The Elder Statesman (TES) founder Greg Chait believes that when you buy a cashmere sweater you should have it for the rest of your life.
"The concept of an inexpensive cashmere sweater is garbage," Chait tells Highsnobiety. "The way I look at it is that if something is too inexpensive, then someone has been exploited along the supply chain."
TES has been building a quiet reputation for its luxurious cashmere and its transparent supply chain since its inception in 2007. All the pieces — now including sweaters, hats, pants, cardigans, cushions, and slippers — are developed by a team of traditional artisans who hand-loom, tie-dye, and sun-dry each piece in Los Angeles.
Chait was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway shortly before we speak, pulling over for our interview. He talks of the changes his business has undergone thanks to Covid-19. Over the last year, TES has ensured the protection of both workforce and traditional craft by giving compromised staff the equipment to WFH.
Chait notes how it's been a challenging time for anyone with a business right now, but the year has seen some cosmic alignment for TES. The launch of the brand's e-commerce site synced up with the temporary closure of brick-and-mortar retail all around the world. As for the product, maybe there's no better time for super soft cashmere sweatpants or lounge robes as the world adjusts to another lockdown period.
Explore The Elder Statesman's Holiday ’20 collection above, including a new campaign video featuring A$AP Nast, and read on for our catch up with Chait below.
Your brand began as blankets — how do you think it got to where it is today?
I came up in a time where I was in awe of companies like Number (9). The companies and people that I was looking at were so unique, mysterious, and everything was of the utmost quality.
I believed that to get in the game, everything had to be “right.” No shortcuts on anything, down to the handwritten notes I sent out to each person that showed me any love. There was only one path for us. Anything we made had to simply be the best thing possible we could put out. Anything short of that was a failure for the game I was trying to enter. I had the utmost respect for all of it. I still play by those rules by the way. Even if the landscape has changed, I like the idea of doing this in a way that we feel is “right.”
The blankets I made when we started out still rival the quality of anything I make today. The first RTW styles I made had so much development put into them that I would agonize about each stitch. Partly because I was still learning as I went and partly because I was a madman. Still am, I guess.
So, the answer is time and effort. In my opinion, there are so many things that go into making a successful venture (everyone’s definition of success is different), but in our industry, I believe that nothing can replace time and the effort one puts in. There are a lot of other variables, but you can’t buy those two things.
This is a great question. I had no choice in the matter. It wasn’t as common on the market as it is today, and I still believe the quality level that we play is still uncommon. At the time, when I first discovered it properly, I simply fell in love with the fiber. It was my medium. I inherently understood it and not much else made me feel that way.
TES is quite collaborative — how do you decide who to work with?
We look at the idea of collaboration as something different to what other folks might deem it to be. The entire TES universe is essentially one big collaborative effort, internally and externally. It isn’t plug and play. I love the idea of people working together to bring their best ideas forward, but the “why” has always mattered to us the most. Why are we doing this, how does it fit in? Will we still love it in 10 years…?
If you look at our collaboration history, we have only really done what we consider to be a handful of what is commonplace in the market and yet they were all really true to us. Working with you guys meant a lot, the NBA partnership, our tabletop release with Moda Operandi, and some others.
On the other hand, we collaborate all the time with people in our community, but these collaborations are fluid and playful. They serve a purpose to us that is deeply meaningful. All the collaborations serve the ultimate purpose of delighting not only our customers but the collaborators and our team. I find it very important.
How does TES ensure the preservation of artisanal traditions?
One of the things we do is, after finding an artisan and working with that person, we take great care in our design process to include the craft of said artisan in our items on a go-forward basis. It is a simple concept, but as we “grow,” so should that artisan.
How do you see TES growing in the future?
My vision has always been one that thinks in decades, so I still have roughly the same vision for what the company feels like in 10 years. Long term thinking allows for a lot of tolerance for the world to change as we continue to show restraint, but we still get to be dreamers. How we get there is anyone’s guess, but it will be in our own way.