Jerry Cohen, founder of Ebbets Field Flannels, never got the chance to see the Brooklyn Dodgers play at Ebbets Field, having been born one year after the team was moved to Los Angeles. However, the impact of the ball club from Brooklyn and their well-loved stars, including Duke Snider, Ralph Branca and, most of all, Jackie Robinson, played an important role in the Brooklyn native's life.
In fact, the team and the old-style flannel wool jerseys that the Dodgers and other minor and Negro League teams from that time period wore became the inspiration for Cohen's business venture, Ebbets Field Flannels, which he founded in 1988. (The Negro League was the league on which African-American baseball players played prior to being allowed into Major League Baseball.)
"I was really just looking for the product I ended up making, which was the vintage wool flannel baseball jersey and I was looking for this item for myself and no one else really did it or no one did it correctly," said Cohen. "I kind of got obsessed a little bit and started researching the fabric and history. As a kid, I had set myself up to do this because I always followed baseball history and paid attention to uniform aesthetics like logos and team colors."
The fact that he did not have any previous business experience was not a deterrent for Cohen, who was a guitarist who held several jobs in the music industry prior to starting his company. The decision to start his own business came full circle this weekend with the release of the Jackie Robinson biopic "42," which featured minor league jerseys made by Cohen and his team at Ebbets Field Flannels. The movie was the No. 1 film in the country this past weekend, earning $27.1 million at the box office.
That success has similarly translated into success for Cohen, who said that several of the styles featured in the film have seen increased sales recently.
"We have already seen an increased interest," Cohen said. "The Montreal Royals jersey and hat which the Jackie Robinson character wears in the movie is one we have done since the beginning. We are definitely seeing a pickup on those items and a little less interest on the Negro League and other minor league teams because they are seen so briefly."Montreal Royals jersey Credit: Ebbets Field Flannels
While the interest from customers and the film's producers was especially gratifying for Cohen, the Seattle-based company's main focus in the movie was portraying the jerseys accurately.
"We really pride ourselves on being absolutely authentic," Cohen said.
To get the authentic look, Cohen and his team spend a great deal of time researching every aspect of each and every jersey the company produces.
"We had to do a lot of digging for the one baseball team in the film because there was nothing in existence for the Birmingham Black Barons of 1945," Cohen said. "We found one black-and-white newspaper photo that was poor quality, but it was enough to work from."
Part of the digging involves looking into the actual types of wool that were worn by ballplayers in that time period. Cohen said to replicate the correct fabric type, the company researched old wool mills to get the fabrics as close to authentic as possible.
Though that added work complicates the process, Cohen said he started the company to make those authentic jerseys. Similarly, Cohen said that all businesses can learn a thing from the story of Ebbets Field Flannels.
"If you have a good idea and believe in it, don’t compromise," Cohen said. "We had a lot of people tell us in the beginning that doing the actual jerseys in that fabric would be too expensive and too hard. You need to do research to confirm demand for your product, but if you have it in your heart and soul that you want bring something to the table and no one else is doing it, don’t let anyone dumb it down for you or tell you it can't be done."