The word iconic gets thrown around a lot. From art to music to fashion, few true icons and iconic pieces actually exist. Holding its own among Warhol’s soup cans and Michael Jackson is the Perfecto leather jacket from Schott NYC. Whether the name rings a bell or not, the silhouette is immediately recognizable as a symbol of Americana rebellion and style. With downtown roots in NYC’s Lower East Side long before the juice bars moved in, Schott is a shining example of American craftsmanship, still producing their products in the USA (albeit now across the river in New Jersey). We caught up with the family-run business’ Chief Operating Officer Jason Schott to talk domestic production in the modern age for this week’s installment of Makers Mondays.
My great-grandfather Irving Schott, started the company with his brother in 1913. He worked with his son Mel and Mel’s kids—my mother Roz, who is the current president and her brother Michael who passed away far too young. I currently work with my mother and my uncle Steve Colin who is our CEO. It is a true family business.
Your name suggests some serious history with the brand. Tell me about your relationship with Schott NYC.
Domestic production is a major part of the brand’s ethos. What does Made in the USA mean today?
We don’t know any other way of making our product. It is how we have always done it. My great-grandfather started making fur-lined raincoats in the basement factory below his store in the Lower East Side. Our factory has been in different parts of New Jersey since the 1940s, but the machines and the materials and patterns have always remained the same. We have a signature to what we make that can’t be replicated. We try to source as many materials as possible in the USA, but it is increasingly becoming more difficult to do that. We mainly use US domestic cowhide for our leather jackets. Made in the USA also means that our products are made by hard-working Americans, many of whom have been working with us for over 30 years.
What challenges does domestic production bring about?
As I said, it’s definitely more difficult to source raw materials here. Also, it is hard to find skilled labor, so we find ourselves training the people we hire. It is also more expensive to manufacture here, but we find that our customers respect that the labor is a factor in our pricing and we do everything we can to keep our prices as low as possible without sacrificing quality.
Schott started in NYC then relocated to New Jersey. Tell me about the move.
We moved from the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1940s to South Amboy, NJ. Then we were in Perth Amboy for many years, followed by Elizabeth and now we have just recently moved to Union, New Jersey in 2012 to a bigger factory and are trying to expand our domestic manufacturing. We are very fortunate that almost all of our skilled operators moved with us each time.
We are very proud of our factory and the skilled craftspeople who are part of our extended family. Everyone takes a tremendous amount of pride in their work and it shows in the products that we make. We have had multi generations sewing in our factory and many people who have worked for us for decades.
NYC is still a part of the brand’s DNA. What does the city mean to Schott?
New York City is where the brand was born. All of our original and most authentic styles were designed for the people of New York City. We try to stay true to the heritage of the brand and have always designed for their needs. The culture of New York City has lent a lot of history to our Perfecto jacket. In the 1970s it became a uniform for the punk movement at CBGBs which has remained part of the image of the jacket.
Schott is home to some truly timeless styles. How do you match this with staying relevant in an always-changing market?
We try our best to always make classics which comes from building functional garments that serve a purpose and are built to last both physically and stylistically. We offer varieties in fits to cater to current trends, but the styles are usually based on our archives over the years. Our Perfecto Brand collection is limited edition and seasonal. We use interesting authentic materials that may not have been used for a specific style to mix it up and offer something new and special.
Irving Schott was the first designer to put a zipper in a jacket and designed the first motorcycle jacket in 1928. He named it The Perfecto after his favorite cut of cigar.
Can you tell me a bit about the design process at Schott? The story of the first Perfecto?
Our design team respects history and creates new, functional, durable garments using authentic materials to serve a purpose. Irving Schott was the first designer to put a zipper in a jacket and designed the first motorcycle jacket in 1928. He named it The Perfecto after his favorite cut of cigar.
What gives a brand authenticity?
My family is on the factory floor every single day making sure that we are proud to put our names in every one of the jackets that we make. I am personally in our New York City store every week talking to customers directly about our products. We try our hardest to make the most durable, quality garments to stand the test of time and last for more than one lifetime. We have been doing things in very much the same way for 101 years and it has worked very well for us. We make updates in our business and are always trying to grow but staying true to what we do best makes us authentic.
Schott NYC is opening its first West Coast flagship later this month in Los Angeles. Check out their full line of American-made goods on their website.
Images courtesy of Schott NYC