How did you and Ben meet, and how did you start to work together?
    I used to be the Creative Director at Freeman’s Sporting Club and my business partner, Ben used to have a cycling company called Freeman Transport. That was a coincidence, and we did a project. He did some custom bikes for us and in the process we became friends. We always wanted to do something together but were also busy with our full-time jobs. I went on to work with Nike from there and he was also working with another cycling company and teaching at a college at the time, in the town where he lives.

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    How did you decide on caps, specifically?
    We figured that hats were easy enough that we could do something with. It was cool because it was something that many designers that were friends with me wanted to make, so we could make it for them. That way we could do a very simple product but interact with so many people in doing it. Jack Spade wanted me to make some hats for an anniversary and so we did those, and that started it. Then a bunch of local designer friends, like Unis, thought we should make some hats for them.

    The biggest other thing was that there were hats everywhere, and some of them I liked, but I would never wear a hat that has a big label in the front, and every single hat usually has that. I don’t like to be branded like that, especially on your head. It’s too strong, and too much for me. We thought, let’s do this without labels, and just let the fabric tell the story. If it has a label, it’s not really like a brand logo – it’s more like a letter or something. When we started making hats, there wasn’t the explosion of hats that there is right now. Our partners can get so creative, and we offer anything you give us.

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    Do you wear a lot of hats yourselves?
    I wear a lot of hats. I wear a lot of beanies in the winter, and when it gets warm here I switch to a baseball hat. Ben lives in Montana where it’s a little bit cooler year round. We’re just hat people. It started with cycling. In the beginning we would toy with the idea of making cycling caps. We did a cycling hat, a beanie, and a baseball cap, and it sort of evolved from there.

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    Other than the lack of visible labels, what are some of the key elements you want to focus on with your hats?
    We just wanted to do a really simple hat, fit wise, like a classic ball cap, and then I guess what you would call a classically five panel hat (even though it’s not a classic hat), then base it more on searching for cool fabrics.  I don’t really wear five panels – I try to go for the standard ball cap thing. Some people ask for snap backs, trucker hats, bucket hats, and we can do all of those, but I think the idea of the classic ball cap is how I see it and how you can tie that into things that are not so classic, just with the fabric.

    What are some of the fabrics you’re working with?
    We do solid wools, which we like a lot, and we buy a lot of Japanese fabrics from small mills. Anything we run into. If we go on a road trip and find like ten yards of some weird fabric, we’ll buy it and make hats. Working with people makes it really interesting. Different designers will want to give you their fabrics to work into a collection. We’re always trying new things, fabric wise.

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    Do you plan on keeping the three core styles and evolving them each collection with different fabrics?
    They will always be there. We’ll do different custom hats like fishing hats, running hats, and we’ll do them in different fabrics, like mesh, and toy around with those, but we’ll always have those three styles. We do a lot of collaborations with other brands and team up with designers to put out other products, and that’s how we’re expanding our offering, from bags to pants to t-shirts to shorts, socks.

    It’s a great way to test things out and experiment.
    Exactly. I’ve done production so long that now I’m not super into making a collection for a few styles for people but it’s cool to bounce ideas off someone, to sit down and see a final project. And if you see it it’s all based on the idea of classics, and things that I wear everyday. We’re very standard dressing people, Ben and I.

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    What are your everyday staples?
    T-shirt, jeans, and a denim shirt or a chambray shirt and a hat. I keep it simple. Now I think about what hat I’ll wear – I have so many laying around.

    How many hats do you think you have?
    They’re everywhere! It’s fun. Sometimes I’ll find one I forgot about, like a weird sample we did, and wear it.

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    What keeps you inspired, day-to-day?
    A good representation is our different places. I’m in Brooklyn, while he’s in Montana. He misses things about New York and I always kind of want to be out there. Right now I moved and am living in Amagansett, on the beach. It’s that combination of people my age who have lived here enough, or maybe lived both places (as in the big city/not a big city) and they need a balance of both. We’re all very active. I play soccer, I try to bike all the time, and I’ll have to surf now. Being outside, having adventures with friends – that’s kind of what we like.

    One of the main things about living in New York is that most of my friends are amazing, creative, talented people – all of them. I don’t think there’s been one time where I go on a bike ride upstate or a soccer game or a bar with them that we don’t end up talking about something cool or what we should be doing. That’s where the inspiration comes from most of the time. When you spend time with people like this and see what they’re doing, it makes you want to do stuff also. It’s fun to push it and see how far we can take it. It’s been really amazing. We’ve gotten to do really cool things. We do anything that comes to us easily. We’ve done hot sauce, chocolate, and coffee.

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    How did the food projects come about?
    All through friends. Ben lives on a huge farm, and it’s just him and his wife running it. They grow the best garlic in the world – it’s crazy. One day we were making food and decided to make a hot sauce right there and thought, we should buy the garlic from your farm and make hot sauce – why not? Our good friends Mary and Matt who are graphic designers make chocolates and we designed a bar of chocolate with them. We have a lot of coffee friends, which was a touchy subject, because it was hard to choose who to make it with. We make it with Doma coffee. We do soap. It’s organic, made in Missoula, Montana. Ben’s wife was making soap for the house, and I went to visit and went with her to buy some ingredients for the soap. The place was actually a factory and we thought, let’s make some soap. It’s so easy to integrate. Our friend taking our photos is an amazing photographer. The guy doing video is another friend, and the editor is another friend.

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    What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had since starting out on your own?
    To be more organized. It’s one thing to have cool ideas, which is the fun part about it, but there are little steps to making those things happen. I guess there are different ways to think about it, but the most important thing is to do something. Everyone has great ideas but then you have to make them happen. It’s hard to balance keeping motivated with the creative part while staying on track with the not fun part of it – the day-to-day boring things you still need to do – and how to mix them and have one life. I think they’re hard to combine. But it’s cool. My partner and I are very similar, so it’s great. We kind of help each other out.

    Do you each handle different aspects of the business?
    Technically we do, but we do everything together at the end of the day. Ben is a graphic designer and creative director kind of guy, and I’m more of the designer and production manager, but we do everything.

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    How does the long distance business relationship work?
    He’s in Montana on a farm. We conference call every day, and we get together every now and then. I try to visit him – it’s always more fun to go to Montana. He lives in a postcard. We’re in the middle of nowhere, talking about hats. We’ll go for a bike ride in the mountains or fly fishing and we have meetings like that. It’s funny – a lot of times we’ll be in a meeting and he’ll have to rush off because a cow got out, while we’re talking about something really important. Priorities!

    It’s a very different life from your own!
    At the same time, we’re very alike, which is funny. So I get him, and he gets me.

    Many thanks to Martin! You can find FairEnds caps in our shops, and if you’re in New York tonight, stop by our Chelsea shop at 140 1oth Ave. from 6-8 PM for a special event featuring an expanded assortment of FairEnds products. Enjoy drinks, a DJ set by Chances with Wolves, and 10% off your purchases.

    - Photos by Connie Wang

    This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 at 8:23 am and is filed under Events, In Stock, New Arrivals. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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