By Caleb Bushner
If you’re into classic menswear, then do yourself the favor of getting acquainted with San Francisco’s Unionmade. Founded by Todd Barket and Carl Chiara, two apparel industry alums with nearly forty years of creative direction and design experience between them, the store harkens back to an era that predates “fast fashion,” offering garments that are simple, durable and timeless. This back-to-basics approach has lead to great fanfare, quickly earning the boutique a reputation for being one of the best in the country.
For Todd, who still remembers when there was no difference between dressing well and dressing authentically, the approach comes naturaly. Citing his father as one of his biggest inspirations, he says “this sensibility is what I’ve always grown up around. It’s important for the store’s collection to focus upon quality and have a vision, a point of view. It has to tell a story.”
One of the more impressive chapters in Unionmade’s story, so far, has been the exclusive collaborations the store has done, and continues to do, with brands such as Alden and Golden Bear. “Golden Bear can do everything we want,” Todd says. “We like working with people who are experts – best-in-category for what they do. Then we can bring in our taste level and aesthetic and make a great product.”
Speaking more on working with domestic makers, he says, “It’s been really surprising, the pockets of production that are still here. I can see why Asia is so set up to do big business: a lot of the large scale machinery hasn’t existed in the US since the 60s or 70s. But, people appreciate it when you find [American-made goods] and bring it to them.” Pointing to Tellason Jeans as an example, he says, “Tony [Tellason’s co-founder] will personally come to our store, pick up [a customer's] jeans and take them back to the sewer for hemming.” What customer wouldn’t appreciate that?
The shopping experience at Unionmade is a distinctive one. Aesop skin care products sit across from Japanese menswear magazines, near insulated Patagonia jackets, which face an impressive array of vintage Levi’s denim. Somewhere in there is a collection of children’s books about San Francisco and a few other cities. And yet, despite being so incredibly diverse, everything in the store seems to be perfectly at home, including the shopper. “It’s amazing what happens if you put out the right vibe,” explains Todd. “We get customers we really want to be friends with.”
About the author:
Caleb Bushner is a consultant, writer and speaker on all things sustainability, branding, marketing and social media. He has an MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of the “premier Green MBA programs in the country.” He lives in San Francisco.