To many people, a blazer is a standard, boring article of clothing. To Jack Carlson, founder of Rowing Blazers, it’s a “cornerstone garment” that can carry a great depth of meaning and authenticity. Carlson has spent his life traveling across the world researching the blazer. He even wrote a book about it.
But it’s not his research nor book that he’s most known for, nor is it his quirky personality and loud, eye-popping outfits. Rather, it’s his clothing brand, Rowing Blazers, that put him on the map. His company marries American flair with a touch of British class to create truly astonishing garments that have taken the world by storm in just over four years.
Who Is Jack Carlson?
Jack Carlson is the founder and creative director of his clothing brand, Rowing Blazers.
Much like this brand, Carlson’s life has been anything but ordinary. Born in 1987, he grew up in Boston and spent much of his childhood between New England and old England.
Carlson graduated from Georgetown University’s Foreign Service School, where he studied Chinese and Classics and was captain of the rowing team, before completing graduate studies at Oxford University. It was there he earned a master’s and a doctorate in archaeology, studying Roman and ancient Chinese art.
Jack Carlson’s Passion for Rowing
Jack Carlson is also the author of a book called Rowing Blazers — an illustrated tome about the blazers traditionally worn by rowers. It’s this book that inspired Carlson to start his clothing brand of the same name.
Carlson’s love for rowing began during his time at school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the so-called “spiritual home” of rowing in America.
Carlson says that since he was 11, rowing has been his main sport. He regularly rowed throughout high school, college, and university. While studying at Oxford, he participated in the Oxford-Cambridge lightweight boat race before going on to be part of the winning squad at Henley Royal Regatta in 2013.
His first time competing at Henley, however, nine years earlier, Carlson wasn’t as successful. His team was knocked out in the first round and thus spent the next five days as spectators. It was at this time he experienced the ritual and tradition of rowing as a sport in England, and he credits his passion for rowing to that experience.
At Henley, spectators are required to adhere to a dress code — club blazers and ties for men and large hats and dresses for women. And this is what everyone talks about. “Every nation, every club, every college, I discovered, has their own eccentric set of blazer traditions,” Carlson muses. “I thought: Someone ought to write a book about this!”
Researching the Blazer
Like most academics, Jack Carlson started his book — and by extension his fashion brand — in the library. It was there he discovered the history of the blazer.
“I traced back to the first time the word blazer was ever used, that we know of anyway, to refer to a piece of clothing,” he explains. “It comes from a rowing club in Cambridge, Lady Margaret Boat Club, where they started wearing these bright red flannel jackets with metal buttons. They were blazing red, and became known, for short, as blazers.”
Some years later, in 2014, Carlson published his Rowing Blazers book after spending several years putting together the passion project, traveling the world to see and collect an array of vintage rowing blazers. The book was an almost instant success, with big names in fashion like Ralph Lauren said to have been inspired by it.
How Jack Carlson Founded Rowing Blazers as a Fashion Brand
During his time traveling to put together his book, Jack Carlson noticed that despite how revered the old-fashioned rowing blazer was among rowers, no companies or tailors were making traditional garments any longer. Over the years, many of the traditional tailors who had fashioned blazers for rowing clubs had closed.
“I think it was through the process of researching for Rowing Blazers the book that I realized the bigger implications of what I was working on,” he says. “It also made me realize that no one was making a proper blazer, certainly not a proper rowing blazer, anymore.”
Indeed, it was the book that laid the foundation for the Rowing Blazers brand. With an overwhelmingly positive response to the book, Carlson decided to look into starting his own fashion brand and revive the traditional rowing blazer.
Rowing Blazers was officially founded in 2017 in New York City, producing collaborations in Manhattan’s Garment District and in Europe. The brand’s very first piece was, of course, a rowing blazer.
Within the first few months, the brand experienced a huge amount of success. On launch day, Olympic rowers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss made an appearance at a presentation event in Manhattan, and Rowing Blazers’ low-quantity, detail-oriented products sold out on several occasions in both the U.S. and Japan. “It’s interesting, I’ve found that being able to say that our pieces are all made in America means more in Japan than it does in America,” Carlson said in an interview with The Observer in August 2017.
The Future for Rowing Blazers
It’s clear Carlson has big plans for his brand.
He’s openly said he wants to position the brand as the go-to for authentic blazers, rugby shirts, and polo jerseys. “When someone wants a beautifully made blazer, with all the right details and trappings, I want them to think of us,” he said in an interview with The Chap, a British humorous men’s lifestyle magazine.
Now, Carlson is focusing on establishing a permanent presence outside of the U.S. for the brand. Recently, Rowing Blazers opened its first international pop-up store in Seven Dials, London, showcasing its autumn/winter 2021 collection. While the pop-up shop was only open during the holiday season, it was nonetheless a huge milestone for the brand.
Carlson is working on more big things, and says that we can expect more tailored clothing as well as more collaborations. “We’re really expanding our made-to-order business, with wide-wale corduroy, British tweed, madras, seersucker, and, of course, blazer stripes. We also have some more amazing collaborations coming up, including a second installment of our ongoing Seiko partnership.” The brand’s first watch collaboration with Seiko, released last summer, sold out in a matter of minutes. If that’s any indication, it’s going to be an exciting year for Rowing Blazers.