Its styles an homage to military academies like West Point, the Cadet menswear brand, while made in Bushwick, aims its crisp-lined design cannon at the bearded, rumpled masses of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and beyond
by Matt Scanlon
On a vigorous little stretch in Bushwick, specifically
Bogart Street between Harrison and Rocks Streets, germinates a community that looks for all the world like Sesame Street, but for young adults. Along a sleek, sinuous, ambulating string of fishnets, Converse, flecked sunglasses, and distressed bags, a commercial community is inventing itself. There, on one chilly early fall afternoon, an aluminum-clad mobile home/thrift store was host to clientele browsing through LPs on street corner milk crates, the Organic Planet health food store attracted walk-in traffic from the nearby Morgan Street L stop, and Swallow Café was featuring a pumpkin spice coffee special, while—seemingly unironically—a blizzard of graffiti on the sizable brickfront building near the Grafton Street corner featured as its most sizable element a poster-sized inscription reading “Cost is Dead.” The place was simply buzzing with blessedly random experiment and change. Not the burned-over contrivances of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, either; instead, there was an air of availability and potential here, a place where the in crowd didn’t even necessarily know it was in yet.
Raul Arevalo and Brad Schmidt, in selecting 56 Bogart on that same stretch as the manufacturing location for their Cadet line of menswear, didn’t necessarily pick up on all these market signals when sewing machines started whirring there three years ago. In retrospect, however, they simply couldn’t have picked a better spot to quietly re-think the rumpled, bearded meme that has come to define Brooklyn men’s style specifically, the greater nation’s more broadly. Schmidt brought a bottomline background in healthcare business, Arevalo more than 20 years in corporate fashion, including stints at Abercrombie & Fitch and Club Monaco. Partners in life as well as in business, the two found their skill sets were in dynamic synergy, and after opening a first brick-and-mortar location in Williamsburg, have expanded to two further plants in Manhattan. Cadet’s ethos, which emphasizes crisp structure, military lines, and (perish the thought) tailored finishes, has been a growing and well received idea from the very beginning, and has over time encompassed what Arevalo terms “clothing for every occasion,” including swimwear, casual sportswear, outerwear, and most recently tailored suits.
We met with the two partners at their Bogart St. manufactury to discuss what it’s like to have this kind business in the borough and how the era of the rumpled Carhart jacket may, at long last, be coming to an end.
Industry: So does this mean all my loose “heritage” clothes have to be retired?
Raul Arevalo: [Laughs] Maybe…we actually hope so. When we were starting the brand, we both felt the market was saturated with that heritage look—work clothes that were like something a coal mine worker or train engineer would need…a last turn-of the-century thing. I was eager to find styles that were modern, cleanly finished, and beautifully made… and tailored.
Brad Schmidt: Our lines are based on military academy heritage, which allows us to be both military and collegiate. We took classic referential items like the bomber jacket, and signature pieces like the aviator pant or trooper pant, and updated and changed elements in order to make them more modern.
Industry: So, would GIs find these looks eerily familiar?
BS: Well, the design process is not that linear, really. We really design what we like, and are not just pigeonholed by what is “military.” But the fundamentals of menswear come from the military heritage, so it’s not that hard to apply it to our style sensibilities. We have uniform elements, but never use them to deliberately look like a soldier. We think of our brand as military academy, which allows us to imagine what a person would wear both at the academy itself and in his day-to-day life. It’s not really about war or combat.
Industry: Does Brooklyn influence these style choices specifically, or is it just a good place to do business?
BS: We definitely did look around Williamsburg, where we live, where everything is Red Wing boots and flannel and broad denim and beards, and tried to imagine what the next step would be. We were trying to clean it up, tighten it up. Our models don’t have beards or tattoos, either, and that’s deliberate, in part because we play off that military heritage.
Industry: So you had a concept, but how did you know it would sell?
RA: We didn’t, but after all those years in corporate fashion, you get an eye. When we started this, we established the factory first, without totally having the answer for how we were going to sell anything, but trusted that we’d figure it out.
BS: People had encouraged us initially to just go online, to do e-commerce, but you see a profusion of startup brands that are e-commerce only, and I have no idea how they really make people buy things. “Do we go door-to-door?” we thought. “Place an ad somewhere? How do we get people to buy these clothes?” If the decision was to instead go wholesale, that’s another challenge. We started this business in December of 2011, and if we were going to sell to Barneys or some other retailer, the market week when you have buyers looking for a collection is January, but that would be for the fall of the following year. So we would have had a month to throw together a collection, show in January, cross our fingers that someone would buy it from our then unknown brand, and we still wouldn’t have gotten any money until September or October of the following year. All those considerations led to our brick-and-mortar store in Williamsburg. It was just the best way to begin.
Industry: And how do you grow from here, or are three stores enough?
RA: I think we’ve reached the cap in New York. It could be that the next move is West Coast, or maybe Chicago.
BS: And to build up e-commerce. Right now it constitutes about 20% of our total sales, but as the brand gets better known, that will open up.
Industry: And how are the lines evolving?
BS: We are interested in elevating the brand, trying to use better fabrics, sewing techniques, making more refinements, making things richer. We are in the middle of re-imagining store interiors, too, so they’re also a little more refined.
RA: We have also introduced tailored suits for this fall. We started as a casual sportswear brand, but I wanted to get us to a place where we were a lifestyle brand that offers an outfit for every occasion…one-stop shopping. So there’s casual wear, swimwear, outerwear, and now we have tailoring. All that tailoring is done here in Brooklyn. The collars are hand sewn…none of the sleeves are finished with buttons until the fitting, so everything is made for the customer. It’s not bespoke, but it’s fitted.
Industry: Anything else on the horizon?
BS: Actually, yeah. For fall 2015, Raul has designed a women’s capsule collection. Five key items at the moment, including a bomber jacket, an aviator pant, and a woven sweatshirt.
RA: We have a lot of guys that come in with their girlfriends and they love this structured look, but we didn’t want a women’s line to just be feminized versions of our thing. We want to make sure there is a stylistic separation, that it be cohesive and complement the brand rather than a gimmick.
46 North 6th St. / 718.715.1695 / cadetusa.com