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New men's denim and apparel brand Norman Russell wants to be the next Ralph Lauren. With a collection that epitomizes the stylish, blue-collar man and a strict made-in-the-U.S. mantra, the LA-based label already has all-American success woven into it. Oh, and their latest win as "Best Denim" at industry trade show Project doesn't hurt, either.
Handmade from 100% U.S. cotton, the brand boasts premium selvage denim in classic washes and fits ($250), plus laid-back pullovers ($285) and button-down shirts ($188). To add to the guy's guy charm, every piece is inspired by designer Kortney Hastin's own family and friends, and the brand's name pays homage to the designer's grandfather (a former Navy boxer) and father, a would-be pro baseball player who chose to play ball in college (talk about American roots) and start a family instead.
We sat down with West LA-based Hastin (that's him in the photo) on why he left the merchandising world to start Norman Russell, his decision to keep manufacturing local and more.
How would you describe the type of guy who wears your brand?
"The easiest way for me to describe the 'Norman Russell' man is someone that drives a Range Rover, but isn't afraid to get it dirty!"
You have an extensive background in sales and merchandising for many notable lifestyle brands. What inspired you to design a premium denim line?
"The inspiration behind designing a premium denim line was out of personal want rather than the public's need for it. The previous lifestyle brands that I worked for were all about the bottom line. It was all about where their numbers were at and how can they push more product. The love and inspiration had gone out the window.
I caught the 'Denim Bug' around 2009. I had always worn jeans, but I never dissected and broke down denim until then. That's when I really started noticing these tiny garage brands popping up. Not only small premium denim brands, but small handbag companies, leather goods, etc. The economy was in the crapper, so people decided to either take their skills and do it themselves, or learn how to create something that they had a passion for. It was very rejuvenating for me to see this movement first-hand. For me to see that it wasn't about the bottom line, but it was about love and inspiration with these garage brands. In turn, that's what I became as well: a garage brand. That's what inspired me to create my own premium denim line."
What's the thinking behind keeping manufacturing here in the USA?
"Keeping manufacturing here in the USA is a HUGE part of the Norman Russell brand. I want the American public to see that we can, and still do make great product here in the states. Yes, manufacturing here in the states is more expensive, but by doing so I'm supporting our community, our state, and our country, one piece of denim at a time."
Speaking of the made-in-U.S. model, we've noticed so many great and emerging brands are focusing on keeping production local. As an industry insider, what do you think this means for the future of the industry?
"Having more and more brands focusing on keeping production local means a lot more competition to find quality manufacturing. So many great manufacturers had to go out of business over the years. The ones left standing are getting their doors knocked down by all these new brands. Hopefully with this local competition, NEW manufacturing facilities will have to open up. That would be great! I would love to see more and more manufacturers here in the States. I would open up my own if I could afford it! There are so many talented sewers, pattern makers and others in this country, let alone in LA, but they don't have the means or the resources to use those talents."
Is there a particular item in your line that's your favorite?
"Hmm, favorite piece? That's tough because I like everything I make! Besides the denim, I really like the pullover sweaters that we made for spring and fall. The Gregory and the B Allan. The Gregory is named after my Uncle Greg. The B Allan is named after his son, my cousin, Brent Allan. All the pieces in the line are named after one of my family members. The denim fits are actually nicknames of three of my best friends. On the inside pocket of the jeans, there is a description of the fits. That same description describes the person that it's named after as well. I try to tie in my friends and family into the brand as much as possible."
What do you have planned in the future of your brand?
"My plans for the future of Norman Russell is to keep it small and precise. Watch it grow slowly, but healthy. As I told my mom, '10 years from now, I'm going to be an overnight success,' hahaha! I've seen brands explode right out of the gate. That's great if that's what you are looking for, but those types of brands don't really last. I want to be around for a long time. The greatest designer in American history is Ralph Lauren. He's the man! I look up to him as far as what his brands have become. He's an American institution. If I can just capture a tiny fraction of his greatness for Norman Russell, I will be satisfied."
Lastly, where do you go to eat and shop around LA?
"I live in Mar Vista, east of Venice, so there are a ton of great restaurants and shops. I could name the usual suspects, but that would be too easy. For me, I'm a big fan of a comfortable atmosphere. Here's a short list of my favorite spots: Hama in Venice for sushi, Frito Misto in Santa Monica for Italian (there's always a line, so you know it's good!) and Oscar's in Venice for Mexican fusion.
I'm honestly not a huge shopper, other than the grocery store. My favorite place to go shopping are the flea markets. I'm a big fan of the Rose Bowl Flea Market, like a lot of people. BUT, I like the Long Beach Flea Market even better!"
Diggin' it? Watch how it's all made here, then shop the line here.
· Norman Russell [Official Site]
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