Sperry x Rowing Blazers

Introducing the Sperry x Rowing Blazers collection.

July 22, 2019
in Design

Inspired by classic American style, the #SperryxRowingBlazers collection features iconic Sperry silhouettes in bright shades and patterns signature to New York-based menswear brand @RowingBlazers. Here, we share a Q&A with spirited Rowing Blazers founder Jack Carlson.

Sperry x Rowing Blazers is available now at sperry.com and rowingblazers.com.

Sperry x Rowing Blazers Collection
All Photos from Rowing Blazers Lookbook

You’re a former competitive rower with three World Championships under your belt. How did you go from athletics to apparel? Why clothes?
It’s been a weird journey! I’ve always been interested in clothes and style. When I wrote the book Rowing Blazers - which in many ways gave rise to the brand - it was a passion project that brought together several of my interests: clothes, history, and the sport of rowing.

The book was all about the sport’s blazer tradition: Every rowing club, team, and college has its own set of quirky rituals, myths, and anecdotes related to the blazer. In many ways, the book was a work of anthropology.

I expected it to resonate in the rowing community, but it ended up eliciting attention much more broadly. That’s what got me thinking about starting a brand; a brand based very deeply in history, tradition, authenticity, but also a brand that’s youthful; doesn’t take itself too seriously; and is anything but stuffy. Creating the brand was really my side project during my last few years on the U.S. team, and that was the vision from the start.

Left: Cloud CVO Tartan

You describe Rowing Blazers as the next generation of American classics. What are some hallmarks of American style that you incorporate into your collection?
Classic American style is collegiate, and therefore both traditional and youthful. That duality to me is the single most defining characteristic of American men’s fashion, and that’s what I try to weave into everything we do. America is also a melting pot, so being eclectic is also an important part of the collection’s spirit.

Left: Authentic Original 2-Eye Canvas / Croquet Stripe

You’ve collaborated with an eclectic array of brands in the last year. How do you choose the right partners, and what drew you to collaborate with Sperry?
Eclectic is part of our DNA, and the collaborations we do are part of how we build and communicate what we’re all about.

As a young brand, there’s always a risk that others, outsiders, can slap a label on you. We try to transcend labels (“preppy,” “punk,” “street,” whatever), because we find them limiting. At the same time, we have a very strong brand identity, and these eclectic collaborations are part of how we do what we do without being pigeonholed by a label. We’re extremely careful and thoughtful about how we approach any collaboration. Whatever we do needs to be real, and needs to add to our story.

I’ve been wearing Sperry since I was a little kid. When I was in high school and college, all of the rowers used to wear Top-Siders down to the boathouse. I’ve been a little bit of a Sperry fanboy for a long time too. I remember when the original Sperry Cloud logo came back. I’m one of those people that buys five pairs of the same shoe when I find something I like, and that’s what I did with the Cloud Seamates when they came out. (I was at Oxford at the time and had a massive box sent over from the U.S.). Navy blue canvas, natural canvas, and yellow canvas.

I’ve followed Sperry collabs through the ages, from Band of Outsiders to Jack Spade to Noah. It’s a huge honor for us to join those ranks and to be doing a collaboration with Sperry. Sperry is American; it’s classic; it’s maritime; but it’s also fun and inclusive; so nothing could be more on-brand for us.

Left: Cloud CVO Port/Starboard

Talk about the inspiration behind some of the designs in the collab capsule.
I’ve wanted to do port and starboard shoes my whole life. Port and starboard is, of course, an important concept in the sports of rowing and sailing; and given my background and Sperry’s roots, this makes a lot of sense.

The mismatched white CVO sneakers with orange-ish red and green foxing, respectively, and matching alternate laces, are a dream come true for me. My own style is simple but a little tongue-in-cheek. Not necessarily in an avant-garde way, but in a way that has some kind of real meaning, and I think this pair encapsulates that.

