By Mylena Vazquez
If you’ve ever taken the SAT, chances are you’ve heard of the infamous “regatta” question.
Back in 2003, the SAT faced backlash for a controversial question that asked students to identify the analogous pair of “runner: marathon,” with the correct answer being “oarsman: regatta.” A regatta is a series of races for boating sports like rowing, historically perceived as exclusive and elitist. Critics accused the SAT of cultural bias for including it in the exam.
It’s interesting, then, that Rowing Blazers, known for their, well, rowing blazers—but also rugby shirts, cricket sweaters, and Oxford button-downs—has become one of the most inclusive, subversive, and cool brands around.
It starts with the product itself. Rowing Blazers took the staid and stodgy country club look and turned it on its head. It led the charge to revive preppy style by reinterpreting classic pieces, infusing them with vibrant colors, cutting them in youthful shapes, and covering them in playful prints.
Though the brand has chosen its collaborations strategically, even turning down requests from big-name companies, it has entered into a lot of partnerships with a motley crew of companies. Jack Carlson, the Rowing Blazers founder, identifies as a cultural omnivore, and it certainly shows in these collabs. Rowing Blazers has designed collections with heritage brands like Land’s End; sportswear companies like Fila; ultra-preppy shops like Murray’s Toggery; streetwear brands like Noah; athletic teams; Seiko; world-famous restaurants; the NBA; cartoons; the estate of Slim Aarons; and so many more.
The result is an enormous catalogue, vast in its array and varying widely in price. Rowing Blazers’ barrier to entry is low. You can buy a watch strap for $19, for example, and the company often runs sales. Other items, however, are wildly expensive. Consider their namesake blazers, which ring in at nearly $800 apiece.
Don’t think the brand is oblivious to how high their prices can get, though. In a blog post, they give an explanation of the costs associated with creating handmade blazers locally. But they also invite their customers to share the company’s values of employing high-quality materials and craftsmanship, paying workers living wages, and preserving New York’s historic Garment District.
At the end of the day, Rowing Blazers markets itself as a community. They celebrate the diversity of their customers and emphasize that they all come together, regardless of their background, because of their love for the nostalgic, irreverent, and plain fun parts of fashion.
They extended this energy into their flagship store in New York City, which they called the “clubhouse.” In the clubhouse, sales were secondary. The store functioned more as a social gathering space than a traditional brick-and-mortar, hosting events, throwing parties, and serving as a casual hangout spot.
Because, first and foremost, Rowing Blazers is an online retailer. Though they had previously opened the occasional pop-up shop, the majority of their sales were made online. But the company noticed that online sales skyrocketed for the duration of the pop-ups; when none were open, online sales decreased. The clubhouse was born because Rowing Blazers realized the persuasive power of an immersive in-person browsing experience.
In a move some would consider risky, Rowing Blazers invited similar brands like Eric Emanuel and Death to Tennis to also showcase their wares in the clubhouse. Rather than distancing themselves from competitors, Rowing Blazers saw the mutual benefit in sharing a space. When customers walked in for a pair of Eric Emanuel shorts, for example, they often walked out with a coordinating Rowing Blazers rugby shirt.
In 2020, due to pandemic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, Rowing Blazers decided to close its clubhouse doors. But it wasn’t bad news—in fact, the brand was doing better than ever. 2020 was the year they turned profitable. It was the year they launched a women’s line, which now accounts for half of their products. It was the year they rose to #8 in an annual ranking of the fastest-growing direct-to-consumer brands.
Because of their innovative, transparent, and even counterintuitive marketing practices, Rowing Blazers won the regatta.
Which of the Rowing Blazers collabs is your favorite? Are you embracing the new preppy style?
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