Two Los Angeles brands, NSF and Stampd, were among those named to GQ magazine's 2015 Best New Menswear Designers in America list earlier this year (along with New York City's David Hart and the Hill-Side). It's an honor that brings with it a collaborative fall 2015 collection with the Gap and a feature in the October issue of the men's style glossy. While the two labels have some similarities — they're both named after their thirtysomething founders, for example, and both have rebooted parts of their businesses — they embody two decidedly different takes on Left Coast culture.
Founder: Nick Friedberg, 39, runs the show; creative director Jamie Haller joined the label in early 2011.
Naming the brand: "My middle name is Sam," says Friedberg, "I showed my list of names to my uncle and he said, 'These are terrible, just use your initials, they're rad.'"
Headquartered: Fashion District
Beginnings: NSF launched as a menswear-only label for spring-summer 2005 and had expanded into women's by fall 2010. "Our women's business was really taking off, and the demand for more of our time and energy on the women's side became so great and the men's had sort of plateaued," Friedberg explains. "So it was either add infrastructure and spend more money to nurture and grow a business that was making zero money or shut it down." The men's line was shuttered after shipping the fall 2012 collection.
Reboot: "We just started [producing menswear] again for fall 2014," Friedberg says. "So it's a brand-new, complete start-up all over again, and we're currently in production of our third season."
The look: Think West Coast super-casual to the point of near-grunge. Denim, T-shirts, button-front wovens, hoodies and shorts with a focus on washes, often combined with dip dyes, screen prints, bleach splatters and distressing that results in off-the-rack garments that have the feel of long-loved luxe. "If there was a brand-new, perfect white T-shirt on a rack next to an amazing 40-year-old vintage T-shirt, we'd both grab the old T-shirt — or something from an old pile of jeans — every time," says Haller.
Key pieces: Distressed denim patchwork five-pocket jeans, denim jackets and Western-style shirts bleached to the brink of destruction, and a mixed fabrication asymmetrical zip hoodie in gray French cotton terry with faded denim arms.
Price range: T-shirts run from $98 to $180, denim from $295 to $495, button-front woven tops fall into the $250 to $350 range and non-denim casual bottoms are $195 to $250.
Where to buy: In May, Friedberg built an NSF shop-in-shop inside American Rag's La Brea Boulevard location. Other Southern California sellers include Barneys New York and Ron Herman at the Fred Segal Center on Melrose Avenue.
Collaborations: It's fitting, given NSF's embodiment of swap meet style, that Haller would first cross paths with Hillary Justin, founder and designer of Bliss and Mischief, at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. That meeting sparked a friendship that led to a collaboration that put Bliss and Mischief's American Southwest-inspired chainstitch embroidery on a limited range of NSF shirts, jackets and jeans. The collection launched for spring 2015, with the men's capsule exclusive to Barneys New York. Distribution expanded for fall 2015 and Haller says the partnership is set to continue into pre-spring 2016, but only on the women's side.
Women's: The women's collection accounts for 90% of NSF's sales, a fact that Friedberg says actually takes the pressure off the fledgling men's line. "It means the men's doesn't need to be a business as much as a fun, completely unique product that we're super-proud of and feel really represents us well."
Sales: Friedberg says NSF is on track to do $6 million in wholesale volume in 2015.
Founder: Chris Stamp, 31, who also is one of the label's two head designers.
Naming the brand: "Yes, it's partly my last name," Stamp says. "But originally I called [my first line] 'StampdLA' — like I was stamping the vibe of L.A. on the shoes."
Headquartered: Downtown's warehouse district
Beginnings: Starting as an online sneaker customization business under the StampdLA name, Stamp sold his first three pairs of art-covered kicks in Fred Segal Conveyor in Santa Monica in 2007. After he and a business partner parted ways, he shut down the line in 2010.
Rebooted: Determined to build a brand solo, Stamp relaunched in 2011, starting with limited-edition Stampd caps. He used the profits to slowly add categories: bags, T-shirts and other basic apparel pieces, technical outerwear, jackets, hoodies, shorts and swim trunks. By 2013 the label had grown into what Stamp considers a full collection.
The look: West Coast stripped-down streetwear-meets-athleisure served up in a color palette that rarely strays from black and white. Pinstriped athletic shirts and warm-up shorts riff on the look of baseball uniforms, T-shirts and jackets feature technical-looking strap details, and distressed denim includes motocross-inspired quilting details.
Stamp is an avid surfer and the collection includes pixelated waves crashing across hats, T-shirts and drink coasters, palm print swim trunks, bucket hats and hoodies and even a black-and-white, $1,800 surfboard.
"I'm a minimalist," Stamp says. "If we do color it'll be more of an earth tone, a rich navy [blue] or hunter green or distressed indigo, but we're not going to go crazy with super bright colors."
Key pieces: Black, layered-sleeve button-front shirts, palm print swim trucks, indigo distressed, slim-fit five-pocket jeans and a pile of polka-dotted pieces including shorts, short sleeve shirts, hats, hoodies and tote bags.
Price range: Headgear from $44 to $140. T-shirts from $50 to $90, button-fronts from $120 to $180, and denim from $179 to $200. Outerwear offerings include hoodies ($153), bombers ($295) and quilted leather puffer jackets ($495). Footwear includes $350 leather sandals, $400 brogues and $550 boots.
Where to buy: Stampd is sold at 120 retail doors globally, including American Rag, H. Lorenzo and Four Two Four as well as through www.stampd.com.
Collaborations: Past collaborators include Kith and Vans. A footwear and apparel collection with Puma is set to launch globally in July.
Women's: The label offers a few female-specific pieces, including one-piece swimsuits and a handful of crop tops. Stamp describes his customer base as "70% to 80% male" and says that he's working to build the women's side of the business.
Sales: "I will say I currently have 16 employees and an additional five contractors and I've been hiring employees at a pretty steady rate for the last three years," Stamp says."
On the horizon: "[A] brick-and-mortar [store] is definitely in my sights, hopefully before the end of 2015, says Stamp. "Here in L.A."