It’s been a busy year for Jeff Abrams, founder and creative director of globally-popular clothing and lifestyle brand RAILS. The brand immediately enacted major philanthropy efforts when COVID hit, while endeavoring to still produce and release a stunning Fall campaign (shot at Joshua Tree, no less!). Now, Abrams has just cut the proverbial red ribbon on the first-ever RAILS store. The Daily caught up with him for a look inside the chic retail space and to get the scoop on what’s to come.
You launched with just a single hat 12 years ago. What has changed and what has stayed the same?
I launched with a desire to create a collection rooted in the effortless Californian aesthetic, combined with a refined, global sensibility. It was an innovative shirt that propelled our brand into the contemporary market, all while we established our brand ethos of luxe hand feel. Our focus is always on product first and fabric innovation. Over the past twelve years, what was an item-driven collection has evolved into a full lifestyle brand, with an assortment including classic shirtings, dresses, knitwear, outerwear and bottoms—outfitting that can take you anywhere! While we continue to bring custom fabrics and new products to market each season, one constant within our company is the RAILS family. Our first employees still works at the business, even as we have grown to over 100 team members. It is that sense of family and community that has remained at the core of our success.
If you had to sum up RAILS as a brand in one sentence, what would it be?
RAILS is more than just a clothing brand—it’s a lifestyle that blends international inspiration with the effortless California spirit by focusing on incredible fabrics, innovative but wearable silhouettes, and an emotional connection cultivated between our brand and customer.
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Why do you think RAILS has built up such a loyal following in 40 countries?
Our product has resonated with customers all over the globe with its effortless ease and unmatched comfort. Whether you’re a customer in the US, London, Tokyo, Paris, or Dubai, RAILS speaks to a global audience and customer who wants to look great and feel amazing. Over the years, we’ve built our business on a grassroots level by cultivating direct relationships with our retail partners, understanding the nuances of each market, and developing our collections with a global consumer top of mind. We’re selling in 40 countries and nearly 40% of our site traffic is coming from international markets. All of the foundational groundwork is actualized through the engagement we’ve seen from our global audience.
Tell us about the film shot at Joshua Tree to highlight the Fall collection.
Travel has always been an important part of the brand, since the early days when I was traveling through Europe on the Eurorail, which is how we got our name ‘Rails’! Every season, we’ve sought out an international destination to represent our collections. However with COVID, it shifted our perspective to think locally and find inspiration in our own backyard. We leaned into the concept of a local road trip, highlighting places that are quintessentially California, like Joshua Tree. It is the perfect place to showcase the evolution of our brand, whether with the Steffi checked jacket, the Lana animal printed sweater, or the effortless Inez dress.
What kind of initiatives did you enact this year to give back? What was the response like?
Philanthropy has been a core touchpoint of RAILS from the start, and given the global hardships this year, giving back felt more important than ever. As an international brand, we hope that by sharing the importance of giving back, we can bring together our community and do our part. The response so far has been extremely positive, and we feel grateful to be in a position where can offer support during these challenging times. To aid our community and professional healthcare workers on the front lines, we donated 10,000 medical grade KN95 masks to hospitals in need, as well as 50,000 non-medical masks to school districts across the country. In the early days of the pandemic, we halted our garment production to create PPE masks that are available for purchase at railsclothing.com, along with a matching 1:1 donation program. To extend support to our amazing wholesale partners, we created a special affiliate program to support our boutiques who faced hardship during the pandemic. Beyond our COVID relief efforts, RAILS has several give-back initiatives in place. This includes our Be The Change Tee, with 100% of proceeds going towards Color of Change and The Leadership Conference Education Fund, as well as our Breast Cancer Awareness lounge set in support of the Susan G. Komen Organization.
Congrats on your new flagship in Soho! What can guests expect?
Thank you! The store is a beautiful space that blends our California vibe with a classic Soho look. It was formerly an art gallery and features 20-foot ceilings, exposed finishes, and custom furnishings sourced from local artisans. Travel books fill the space, as a nod to our global influences. The store allows our customer the opportunity to shop the full breadth of our women’s and men’s collections and experience the incredible hand feel firsthand. We’re excited to use the flagship store as our introduction into brick and mortar, and plan to launch additional retail locations in the coming future, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Paris.
What does it mean to you to have your first physical store in the heart of NYC? Have you always imagined this day?
New York is one of our largest markets and the global epicenter of fashion. As we continued to build a global platform, we looked to New York as the convergence of our years of hard work. It is a place where we can share the continued evolution of the brand with both our international and domestic customers. We love our Soho neighborhood filled with great restaurants, hotels, and other retailers that really make it a great place to have a retail footprint. We’re excited to see it evolve in the coming years!
What’s your big takeaway from 2020, professionally and personally?
This year has been a period of both challenge and self-reflection for brands and individuals alike. We’ve had to reevaluate our priorities and think not only of what’s important for our business but what’s important to our RAILS family. How do we provide great product while also giving back to our communities? How can we connect personal wellness and safety within a growing business? Due to the comfort of our collection, the customer is relying on RAILS as a key staple of their wardrobe because they feel an emotional connection to our brand. It is up to us to continue innovating and delivering product that makes you not only look great but feel amazing. Resilience is also an important factor for success. When things are challenging, you can’t give up. You have to be creative and pivot your brand to push forward in tumultuous times.
Our New York store opening is just the beginning! As we look ahead to 2021, we’re excited to expand our retail presence with locations in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as a pop-up experience in Paris. We are also expanding our global platform with the opening of our international headquarters in London next year. We are excited to find the balance between DTC and our foundation of wholesale partnerships, even as we continue to connect more directly with our consumer. As always, our focus will first be on product as we evolve both our women’s and men’s collections. Stay tuned for what’s to come!