Mar 24, 2017 | By Carlene Thomas Bailey
Oct 24, 2016
By Jian DeLeon
Jerome Peel has always worn patched work shirts as part of his uniform. A lifelong skater and streetwear fan, he’s dabbled in modelling for lookbooks like Carhartt WIP, and moonlights as a DJ under the moniker “Jerome Chrome,” playing NYC hotspots like Happy Ending.
His utilitarian personal style has got him his fair share of ribbing from friends and passersby alike. But now, his love for real-deal workwear is blossoming into a young label to watch. His nascent brand, Peels NYC, launched earlier this year with a small offering of short-sleeve, genuine work shirts emblazoned with personalised name tags and the logo of his father’s West Palm Beach, Fla.-based painting business.
Thanks to the shirts’ easy-wearing appeal and the help of his model girlfriend Sarah Brannon, Peels NYC’s wares have been coined by Vogue as a “model off-duty trend.”
“I didn’t ever see myself doing this,” says Peel. “I always wanted to [start a brand], but my ideas were always biting off Supreme, Eli Reed, or someone else’s idea.”
Eli Reed is a prolific pro skater whose exploits include skating the Playboy Mansion in a dusty pink tuxedo. He also has an eponymous clothing brand full of skatewear staples like coach jackets, graphic sweatshirts, and baseball caps.
“There are skaters that have a platform—they’re big names, and they find it convenient to start a brand,” says Peel. “I don’t have that. I had to work harder.”
Sure, Peel doesn’t have the sponsorships or on-board popularity as someone like Eli Reed, but he’s still managed to pull off stunts like getting notorious skater and extant punk icon Andy Roy to model in one of his lookbooks.
Though the first people Peel got into the brand were skaters—and he wears his shirts to skate in every day—he’s adamant that it’s not really a skate brand.
“I don’t want it to be something where people feel weird if they’re wearing it but they don’t skate; I want it to be more open than that,” he says. “I don’t want just skaters wearing it, and I don’t want just guys wearing it, I want every gender and sexual preference.”
Peels NYC remains a homegrown operation, overseen largely by Peel himself, though Sarah Brannon is beginning to get more involved from a creative, marketing, and styling standpoint as she looks to expand her talents beyond the modeling world.
As for Peel’s dad, the man whose painting company inspired the brand? Well, he’s still painting, and has been doing so for the past 30 years.
“He did it because he never wanted a real schedule, a boss, or to have to be somewhere every morning,” says the younger Peel. “I do feel like that’s rubbed off on me. Nobody likes getting bossed around, and in an ideal world, I would be an entrepreneur and make my own hours.”
When his father came to visit in Brooklyn the other week, his uniform of a paint-splattered shirt and work trousers fit right into the hip neighborhood of Bushwick.
“He was wearing a paint-splattered shirt and pants—and he just looked like an artist in Brooklyn,” comments Peel.
Peels NYC is at the forefront of a movement highlighted in our new report (which is only viewable to subscribers): Emerging Trend: True-Collar. Workwear staples are being revisited to more accurately reflect the everyday blue collar uniform. In another example, Heron Preston recently collaborated with the New York City Department of Sanitation on a pop-up shop and repurposed line inspired by the literal garments worn by the city’s garbagemen.
“Things are shifting from just wearing super vintage stuff to wearing real blue collar stuff,” says Peel.
Keeping the line affordable is also important to Peel. His work shirts start at $60, and tees start at $22.
“The people that do hard work, and the people I surround myself with—none of them are super loaded,” he adds. “I can’t produce something that represents the working class and not make it affordable to the working class.”
The personalised name tags are important to the brand’s DNA. Peel has talked with several retailers who say they could move more shirts without the custom labels, but the one-of-a-kind factor is important to him. He likens it to preppy monograms, but also likens the name tag to the honest nature of blue collar work.
“If you have your name on, you’re a different type of worker. At the Google offices, they don’t have their name tag on their shirt,” he says.
While he admits his margins aren’t huge, right now his goal isn’t to grow into a huge business, but more so make clothing that conveys an authentic experience, and in a way convey the message of his father’s hard work.
“This was just started as a dream—I always wanted to create clothing,” says Peel. “Now I’m doing it, and people are wearing my dad’s company. If anybody should make money—it should be my dad.”
The line has expanded beyond shirts into construction crew-inspired tees in popular hues like dusty pink. In addition to the classic Peel’s Painting motifs that include the real number for his dad’s painting business, he’s expanded to logos that pay homage to the roses that adorn many fluorescent nail salons in Chinatown. He also made a t-shirt that pays homage to China Chalet, the downtown dim sum spot that doubles as a venue for wild parties with a diverse crowd.
According to Peel, the rose is symbolic of a certain chintzy sense of refinement.
“It’s taking something that’s messed up and perfecting it,” he says. “And that’s what my dad does to houses, and why it applies to me.”
Peel sometimes gets confused for a janitor because of his clothes. He wears them to DJ at the blond, the buzzy club located at the 11 Howard hotel, where some employees assumed he was just coming to his gigs after a legit blue collar job.
It wasn’t until they read the Vogue interview where they realized the 26-year-old was a maker of clothes, not a cleaner of floors. And his recent feature in The New York Times should further help distinguish him from genuine labourers.
As far as his future plans for Peels NYC, he’s taking it slow and steady. He just introduced a category of embroidered bomber jackets at a time when New York City’s weather is finally taking a turn towards autumn.
“I’m just doing things that I like,” he says.
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