This is a three-part series about the Woolrich Flannel. Click here to explore the rest of the stories and find out more.
Flannel shirts come in handy all year round. From outdoor activities and forest adventures to workwear attire and clever layering, they have become one of the most adaptable and popular pieces of clothing — a must-have in every wardrobe if I’m honest.
Now the Woolrich Flannel is the flannel of all flannels. Versatile in its design and technicality, it has embedded itself in flannel history since its inception in 1850. Yes, that’s 172 years of producing the cross-hatch garment, so it's no wonder the American brand has become well-known and respected for its Buffalo Check Flannel. By now, they could produce flannels in their sleep.
We’ve seen flannels morph into sought-after pieces over the years, but the authentic roots of where this garment comes from are nestled deep in rural America and the workwear scene. So to take a trip down memory lane (but in a contemporary way), we dive into Americana culture around Ohio with the flannel and Darryl Brown, a railroad engineer turned designer whose appreciation of craft and working heritage prove why humble beginnings lead to a lasting and iconic future.
Darryl, you’re working with the likes of Kanye in LA, but you always manage to bring it back to Toledo where you’re from — why?
I've been blessed to travel to all these places and meet different people, but I felt like I wouldn’t be doing justice not coming back home. I felt like it was vital for me to share what I've learned with other creatives, not just in my hometown of Toledo, Ohio, but throughout the Midwest. There's a real shift and a creative resurgence happening in the Midwest right now.
How would you describe Toledo to somebody who doesn't know the American Midwest?
There are no bells or whistles. It's 300,000 people and a bunch of hard-nosed, head-down workers. A lot of traditions, sports-wise, leading all the way to the factories and stuff like that. We have numerous other industrial industries, but it’s a small city, everybody kind of knows everyone.
Where did you grow up and what kind of industries were the people around you working in?
I grew up in the city in the South end — your typical growing up in the hood, urban kind of situation. It was rough, but we are still standing! My dad worked at Chrysler for like 30 years, and my mother works in housekeeping for Toledo Hospital. Everybody else around me was in construction or factories. That was the way. If you didn't go off to go to college or you didn't go to the military, you instantly were looking for the best factory job. There is no other option.
So is that how you got into your path in railroad engineering?
I was at that transition point after college, and my parents were really on my case. I was working at different factories, like a steel mill for example. Through a friend of my father’s, I got invited to a hiring seminar and was the youngest by 15 years out of everybody there. I ended up getting one of the highest scores and then went off to conductor and engineering school. The rest is history.
Did you enjoy it? It's a pretty dangerous job no?
Working for the railroad was amazing; I felt like an 11-year-old kid again. It was cool to come to work every day and go on a different adventure — no one day was ever the same. You see the back roads of America, like its bones. It gave me a different perspective on the country and its landscapes. It's dangerous every day though. If you don't follow the proper safety rules, if you try to take a shortcut, you can lose your life out there.
So how did all of this then lead you into streetwear and fashion? It’s quite a jump in terms of industries.
In 2009 I ended up meeting a guy called Zach (we’re still good friends to this day). He was talking to me about the boom of streetwear culture and all these different LA and NYC skater/hipster brands that were taking off. He pitched the idea for a streetwear boutique on his college campus where he would run the business side, and I would take care of the fashion side. I've always been into dressing well but I just never fathomed it would turn into a career.
I started learning different things so I could become a stylist. It started with the local rappers in my city. I was still working for the railroad, but mentally I was totally in a different world. I’d be sitting on the train having these visions and fantasizing about it. I was posting pictures of my work, really grinding and then my first major client was Machine Gun Kelly, who wasn’t even signed yet! I wasn't making any money from styling at the time, it was definitely a sacrifice. This was kind of like the pivotal moment, I was just so passionate about it.
If you could describe your style in three words what would you say?
Cozy, effortless, and rumble-tumble. With my brand, I just want to make pieces that can stand the test of time.
How does coming from a place rich in Americana where people wear workwear influence how you design workwear for your label?
When the whole workwear trend took off it kind of annoyed me because here's a bunch of people running around wearing brands like Woolrich who haven't worked a blue-collar day in their life. I grew up in a world where my father and my uncles wore it every day because we are going to work outside every day. With starting my brand, I owed it to give that authentic approach because I’m actually from a hardcore, blue-collar workwear environment. I've paid my dues and earned my stripes, so I want to tap into the Midwest and continue to build that kind of legacy now for the kids growing up there.
How does being in Toledo affect your design process and the spirit of the clothes? I imagine you're not forcing or digging out inspiration. You're just living and working in a place where people are being themselves.
All my inspiration is from the Midwest — childhood experiences, friends, the landscapes. I'm seeing it as I'm driving around looking out the windows. Even when I'm not out searching for anything I’m receiving the natural vibes of this place.
My mother was mentioning the other day how I drive around and don't take the expressway anywhere. I just take the streets because I'm like always looking, seeing what is changing. Toledo is going through a real resurgence, like much of the Midwest. I used to ride my bike downtown, and these buildings used to be abandoned and boarded up.
Now, my partner and I have our own hub that works as our studio-retail-creative space. It’s everything all under one roof. Our manufacturing happens by Midwest kids in Toledo literally one block away. It’s like our own little print shop, and it just feels right you know — we design everything here, shoot everything here, ship everything here.
What would you like to see for Darry Brown five years, ten years down the road?
More growth and the same resources and opportunities that people who live on the coast have — and I want to do whatever I can to help manifest that and bring it to fruition.
Join Woolrich at their Berlin store on November 11 to discover the new Made in USA Flannels in an immersive American atmosphere featuring a live DJ set, food and drinks. RVSP here to secure your spot.