The “croquet stripe” fabric is a signature for us, so using it in this collaboration was natural. It’s colorful and unusual, which, to me, makes it perfect for adapting to a traditional boat shoe silhouette and construction. We also used the same color and pattern on soles, lining, and even eyelets of a navy "A/O" Boat Shoe for a more understated look.

The navy CVO with yellow and navy foxing is inspired by the striped grosgrain trim that adorns many club blazers, as well as rugby shirt stripes and repp tie stripes. I like everything we do to be wearable, to be classic in a way, but unusual. To make you look again. That’s why I love these and the Gordon Modern tartan CVOs we did too. They’re understated, but so unusual, so whimsical.
- Jack Carlson of Rowing Blazers

"The 'croquet stripe' fabric is a signature for us, so using it in this collaboration was natural."

Which is your favorite pair?
My favorite pair is the Sperry Cup sneaker. I love it, because I think it’s probably the last thing an outsider would have expected a Sperry x Rowing Blazers collab to look like. But it’s perfect. It’s authentic. It’s based on a vintage Sperry sailing sneaker from the early ‘90s that was worn by the likes of elite sailors and Senator Ted Kennedy. It also happens to be exactly the kind of thing I would wear.

Left: Sperry Cup (Available exclusively at Rowing Blazers)

Do you believe your experience as a rower impacts the way you run a business? In what ways?
I think my experience in rowing makes me very practical and flexible. There’s a side of me that is very cerebral, very theoretical. That’s my academic background (I did a Ph.D. in archaeology before starting Rowing Blazers).

But I also have a side that is very in-the-moment: able to change tack; chart a new course; or seize an opportunity when the chance presents itself. That comes from my experience as a coxswain in the sport of rowing. Both sides are important in business!

Left: Sperry Cup, Right: Cloud CVO Tartan

You work closely with Row NY - a non-profit that runs after-school rowing and academic programs for students. Why did you partner with them, and how important is supporting the community for you and your brand?
Row New York is an amazing organization. When I first heard about Row New York and that it was a rowing program that’s open to kids from any background and geared toward kids from under-resourced communities, I kind of assumed it might be playing lip service to that idea.

What I found out was that it’s actually a very serious, substantive program. Their stats are incredible. 100% of kids in the program meet the FDA’s recommended fitness guidelines, 100% graduate high school, and 99% go to college! This is all compared to far, far lower numbers citywide.

Their rowing program is extremely competitive too: They routinely qualify crews for the state and national championships - something I never did when I was in high school! As important to me as the way the program is changing lives is the way that it’s changing the sport of rowing. It’s making the sport more diverse and breaking open stereotypes about rowing. This is crucial, and is something I and Rowing Blazers have tried to do in smaller ways along the way.

We make blazers for the graduating high school seniors in Row New York every year too. It’s important to me that the sport’s blazer tradition shouldn’t just be for kids going to prep schools or boarding schools.

Cloud CVO Rugby Stripe

How do you define or describe preppy style?
“Preppy” is a loaded word. It means so many different things to different people. I love Sperry’s motto “Prep For All,” because it’s conscientiously putting an inclusive spin on “preppy.”

To me, the “preppy” style I believe in, and the definition of the word I’d like to promote, is colorful, fun, youthful, classic but a little bit rebellious, and rooted in certain key staples: the navy blazer, the oxford shirt, the rugby, the - Top-Sider!

The problem with the word, though, is that it can be taken to mean “stuffy,” “exclusive,” “elitist.” It’s up to brands like us - and Sperry - to show that that doesn’t have to be the case.
- Jack Carlson of Rowing Blazers

"'Preppy' is a loaded word."

Name your biggest style icons.
Prince Charles, Arthur Ashe, Tintin.
What’s next for Rowing Blazers?
We have a lot of exciting projects in the pipeline, but they are TOP SECRET ;)

Shop the Sperry x Rowing Blazers collection at sperry.com and rowingblazers.com. Limited availability.