Sam Larson | Entrepreneur
When we moved our office from Venice Beach in LA to Solana Beach in SD, we didn’t know Sam yet, but we knew about his businesses in the area. Sam happened to be in the shop when Dave (David Kind Founder) stopped by the original Lone Flag location. What started as a conversation over a pair of Shoes Like Pottery, turned to Japanese craftsmanship, different brands they respect and the value of quality. Eventually, Lone Flag became a David Kind stockist and one of our favorite partnerships.
Sam’s been at the forefront of men’s fashion and design in the area and brings a welcomed perspective on retail, well-crafted products, supporting local makers, and starting brands that deserve shelf space in any city. He’s launched Lone Flag, Other Sons, Coast Denim, and from what we hear, there is more to come.
We sat down at his shop to learn a little more about how he developed his craft.
What got you into the design/retail/apparel business? Was there a particular experience, etc that caught your interest?
I started off way back in the day (around 2006) with Nixon on the accessories side and learned a lot about the wholesale side of things at that company. That’s where I first was introduced to Colette in Paris and some really great independent stores that were building global names and I was always really intrigued by that whole world. I found out in that process that I was super into the small and more cult-ish brand world and store offering and it was a bug that I couldn’t shake. From that point on I split off and worked for a handful of other brands along the way and ended up doing some wholesale for a brand called CXXVI in the men’s space out of NY. It was at a pop up show in 2013 where I saw a bunch of brands I’d known of but never seen in person in Southern California and seeing it all in that context was super influential to me. I remember watching 3sixteen chainstitch denim for a line of customers waiting to meet them and thinking there was nothing like that where I lived. The story behind a lot of those brands and the heritage in them (Filson was a huge influence on me too) were elements that I couldn’t get past, and when I came home from that trip I was really hooked on researching all of these stores and brands I had connected with. It was the spark that lit the proverbial fire for me.
To what do you most attribute the development of your craft? Did you have a mentor or formal education?
I did go to college and got an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Baylor in the early 2000’s, but it wasn’t until I really worked with my father-in-law who was an entrepreneur that I knew I really wanted to start a business. When I had gotten back from NY at that show where I had experienced all of those brands, I really got nerdy into denim. Since we didn’t really have anyone offering these brands or this sort of denim experience in Southern CA at that time (except for Self Edge up in LA), the only real mentor I had was the internet. Denim blogs were sort of underground but they were there if you looked in the right places and you could learn any and everything if you would commit the time to it. So the combination of just researching non-stop to soak in as much knowledge of the process as I could, and going to see and experience several of the brands in our space helped me learn everything on the go. I visited factories in LA with some of the contacts I had from past brands, met with production contacts I met via some of the brands we worked with in the shop, and just had tons of conversations with people I respected in the denim and menswear world that had been there longer than me and knew more. The education process was really based around passion and the willingness to be a sponge any and everywhere I could. I learned not to be scared to ask questions.
What kind of risks of challenges have you encountered over the years building a business and brand? And did the challenges (or a particular challenge) change your path in any way?
So many risks and challenges have happened in the process of Lone Flag it’s hard to even list them all out, but that’s most likely the story for all small businesses like mine. One of the first ones was stepping out of a decent job with a salary and going out on my own in a business that typically requires substantial startup capital and doing it with a wife who was freelance designing (aka not having a consistent income) with a mortgage and a small daughter to cover. I’ll be honest, it was a scary risk but we knew we could always fall back on family and other jobs would be there again if we failed so it’s not the end of the world. That mindset really helped give us some clarity. I’d also say access to capital has been a constant challenge to us throughout the years. At times we have plenty, but other times we are totally strapped and I’ve had to make tons of sacrifices behind the scenes to keep the ball rolling forward in cash tight times. My guess is most small businesses are in the same boat, access to good capital to grow and expand is difficult to come by and you have to be super careful who you take money from if you choose to do that. I’ve always been a bit averse to taking any loans so we’ve mostly cash-flowed the business since the beginning which has been really, really hard. Lastly, the time part has been a challenge as well. Now the business is less all-consuming for me as I have 3 kids and being a dad and husband is way more important to me than anything else, but in the beginning 60+ hour weeks were the norm. That’s tough to carry for a long window of time without burnout but it’s part of the process.
