March 27th, 2015
For our next segment in the Menswear Entrepreneur series, we bring you fellow Canadian David Himel; clothing historian, world-traveling rag picker, vintage clothing dealer, and leather jacket designer. This is the story of how he turned his passion into his expertise and his expertise into his brand.
“My story in clothing goes back to my grandparents who immigrated to Canada in the 1920s. My grandfather and great uncles were poor Jewish immigrants from Poland who snuck onto a ship full of Welsh railroad workers in order to start a new life in Canada. Arriving here like so many other Jews they worked very hard repairing used garments for sale in their little shop and taking night jobs in clothing factories sewing, pressing and tailoring mass-produced garments. My grandfather eventually work his way up to own and operate a sportswear manufacturer called Bon Ton Knitwear. I never knew him. He died 3 months after my birth. His sons became doctors. Like all good things, I guess, clothing skips a generation.
My obsession with leather jackets began in university when I was given my first punk rock jacket by my roommate. It was the standard issue jacket for punk at the time; a Brimaco D pocket jacket modelled after the Cycle Champ. The paint, the safety pins, the studs…it was the epitome of cool, and was part of my uniform.”
It was through his studies of Film History that he developed a true love and obsession of vintage clothing. Old movies were the ultimate catalog of the history of clothing, the history of style, and what it meant to be “cool”. After graduation he hit the road, spending years learning about art and clothing history all over South East Asia. In India he studied textile design and manufacturing. In Indonesia he tutored with a Batik master in Indonesia, learning their specialized technique of wax-resistant dyes. In Japan he learned something that would stick with him forever and become one of his core values. It was the art of Wabi Sabi: a world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It’s a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence, specifically impermanence (the other two being suffering and emptiness or absence of self-nature). We’ve actually touched on this concept before, and we see shades of this philosophy holding true today, with “perfectly broken-in” jeans selling for more than their original retail prices in second-hand shops and even on eBay.
Eventually Dave moved back to his homeland of Canada, with a world of knowledge about vintage clothing and ancient manufacturing techniques. It didn’t take him long before he found himself in the vintage clothing business, which was booming in Toronto due to government surplus laws dumping hundreds of thousands of kilos of vintage clothing into Canada from all over the world. On a side note: the sorting process that vintage clothing goes through is truly remarkable. I’ve seen it first hand; clothing facilities processing kiloton barges of hyper-compressed clothing, all hand-sorted into thirty different quality categories using an army of employees and a comprehensive system of conveyor belts.
“Toronto was the mecca of vintage clothing in North America. With more rag factories processing more clothing then anywhere on the planet, the early vintage pioneers had a near unlimited supply of rare clothing to sell if they could identify the right items, date them, price them, and find adequate buyers. In a time before the internet, finding American and Japanese buyers was tough, but eventually we built a global network of the best stores, buyers and designers who valued the rare items we diligently sought out. I became obsessed with learning not just the design and techniques of what made these clothes beautiful, but also contacting the (mostly jewish) company owners that were still alive and interviewing them about their companies. Again, I just love the history of it all…
After struggling to find new jackets with the quality that I had come to appreciate, I became determined to build my own jacket brand in the Japanese tradition. My goal was to be as good as the best makers in the world. I had the help of many good people, principally John Chapman of Goodwear Leather who had his own startup making WW2 “A-2” jackets. We spent long hours discussing the best hides, tanning solutions, hardware, etc. There were few people who knew the old-school techniques like he and I did… I also took pride in creating a uniquely Canadian brand, reflecting the long often undervalued contribution of Canadian makers to the menswear world, specifically the vintage world. The quality would have to be as good or better then the best of the historical jacket makers, and the materials needed to reflect the core principals of Wabi Sabi. My sole interest was bringing alive the traditions of all the bygone leather makers and restoring the quality and heritage that had been lost with the upswing of cheap manufacturing.
Every design I make is created with the ethos of my experiences as a rag picker. Finding that perfect vintage jacket that no one had ever seen and holding it in my hands. It’s that “needle in a haystack” feeling that I try to create with each new design. When I design and sew up that jacket, it creates the same exhilaration for me as finding that Maltese Falcon of vintage pieces, and I hope it creates the same sensation for my customers. That rare sense of cool and identity that can only come with a perfect design, combining the perfect craftsmanship with the perfect leather materials to allow the jacket to age and become part of the owner’s history. That’s perfect Wabi Sabi!”
Thanks, as always, for reading and special thanks to Dave for participating.
Check out his collection of leather jackets over at Himel Brothers.
Yours in style,
Photography by Alex Crawford.
This post was not sponsored in any way.