04.30.13 8:45 AM ET
Farmwear Label, Pointer Brand, Hits High Fashion Note
The classic image of an American farmer, with his thick-ply jacket, rugged jeans, beat-up boots, and John Deere equipment is well engrained in the minds of many Americans. But it’s certainly not the first thing you think of in relation to fashion.
That notion, however surprising, is now quickly changing—thanks to Pointer Brand, the 100-year-old private farmwear label owned and produced by L.C. King Manufacturing Company. The onetime go-to brand for sartorial farming staples (like overalls) is now sought after by male trendsetters in urban American hubs, as well as Europe and Japan, for its classic, nongimmicky designs. Even famed Tokyo-based designer Junya Watanabe, enlisted the label for an ongoing collaboration.
Pointer, founded in Bristol, Tennessee, by Landon Clayton King, was never intended to draw fashionable chatter. The brand’s specific range of clothing was originally designed to accommodate the heavy-wearing lifestyle of the region’s agricultural professionals. And similar to English waxed cotton jackets (which have also grown a fashionable edge), many of Pointer’s garments include utilitarian features, like seed pockets.
“Everything in the clothes is there because it’s supposed to be there,” said Kevin Burrows, co-founder of the popular blog and book F--k Yeah Menswear. “There are no frills, no pretension.” This pared-down, long-standing heritage aesthetic, partnered with Pointer’s signature high-quality construction, is now drawing a whole new fan base.
The brand’s appeal lies in Pointer’s tightly edited run of sturdy, well-crafted workwear with a strong heritage appeal. Its simplicity and fine fabrication speaks to the same popularity enjoyed by classically geared labels like A.P.C.—but at a workman’s price point. (Pointer’s more popular styles typically range between $130 and $250.) The brand’s four-pocket canvas Duck Chore coat is a favorite of alternative yuppies seeking American-made, rugged finery. “It’s just very minimal, clean, and neat lines,” Burrows explained of the jacket’s long-standing appeal. “I think it’s for a guy who wants to look good but also really practical.”
But most interesting is that Pointer is the “last family-owned clothing brand in America that’s still run by the founding family,” said Jack King, the label’s fourth-generation owner. “People want stuff that’s authentic, and you can’t get more authentic than what’s coming out of here.” Operating out of a small factory in the Appalachian town of Bristol, Tennessee, with a staff of just 29, King takes care to ensure that Pointer remains steadfast in its use of all-American vertical integration. His garments are constructed entirely of home-grown components, right down to the thread. “Our biggest issue is that we don’t have enough weaving mills left in America,” King explained of the challenges facing American-made brands. “Trying to find great fabric here is really difficult, you have to pay a premium on it, but it’s worth it.”
That authenticity has spurred a growing international interest in Pointer’s designs. While the brand still produces farm-ready coveralls and carpenter jeans in droves, its offerings have grown to accommodate an increased fashionable profile (which has translated to notable year-over-year sales increases).
“There is a slow fashion that happens,” King said of Pointer’s production model. “We listen to our customers when they tell us what they want, and think about developing it.” For that reason they’ll roll out a navy version of the Duck Chore coat in the next two weeks and are exploring new designs for women.
The label has gained an especially impressive footing in markets that covet its strong American appeal. “Brands like that always have a hardcore customer and connoisseurs abroad that appreciate its rarity,” said Burrows. In Europe, Pointer is stocked in stores with names like Americana and Yankee Doodle. And in Japan, where “workwear is a fashion staple,” as King explained, the brand is scooped up by “a younger market, kids that are probably between 15 and 32 years old.”
That Japanese intrigue quickly grew into a larger, high-end ordeal. While Pointer annually sells about $400,000 worth of merchandise in Japan through popular retailers like Rakuten (the country’s answer to Amazon), their buzz inspired famed designer Junya Watanabe to link up with the label in 2004 on a co-opted line of clothes. “He personally contacted us to ship him some products for him to construct and reconstruct with his finesse,” King explained of Watanabe’s deconstructed take on Pointer’s classic four-pocket jacket, which incorporates contrast seed-stitching and a slimmed silhouette. The collaboration was such a success that it still continues today—sold in specialty stores in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and New York. “We love that we are making stuff that we will never see on the streets here in Bristol but you’ll see them on the street in New York and Tokyo,” said King. “To have something like that come out of a small Appalachian town and go somewhere so different is just fantastic.”