Seattle’s Ebbets Field Flannels were resurrecting sports apparel in 1988 — long before “throwback” entered the conversation — and through obsession and licensing limitations, lost leagues got their uniforms back. Bringing a sporting obsession for trivia to an ever increasing crowd preoccupied with stitches, finishes and a garment’s history, there’s a lot of truth in Ebbets’ founder Jerry Cohen’s vision of a world where synthetic fabrics barely belong. Ebbets runs deeper than just one game, with some proto technologies in the fabrics and the best baseball cap shapes on the market. POST NEW recently caught up with Jerry for a chat about the brand’s vision and where it’s taking them. Read the whole interview here.
Gary Warnett: I read the ‘Sports Illustrated’ feature from July 1990 about Ebbets that changed everything for the brand…
Jerry Cohen: Right — that was the first thing that anybody saw. I used to have the whole company in the dining room of my apartment when that came out.
GW: You’d been going for 2 years when that came out, right? It seemed perfect for the ‘Sports Illustrated’ audience. When Ebbets came out, it must have been like nothing else — from my recollections, fits were like these odd late 1980s “jock” fits and fabrics were synthetic.
JC: Baseball jerseys were polyester. They went to polyester in 1971. When they made that change – which was a massive change because before that, 8 decades was of wool and a baggy look that I consider classic. So when they changed, they threw out the baby with the bathwater because sporting goods companies didn’t think like fashion companies. They thought, “This is our market and our market now wants this and they don’t want that any more” and not only did styles change, but they threw out machines — machines that I need now!
GW: You use vintage machines for the hockey shirts, right?
JC: That’s the hardest thing. That’s a circular knit machine — there’s only a few of them and they’re in California. We’re completely at the mercy of this knitter and they’ll call us up one day and say, “Sorry — no more wool yarn.”
GW: And there’s nothing you can do about it.
JC: Right. And I found myself in Bradford, England this week trying to buy vintage cotton backed satin that used to be run-of-the-mill in the US in the 1950s.
GW: It’s like a fossil fuel. Back in 1990 when you were using vintage fabric, you must have been on borrowed time.
JC: At that time I was. Because we had a little bit of success we were able to go to the woolen mills and have them make that fabric again. But the problem was that the woolen mills started to go out of business. I mean, in the US there’s probably only 2 compared to when we started. We have to have a custom build and we have to buy — it’s funny because sometimes a customer will email and say, “I want to make a custom baseball jersey with a black pinstripe” and I say, “Well, you can start by buying 1000 yards of black pinstripe fabric.”
GW: It makes my mind boggle that you build to order.
JC: Unfortunately we’re in the age of instant gratification and people assume — and I don’t blame them — that because they can order something from Amazon and get it in 3-4 days, a company like us, who offer over 450 wool baseball shirts, will have their shirt on the shelf in medium. The one thing we have to give up to do what we do is expediency or free shipping. We say it takes 6 weeks to get a baseball shirt and somebody might order on Wednesday and call us on Monday like, “I haven’t got my baseball shirt yet!”
GW: Do you think sportswear lost its soul? With flannel, it breathes, ages and works with the wearer.
JC: We claim timelessness and if someone buys a jacket from us which is from 1935, we want them to be able to take that jacket out in 10 years and enjoy it the same way. It’s not made to be disposed of. Sports graphics now is a giant industry with a planned obsolescence to rejuvenate sales that throws out the thing you bought.