When thinking about the future of your work, what are you most excited about?
We’ve worked on a project called Coast Denim for the last year or so which is basically an entry-level denim for someone who wants to get into the world of better-made denim that Lone Flag offers now. I’m most excited about this because it’s a proprietary product for us that is sort of the culmination of all of those years of learning and honing our craft in the denim market. I really believe there is a space for us to get more people into a piece of clothing made well that will age well and last longer that they can be proud of and know who has made it and where it was produced. Since we do everything in LA we can be a part of the process from beginning to end and tell a really complete story. This is sort of the future of the business that I’m passionate about, creating meaningful products that include people in and make them feel welcome to a niche community. That process along with just developing the guys that we have on our team and seeing them all succeed in whatever next steps they want to accomplish in their careers.
Is there a film character/athlete/etc that reflects your personality in real life? If so, who?
I’m a huge NBA fan and a 90’s sports nerd so this is a loaded question. Growing up I had a love / hate relationship with Reggie Miller since I like the T-Wolves and also bandwagoned with the Bulls so he was always getting in the way with big shots. Reggie was always clutch though, never backing down. I mean, the series with him and the Knicks where he kept sinking these daggers and jawing with Spike Lee was one of my favorite sports memories. I’m not saying that’s who I am, but I want to have that attitude towards projects where I’m not scared to take risks and always stay consistent with my mindset and my approach. I want to make my teammates better and want everyone on my team to win together, it’s never just about me.
What piece of advice would you have loved to receive when first starting a brand?
Yes, ask people who have been there before. I am an achiever on the enneagram so I’m always out trying to blaze some path on my own and prove my value in whatever I do, but a lot of times people like me end up making mistakes or doing things that set them back that could’ve been avoided if I would have stepped back and asked for help or contacted someone for advice. Now I ask everyone I trust for input even if I know a lot about the decision facing me because I realize I rarely ever have the full picture in mind and I have a ton to learn still from anyone who has been there before.
Is there anyone whose eyewear style stands out to you?
Every time I used to go to the menswear shows in NY I used to love watching the Japanese guys from Beams and Arrows, etc that came through because they always had such unique and cool style that is hard to duplicate here without looking like you are trying too hard. Part of the wardrobe was always really well considered frames, usually of the round variety that were tort or gold and seemed to sort of round out the full look so that even if they were dressed down, they still looked smart in an ensemble. I typically don’t wear opticals (even though I probably should) much because I don’t like how they feel on my face, but I’ve been wearing the Quincy frame quite a bit because I love the look of them for many of the same reasons addressed above and because they rest so lightly on the bridge of the nose and don’t feel intrusive at all. As much as eyewear is functional for helping you see more clearly and blocking out the sun, it’s equally a statement about your personal style if you choose to make that a part of your entire wardrobe story.
When you’re not working, how do you recharge and stay inspired in San Diego?
I actually really enjoy working so it’s not really very draining to me and I get a lot of life from it. All good things can be done in excess though, so on my time off I spend it with my wife and kids just living life on a day-to-day basis, running, reading, and surfing. The best inspiration for me lately has been to just allow myself some time off once a month to drive to some new places, restaurants, coffee shops, retail shops, etc in my city and take in the design and feel of them, sometimes with a laptop and choosing to work from that location for the afternoon. Most of the time just being in the setting of something like that where someone has poured time, effort, and thought into the experience of the place is full of inspiration for me and I take pieces of it away and think of how I can implement those into what we do or offer at Lone Flag. Anyone here in our city that is trying to do something with heart and passion that takes risk, I want to be someone who gets behind them and champions them in some way. Just seeing those sort of neighbors all around in San Diego is inspiring on a lot of levels to keep trying to push forward and do what we do.
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