F. Co Spotlight: Tellason
At Felding Co, Tellason is one of the central fixtures of denim offered, and the respect for their product is sizable. Based out of Sausalito, California, Tellason consistently pushes quality over quantity as a concept through their design and focus on fit and detail. The resulting product is at once both elegant and unassuming.
Part of the attraction to Tellason as a company is their loyalty and how that shapes their decision making when it comes to the business. Their website states "We are 100% committed to the city of San Francisco and will make our jeans here and only here, forever. This place is the home of blue jean culture as we know it and moving production somewhere else to save a couple of bucks just won't happen. If you know us, you know this to be true..." and the team at Felding Co find this position for their business model refreshing in this current fashion climate. When many people seem to be asking how they can make something faster and cheaper, Tony Patella and Pete Searson, founders of Tellason, are asking different questions, mainly ones around craftsmanship and sustainability. What follows is a series of questions we were able to put to Searson in an attempt to know more about the backstory of the company and hopefully provide a place to archive ideas for future creatives by listening to designers who have seen the road for themselves.
1. When did you start Tellason? What motivated you to start your own company?
Tony and I shipped our first stack of jeans in the Spring of 2009. Prior to that, we’d been friends for 20 years and felt it was time to go it alone and create a brand based on things and ideas that we love. In our case, denim was the only thing that mattered; good denim that is. The bottom is well fed, so we aimed high and tapped into Tony's good relationships with sewers and suppliers that he made way prior to Tellason. They opened the door for us and gave us their time from the very beginning. When the initial cut of our first order was ready, we drove his Volvo V70 (with 200k miles on it) and crammed it full of jeans, drove it to his garage and packed up about half of it and took it to 5 shops we had met with about this new brand of ours. 2009 was the worst economy in our generation and retailers were not driving Cadillacs at the time, so what we made really did have to sell (or bye bye). We priced is as best we could and made that one fit, well, fit. A couple weeks passed, and we got reorders from all 5 shops.
2. What’s one of the biggest breakthroughs you’ve experienced along the way?
I don't think we have ever used the word "breakthrough" in our day to day dialog. The only thing that comes to mind is the satisfaction we get when our old world "quality first" and "customer service" DNA gets recognized by strangers who give a damn about that kind of stuff. We are not tied to fashion trends or looks, so it is nice to see customers appreciate the minerals we put into the actual product and customer service. I just got off the phone with a dude from Singapore. We spoke for 20 minutes about the fit and fabric that would work best for him. There is no way he wanted to hassle getting that jean back to us if it did not fit, so I think that 20 minute conversation will end up making him a customer for his next few purchases.
3. Any advice you’d give other makers looking to start their own venture?
As always, have a point of view. Stick to your idea, as long as your idea has your customer's best interest in mind first and your profits second. Nobody needs another design label out there pumping out overpriced garbage that some flash in the pan celebrity wore to the bagel shop.
4. What are some ways you keep yourself anchored? Or how do you avoid burnout in your demanding field?
Almost 10 years in and I can say there is no burn out here between Tony and me. We make things that men need and look good in, and we take their satisfaction very seriously. We also like the fact that we are not reinventing the wheel here; we spend less time coming up with the newest shirt and focus on great fabrics to deliver something new every now and then, but to our core, we make 5 pocket jeans for men who come back all the time to get another pair for the pair they just had to retire. This is the most important moment in our day, when the customer comes back to buy another pair of the exact same thing he just had to retire.
5. Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
As you may know, most of the names of our products are loosely named after our favorite band, The Clash. We draw inspiration with every song played, with every documentary watched about the band. They were the real deal and should never be forgotten. There is a group of 10-12 year old groms around here that play some heavy rock and roll, called The Alive. My daughter goes to middle school with one of the boys. Two weeks ago, one of the three members had a Clash tee shirt on. He is no poser, so something tells me he not only knew the music but could also play it. That right there fires me up. To see that generation get their heads around that music makes all the difference to this old goat.
6. If you weren’t at Tellason, what other profession would you like to explore?
If I could make a living off of coaching, I would coach. I am the president of my town's softball program, and my twelve year old daughter is a strong pitcher. I would also like to remodel interesting mid-century houses. Modern design for today is great but how cool are the old houses from the 50's and 60's?
7. What are you listening to right now (music/podcasts)?
I don't have much desire to go out of my lane of: The Clash, Buzzcocks, Blondie, X, Ramones, etc... We also listen to a lot of Jim Florentine (comedian) and have been known to watch episodes of Arrested Development while we pack up blue jeans.
8. What are you reading right now (books/blogs)?
Not reading anything right now. My nights are gobbled up with Warriors basketball and of course, the SF Giants!
9. What are you watching right now (TV/film)?
See above. Also dug Black Mirror and The Handmade's Tale.
10. How would you describe your personal style?
I wear the same stuff i did in Jr. High: straight leg jeans, sneakers, tees (mostly no logo stuff, but love P1 Brand graphics). Seriously, I dress exactly the same. Maybe throw in some military bits and pieces.