From America with Love: A Conversation With Christian McCann of Left Field NYC
We first covered New York based denim brand Left Field during New York Denim Days in 2018. They were attending the second edition of the show in order to show their new collection. Ever since then we’ve been following the brand with great interest and we love the diverse range of high quality fabrics featured in each collection. Left Field is a distinctly New York denim brand, distinct in its aesthetic. We recently started a conversation with Christian McCann, owner of the brand and he shared his vision with us about started Left Field and the journey so far. We’ve been hooked ever since. Check out the interview below, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
Robin Denim (RD): Christian, can you please start by introducing yourself?
Christian McCann (CM): My name is Christian McCann, I founded Left Field in my apartment in Brooklyn in 1998 while on unemployment.
RD: What made you to start Left Field? What was the original intention behind the brand?
CM: I hustled a job as the Assistant Men’s Buyer at Anthropology back in Philly in the mid 90’s. They were closing the men’s dept as the women’s business was booming with men’s being more of an afterthought. I decided to move to NYC and was offered a job with a current men’s brand. I had limited money, just about enough for the first month rent and the brand ended up screwing me over. They told me to look for something else as they were having financial issues; I had to look for another job fast. I went on a few interviews – Abercrombie was one of them – it was horrible and at that point I realized I couldn’t work for Corporate America. I wanted to do a vintage inspired clothing brand which was made in America. I had been reading a lot of Japanese fashion magazines as a buyer and felt that it was time for an American created and American Vintage inspired clothing brand. Done from an American perspective. Not trying to sound ethnocentric but it was our culture and the Japanese had taken it over – I felt as an American that we needed to represent our own culture with as much respect to our past history and design as the Japanese gave it.
RD: You have been running the brand for over 20 years. What have been some of the highlights for you?
CM: I’m really excited about the Work Uniform collection; it’s simple American made work clothing, with vintage inspiration, designed to be worn by actual workers. It’s made of mostly of American work fabrics and offered at a fair and reasonable price. We use green bartacks and keyholes, as well as green zipper tape on the zipper fly, it’s inspired by vintage chore coats and overalls from the 40’s. It’s also a nod to the Irish, who were an integral force in forging this country at the turn of the century (especially in coal mining). I believe that brands like Osh Kosh catered to this work force and they used 4 leaf clover tack buttons and the kelly green stitching. Other workwear brands did this too, so we thought this was a nice detail to bring back and fit into our story.
RD: Did your approach to being a denim brand change over the years?
CM: We are constantly a work in progress, always looking for ways to make things better, and pricing cheaper. After stores like Uniqlo demystified selvedge denim back in the day people don’t care as much about selvedge or valued it less. As the world economy softens and we are in a highly charged political climate people are hesitant to spend a lot of money. We have brought in cheaper non selvedge options while still using American made fabrics like the Cone American Zipper Fly Classic. For this we use Cone White Oak 13oz non selvedge denim. We used a zipper fly for that guy who hates a button fly, likes denim washed, not raw and stiff, and doesn’t care about the extra details like hidden back pocket rivets and specialty hardware. The guy who just wants quality made jeans in a good fit, made in America from American denim and at a fair price. We sell this fit for $135 and our Work Uniform jeans are non-selvedge from mostly American made denim for $145.
RD: What are the most important values of Left Field?
CM: Integrity, quality, made in America and always branding. As any vintage collector would attest to, branding is everything, but only if it is done well!
RD: So, all of your garments are completely made in the USA. Why is this so important to you?
CM: For us, Left Field represents American history and vintage American clothing so to be made anywhere else would be blasphemy and fake.
RD: How do you manage the sell ‘Made in USA’ jeans at an accessible price point?
CM: We are a two-man operation, we keep cost low, we have no ego and I’ve been through enough shit in my life to remain humble. To run the brand for a living is a gift and our customers are the most important part of our business, so we don’t want to rip off our customers. Offering a fair price for hard wearing garments was what denim and workwear was all about back in the day.
RD: You have some great fabrics in your collection. What are the most interesting fabrics and why?
CM: I love fabrics with texture, so slub and nep are always at the top of the list, as well as linen and hemp blends which add a lot of texture. I would say my favorite is the Nihon Menpu Hank Dye Natural Indigo with hemp. The shade of natural indigo is beautiful and gets better with age, whereas the Hank dying creates a variegated warp which means the indigo yarns vary slightly in color which looks really special. The hemp makes the jeans so soft and comfortable, they feel like sweats after they’re broken in. Another favorite is the Cone White Oak Sunflower Denim, which was an experimental denim created by Henry Wong for Cone White Oak back in the day. The weft had colored nubs which pop through the indigo warp and look like a tweed denim. This fabric was never released from Cone and I acquired it through a back-end resource since they thought it would be too scratchy and never wanted it to hit the market. Everyone went nuts for it and I was supposed to run 800 more yards of it, which was all they had left to make the weft . During the 2010 recession they cleaned out the development department of all new and experimental denims, and the tweed weft went MIA (I believe it was thrown out during the mayhem of the recession to show there wasn’t any random inventory sitting in the mill). Lastly the 18 oz. Collect Mills slub denim, which brought out some of the best fades I’ve ever had. The highs and lows are intense and beautiful with a very unique texture, it almost looks like burlap.
RD: In contrast to most denim brands, you use fabrics from many different countries. What characteristics do you use when selecting fabrics?
CM: We were selling primarily Cone Mills (selvedge denim) and Japanese selvedge denim, but as the economy has slowed down and people’s pockets have tightened, I wanted to have a cheaper alternative while still making the jeans in America with a high quality denim. We found a couple of Mills in the Xinjiang region of Western China that use an extra long staple cotton, one that is comparable with the longest staple cotton from Zimbabwe that is used in the finest Japanese denims. The denim was also comparable to Japanese quality and at a price 30% cheaper than the Japanese. I knew some people might frown upon us using Chinese denim, but they have been working with indigo for thousands of years and there are a lot of artisans producing high quality fabrics in China. Unfortunately they have received a really bad reputation because of all the mass produced crap for department and discount stores. Many Japanese companies have also been working with Chinese Mills to bring the fabric quality even higher, so that has been a significant change.
RD: What are the best selling Left Field items? And why are they so successful?
CM: Recently the Work Uniform jeans and chinos have been selling very well. We are using almost all American made fabrics which is ideal for our Work Uniform concept. We use a non-selvedge denim to keep the prices lower and the quality high. We take a lot of vintage workwear details and incorporate them into modern comfortable fits at a very fair price for American made small production clothing We use high quality vintage reproduction zippers made of brass from Talon and Conmar which add a lot to the vintage feel (and make it easier to relieve oneself when on the job site vs traditional button fly!)
RD: What can we expect from Left Field in the near future?
CM: We have 4 new styles coming through the pipeline which we will keep on the ‘DL’ but we’re very excited. We recently launched an amazing Jacquard Mohair Cardigan made in Queens which was received with a lot of enthusiasm, so we will be expanding our sweater knits made in NYC. We also just launched a vintage style fishing cap made of herringbone denim that looks like wool with a high quality brass slider (which was made in NYC). We are currently working on an engineer style work cap with the Work Uniform label for the working man as well.