Meet the man who sold 350,000 shirts last year

Posted by oneal on October 27th, 2015

Jeff Abrams is part of a new breed of self-taught fashion entrepreneurs. Along with Sezane’s Morgane Selazory and Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso, the trio have their finger on the pulse when it comes to nailing exactly what their customers want while re-investing their company’s profits to build a brand that has the potential to become a serious juggernaut.

You might not have even heard of Rails, but as it stands the Los Angeles-based brand has 70 stockists in the UK; 1,000 globally and Abrams estimates that he has sold around 350,000 of his super-soft, patterned shirts in the past year.

That some of the women who are buying (or occasionally, generously receiving) and are wearing said shirts in their down-time includes Gisele Bundchen, Kate Moss and Jessica Alba certainly isn’t doing the brand name any harm.

“It’s easy to understand, there’s something for everybody,” says the 30-something, charismatic Californian of his creations during a trip to London.

Indeed, Rails isn’t reinventing the wheel when it comes to design, but its premium-priced, covetable check shirts in soft rayon were quickly snapped up by the likes of Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Harrods. He’s now adding menswear, childrenswear and loungewear to the mix, as well as leather jackets.

What’s remarkable about the brand’s success is that Abrams has muddled through the entire process of designing, production and marketing on his own, and without a big cash injection from an investor.

Hunter plaid flannel shirt, £135, Harvey Nichols

 Photo: bridesmaid dresses online

He in fact started out by customising caps and walking into Fred Segal in Los Angeles in 2008, to see if they would buy them. “I started with ,000 and I bought a couple of hats, which cost me , and I sold them for .” The hats would keep selling out, and thus his mini fashion empire was born.

He would trade stocks on his computer in the morning and work on the label from the afternoon and into the evening. His insight into what makes a product popular came from his previous job in a TV animation studio.

Abrams wasn’t a cartoonist, but worked in the marketing department for the company which licenced out TV merchandise. In three years, the books, backpacks, pencils and pillows featuring the much-loved Strawberry Shortcake character totalled billion in retail sales. Understandably, he didn’t see how difficult it could possibly be to get his own slice of the product pie.

Abrams is the first to admit that his background is as un-fashiony as it gets, but as he explains, “I sort of use my instinct – what’s marketable? What do people want to be wearing?!”

Much of Rails’ stock is made in China, in factories that he vets personally, but he does look locally to Los Angeles to produce higher-end pieces.

He could have never predicted the brand’s success, “I wasn’t ever sure where it would lead me, so ignorance was bliss, because I had no experience with fashion,” he says. “Had I known all of the craziness of all the business I am not sure I would have had the guts to go and throw myself in fully, because there have been so many challenges.”

One challenge in particular sticks out, when Abrams, then just a one-man band, spent three months producing a 3,000-unit order for the retailer Anthropologie. He recalls how “An 18-wheel truck comes up to collect the shirts I’m like ‘Yes, this is my first big order!’ Next morning the truck company calls me and says ‘sorry, but the truck was robbed right after we picked up the stuff, we don’t know where any of the shirts are’. It took me 6 months to get paid by the insurance company… things like that were happening all the time.”

Abrams’s team has now evolved to around 30 members, growing organically in size since its conception. He’s recently added pyjamas to his offering, with Harrods offering a monogramming pop-up service just in time for Christmas.

Next he’d like to open Rails flagships in his native Los Angeles, then New York, London, Tokyo… and we don’t doubt for a second that that won’t be the case.

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About the Author

Joined: August 4th, 2015
Articles Posted: 32

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