The Bread & Butter tradeshow in Berlin is not just about scooping out the next big thing; nurturing existing relationships are often much more important. Visiting the Fire Dept. at the L.O.C.K. area I once again met the very honest and humble Pete and Tony of Tellason and I got to ask Pete a few questions about his background, motivation, inspiration, and the future of the All-American San Francisco-brand.
What’s your background?
I have been a sales agent since 1989, always in Northern California. I began with Mossimo when it was just out of my garage. The same with my second job with Paul Frank.
You seem to have a passion for the history of clothing, how did it all begin?
Well, my passion goes back to a very, very early age. My first memories about caring for what I wore started when I was about 4 or 5. My mother was a single lady, very pretty and cool, and she had a boyfriend named Ken Elsworth. This was 1968-71 and he was this super cool California guy who loved my mother, played professional golf, and was sponsored by LACOSTE. Imagine that era of California style mixed with professional golf! Just an amazing time to be around soaking things up. Well, we did not have much money for nice things yet my mom found a way to give us that “country club” feeling in her own way. Ken would hang out with us when he was not on tour and had his bags packed full of his LACOSTE shirts, jackets and sweaters.
My mom was crafty and she made her own clothes since she was a sewer and had all the tools you needed. This included a seam ripper. She would rip off the alligators from his stuff and sew them on to my regular clothes! I loved every bit of it and wore my updated clothes with great pride. Such great memories about that and most of my childhood pictures during this time showed me in what appeared to be LACOSTE clothing for children. By the way, Ken Elsworth also cut down and entire set of professional golf clubs to fit me at this age. I remember going to the local golf club all decked out in my pseudo LACOSTE stuff, with custom pro clubs feeling on top of the world.
Do you remember your first pair of jeans?
I remember buying Levi’s 501′s all through elementary school. The end of the summer grew near and that meant jumping in the car to head down to the local men’s and boy’s shop for some fresh school clothes. The one particular element of this day I always dreaded was the fact that the sales person in the shop immediately put me into the “slim” fit. I was so skinny back then and still am now. I just didn’t want to be reminded of it when it came to back to school shopping. I do remember a time when I got those jeans, went straight outside and proceeded to shuffle down the sidewalk on my knees to create holes in them! I must have seen some hippies with holes in their jeans and wanted the same. Remember, not much money in our house. My mom must have wanted to kill me.
What was your motivation to start Tellason?
Shit was hitting the fan on every level back in 2008. No one was safe from the crash, including Tony and I. We had been friends for 20 years, thought alike in many ways and found it was time to do something on our own. No one was hiring so that had something to do with it as well. We felt that despite the bad times, shop owners and educated customers had a need for well made goods more than ever. The disposable fashion, the dot com days, were over. Customers needed to find more value in the things they were buying. Budgets were tighter for everyone and the dissatisfaction for expensive goods that didn’t back their things up with high quality simply was not cool anymore. People wanted (and still do) to connect with single minded craftsmen that has a passion for whatever they’re into. Our love for denim put us on that path of doing one thing and doing it well. We spent 3 months creating 1 fit that was the only thing we did for our first 2 years! No clutter, no big fancy collection with dolled up showrooms. Just one jean that fit a lot of men the right way, made in the city that this denim culture we love was born in, and priced as fairly as possible.
Denim is denim for so many various reasons. It starts for most down deep with the history of the California Gold Rush. What a time that must have been. To pick up everything and head west to discover gold. This must have attracted so many different walks of life: opportunists, criminals, farmers, city folks looking for something radical. Everyone of those people must have had the twinkle in their eye about the possibilities. The goods that outfitted these people are all part of the folklore. Closer to me are the images of the factory workers, mechanics, builders and rockabilly singers. Everyone of these people put their jeans on and felt a certain way about themselves and what lied ahead of them that day. Very courageous and very counterculture top to bottom.
Popular to a very small few, let’s be clear about that. But the good things that have been felt and said about our brand comes from our sincerity to make great product, not just talk about making great product. More importantly, we feel very close to our customers and spend a large part of our day communicating with them for all kinds of stuff. One guy may be happy to get a call from us after he sent us an e-mail about a fit question or repair needs. If the latter, we go as far as fixing them in our plant with the same machines that made them. Once completed, we ship them back. No charges anywhere.
What do you love the most about denim?
How many things get better as they get older? People can talk about wine or something but for anything you put on your body, it is limited to great leather goods and great denim! Men who never gave a shit about anything they wear are now taking photos of their jeans and talking about it with their friends. Try to separate a guy from his oldest, most loved jeans. You may get a knuckle sandwich.
How do you wear in your jeans – any special routines?
I wear mine a long time before washing, then I hand wash in the tub. Soak it for a while then move them around vigorously to get the dirt and stink out. Rinse a bunch of times to remove the soapy water, air dry.
What do you recommend your customers to do regarding breaking in and caring for their jeans?
Forget the idea that you need 10+ pair of jeans in your closet. Buy one great pair at a time. Wear them daily and wash when necessary. When they begin to rip, get them repaired. This may be a new idea for many men but once they start with a good pair of raw denim, wear the hell out of them and grow old with them, they will not go back to buying pre-washed jeans with fabricated whiskers in places where it is impossible to get them. Those jeans are already half dead when you take them to the register.
Do you collect anything?
No, I am a minimalist by nature and can say “bye” to things very easily.
How many pairs of jeans do you have in your private collection?
I have 3 jeans. I wear one at a time and when they start to really get too worn out, I fold them up and maybe wear them once every 3 months or so.
My first pair of John Graham Mellors (below). I am the fit model so they were the last of the prototypes we worked on. They still fit perfectly and have aged in a way that only comes from good, hard living.
What’s the next big step for Tellason?
Always baby steps for us. At this point, slow growth is exactly the pace we are looking for. Nothing would please us more than to have a respected brand out there that reaches the 30 year mark. We will do everything we can to make this happen.
For this fall season Tellason launched this very exclusive canvas vest in collaboration with Jack Knife. It’s available at Burg & Schild in Berlin.
Probably, that is, I hope so. Small denim brands hooked on great quality like Tellason need to do our best to change the general landscape of what men wear. The big picture is not pretty so we try to convert our customers one at a time. The slow road to be sure, but a satisfying one.
Read more about the history of Tellason here.
Interview by Thomas Bojer.