Even if you have never heard of Schott NYC, chances are you’ve seen their handiwork. The century-old company's hand-crafted leather jackets and outerwear have become a staple of celebrities from the past and present alike, including Marlon Brando, James Dean, Peter Fonda, The Ramones, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Lady Gaga, Joan Jett and Jay-Z, to name a few.
The company’s iconic jackets are still made in the United States, though the company has come a long way from its humble origins. It was started in 1913 by brothers Irving and Jack Schott, Russian immigrants who began by selling fur-lined raincoats in New York.
"My great-grandfather was a pattern maker working in New York who saw an opportunity to branch out and do his own thing," said Jason Schott, COO of Schott NYC. "He started to make fur-lined raincoats and selling them door-to-door. He was able to build a business to the point where he could get a factory and continue to grow from there and hard work got him there."
Hard work, however, was only one ingredient in Schott's recipe for success. The other was undoubtedly the innovation the company brought to the leather goods and outdoor apparel market. That innovation included being the first company to put a zipper on its jackets.
Innovation has also helped the brand undergo several transformations, first from a staple for motorcyclists to the jacket commissioned by the military for Army and Navy servicemen during two world wars. The brand also grew into a symbol of the 1950s teen rebellion and later the rock 'n' roll and punk rock movements.
Though the company has been able to target many different consumer groups, it has remained true to its origins, which Schott says has been the key to the brand's longevity and success.
"Clothing companies that have managed to succeed for so long were all developed for a particular purpose," Schott said. "There is a utilitarian functionality to the product that makes it last a lot longer than fashion brands. We build a product for a purpose and we let fashion find us rather than catering to fashion."
Those principles have been passed down through the generations for the Schott family. That family relationship, which started with Jason's great-grandfather Irving and the Perfecto jacket (named for his favorite cigar), has not come without challenges, however. Schott says working with family has been a crucial factor in the success of the company.
"A lot of family businesses encounter difficulty when older generations don’t respect the opinions of the younger generation and when the younger generations doesn’t respect what the older generations have built," Schott said. "We understand that a lot of these business decisions and issues resurface in cycles."
In those cases the company is grateful to have the experience of family members who have kept the company going through the years. Schott says another important factor influencing the success of the business is the fact that the company has kept its production and headquarters in the United States, while so many other apparel companies have moved production overseas.
"It is really the heart of the company to manufacture in the United States," Schott said. "I think it is first of all what we know best and where we are most comfortable. We are in the factory every day and it would be very strange for me to think of not having a factory here. I can't imagine it. Also, there is such a sense of pride about what we do here and I think it is the foundation for the brand."
In addition to that sense of pride, Schott says there are a number of benefits to manufacturing products in the U.S. Notably, Schott says the company has been able to take advantage of trends more quickly since the company controls manufacturing directly. Additionally, Schott NYC has been able to control the quality of the products by having the ability to check in on production daily. Schott NYC also benefits from workers who average 15 years of experience in making its products.
However, Schott says that all the credit goes back to lessons passed down from his great- grandfather. Chief among them is the work ethic the company and family still follows to this day.
"My great-grandfather always wore a tie clip bearing the acronym for the saying, 'You Can't Do Business Sitting On Your Ass' and that has been passed from generation to generation," he said. "Our family philosophy has always been to work hard and have good ethics so that things will take care of themselves," Schott said. "As long as you are hard working, are a good person and treat people well, you will benefit in the end."