Sawdust covered the floors, fixtures and clothing racks were yet to be built, the walls stark white and bare. It was late May when three friends began construction on the Williamsburg shop, a soon-to-be home for their budding label, Ferris. Offering custom garments tailored from either raw fabrics or a combination of rare vintage pieces, Ferris caters to the client who seeks an urban aesthetic and one-of-one design. That is exactly the idea behind Ferris’ maxim: Surveyors, Purveyors, Makers, and Redeemers. While the three keep a close eye on emerging street wear trends and strive to supply the demands of their clients, they agree that maintaining a healthy appetite for rebellion is key to the Ferris mission. Drawing inspiration from other art forms including skating culture, rap music, and more, Ferris—more than a clothing brand—is a lifestyle.
Taylor Conlin, the label’s head tailor, felt perfectly at home in the modestly sized, two level building, which would soon operate as a retail store, custom design studio, and living space for two-thirds of the Ferris team. In the backroom, a small space crammed with dress forms and cardboard boxes overflowing with vintage samples, Conlin's eyes lit up as he pulled a part Japanese denim, part suede patchwork jacket from one of the boxes and draped it on a form.
“The back of this piece is made from old pennant flags stitched together,” he explained enthusiastically, running his finger across the reinforced seams. “I haven’t seen anyone else doing anything like this jacket.”
A mere two months later, the shop was complete and open for business. Located on Berry Street between Grand and North 1st Street, Ferris features rustic wooden décor and a large neon sign emblazoned with the brand's logo. Walk in on any given day greeted by Frank Sinatra's smooth vocals and the faint sound of skateboards hitting pavement outside. Perhaps even more impressive than the shop's seemingly overnight transformation is the ambition and passion of the boys behind it all.
In early 2011, Conlin left Loyola Marymount University and returned home to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he began making jackets on his own. After relocating to New York City the following summer, he met AJ Livingston at a house party. A San Diego native attending school at New York University, Livingston found that he and Taylor shared similar goals and they exchanged numbers.
“I was debating whether or not to hit him up,” said Livingston. “I thought, ‘screw it, I'll call him. I don't have any friends out here anyway.’ ”
Within a week after their initial meeting, Ferris was born.
Both highly driven and passionate individuals, Conlin and Livingston also shared like-minded sensibilities toward designing apparel that does not adhere to the status quo. “I knew I needed someone else,” said Conlin. “Once I met AJ, then we were a serious company. We teamed up and started working almost immediately.”
After Livingston brought in longtime friend Taylor Spong to assist with constructing the shop and marketing the label, the trio formed a collective of artists, musicians, and skaters devoted to making one-of-a-kind clothing with attention to quality and detail. “Like the wheel that goes around and around, we take old clothing, strip it down, and give it new life,” Conlin added.
The very namesake of the brand alludes to a healthy, youthful sense of disobedience and adventure. “We got the name from the Ferris wheel and also from Ferris Bueller,” explained Livingston. “Both, to us, represent ideas of youth and continuity.”
These ideas are the motivating force behind some of Conlin’s earliest tailoring work. With each of his designs, he seeks to achieve something novel and meaningful, even if that means pissing some people off. “My first jacket, I cut up an American flag and a lot of people had a problem with that,” said Conlin. “To me, it is more patriotic to wear it on my back then to hang it outside my house.”
Always striving to push the boundaries of custom design doesn’t come without making some mistakes along the way—luckily, Ferris embraces imperfection. “It’s not perfect because I haven’t had that formal training,” admitted Conlin, “but part of the process is making mistakes. I’m okay with fucking up because I am learning and trying to perfect my skills.”
Spong, who assists Conlin on the sewing machine, considers the unexpected similarities between skating and creating a new design. “When you go out skating and you don’t know where you’re headed,” he began, “you might find this sick spot no one else knows about. In making clothes, you also have these moments of discovery.”
Ferris relies on niche details to set them apart from other street wear brands. Both a blessing and a curse, limited financial and material resources encourage the boys to think more creatively by simply working with what they have. “Even if we wanted to do what everyone else was doing, we couldn’t,” said Livingston. “We just use what we can get and, in the process, we’re creating one-of-a-kind pieces.”
Conlin points out a vest made from an old pair of jeans and shirt as a prime example of this ingenuity. “I found these jeans I wore in high school and they fuckin’ smelled terrible,” said Conlin. “After I gave them a thorough wash, I combined them with this flannel I used to wear to make this patchwork vest. I called it ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ ”
Ferris’ grungy quality is not an artificial put-on to lure hipsters and hypebeasts, but rather a reflection of the boys’ rugged lifestyles as skaters, surfers, and artists. “We’re just a bunch of rats,” Livingston joked.
In addition to their custom pieces and graphic t-shirt line, the Ferris boys are committed to stocking the shop with genuine vintage clothing handpicked from various warehouses. “Real vintage is not about taking an old American-made 50s work wear piece and then making it in China,” said Conlin. “What’s good about the foundation of our business is that such a system won’t make sense for us because we’ll always have custom.”
“That’s the cool factor,” added Livingston, “We plan to expand from our basic selection of graphic tees, hats, and beanies to include more wide-scale production of cut-and-sew items, but the custom stuff is never going to be part of that line, it’s part of the brand.”
A personal friend of the boys, professional skater Tom Remillard and Livingston met as “drinking buddies from the same skateboarding crowd in San Diego.” Placing in the top 10 at this year’s XGames Park, the 21-year-old has donned logos of some of the most relevant brands in the industry, but believes Ferris brings something different to the table. "The foundation of Ferris is very unique compared to other brands and this is something I see holding true in the future as well,” said Remillard. “With most things that are unique, there is usually success."
Perusing the racks, it’s clear that most completed custom pieces are usually the hybrid of three or four vintage garments. A closer look at a mid-weight Woolrich vest reveals black, acid-washed denim detailing and branding from a vintage Nike Flight sweater, as well as a subtle camouflage print obscured by red mesh. On a shelf resting overhead the racks, quality wool caps bearing a simple Ferris logo are on display alongside custom-made leather and canvas bags produced by international label Property Of. The glass cabinet in the counter showcases vintage eyewear and jewelry by fellow NYC designer Bernard Jaems. Livingston, who is always looking for other talented designers to join the team, hopes to add more custom made accessories like hats, sunglasses, and shoes to their inventory. “Eventually, you'll be able to come here, and your wardrobe is yours—no one shares a single item in your wardrobe.”