Hope you’re having a great Saturday, it’s been a busy one in store today as we started our Vintage Week and have had the company of some lovely locals AND non-locals…we don’t employ same policy as Tubbs & Phillip* in our gaff!
*Hope you get that reference guys!
We’ve had a bit of a lay off with the ‘Denim Map’ features but tonight is the night, as Suzie aka @denimbitch posts her second feature for us, and you lucky so-and-sos. We always seem to make Suzie wait but it’s not personal, Suzie, AND it’s always worth the wait as tonight, she focusses on@abfits…
MEET THE STORE
So I met Howard Gee (Owner) on a Tuesday in September. He had been on some buying trips recently and was getting ready to go on more, so we squeezed this one in. He invited me downstairs, asked if I wanted something to drink, but I already had my tea.
Downstairs is a cool place in AB Fits. It’s old, dark, lots of wooden shelves, old San Francisco. We took a seat in his office and started chatting.
1. How did the store come to life? What’s the history?
HG – Ah, that’s a good question. How much time do we have? Ha!
DB – This store has had a long history. It’s been a long time ago since you first started.
HG – I love jeans, I’ve always loved jeans! And I can communicate with people fairly well, so I really just put those things together, and came together with a denim store that was very much focused on men’s and women’s and blue jeans. The store was just shades of blue! So many shades of blue. That was the summer of 1990, June, the 16th, 1990. The store was built with plywood, gas pipes, lots of canvas, lots of draping canvas! Fire retardant of course! And that was the focus, the focus was really just to fit men and women into jeans.
DB – So, this was back in the 90s, when Levi’s was booming, was that the focus?
HG – There was of course a lot of Levi’s, but the Levi’s that were interesting were always in Europe at that time. And there wasn’t a lot to offer US-wise other than the usual suspects of Lee, Wrangler and the US Levi’s. It was good, but it was more of a better commercial thing at that point. The things that we bought were French jeans, and then Italian jeans. There was also a really great Swiss German company….Blue Systems. Oh, boy did I love those! Small collection and beautiful. Lots of rinsing and washing of the denim, not a lot of selvage or raw at that point. It was more fashion feeling, as opposed to the heritage feeling.
DB – So, was it just you?
HG – Just me.
DB – And was it in this same location?
HG – It was about 5 blocks away at 461 Pacific, it was Pacific between Montgomery and Sansome. It was a really cool area, still a really cool area, near Jackson Square. We were neighbors with Lim Company. The Lim Company isn’t around any longer, but it was a fantastic furniture store for many, many years.
DB – Can you set the scene on who were your customers? 1990, San Francisco, who was walking in? Were they people like you and me?
HG – That’s a good question….there are a LOT of people who are really into JEANS of all sorts! There’s a whole group of people who are into BETTER jeans. So, we will usually attract those that like that better jeans, better fitting, better fabrics. In that era, there was a lot of advertising firms and management firms and product design firms and we were surrounded by the antiques section, it was really a lot of antiques, antique furniture, lighting, rugs and that sort of thing.
DB – People found you and it got bigger and bigger?
HG – Yeah, it was really word of mouth. We didn’t have any money to advertise, but we did get some really good write-ups that really helped us out a lot.
DB – Was there any place like yours in the city back then, that you know of? Workwear kind of places, but not anything special?
HG – Yeah, workwear, there were stores that carried mass market jeans of that period. As we talk about this, it brings back memories. I haven’t thought about our start in a while.
2. What are your top 3 bestselling items in the store? And why do you think this is?
HG – 1. COF Studio M2 fit-it’s a really good, contemporary guys fit, or the guy who needs a little bit more room in the thigh, little more athletic leg, we fit the thigh, but the ankle is also a good fit, they can wear a sneaker, or boots or a dress shoe or anything like that. The fabric is great, it’s a long staple denim. It comes in 13.5oz or 16oz fabric in that fit. The long staple yarns are very supple for their weight, the 13.5 feels great, the 16oz, feels much lighter than it’s weight.
2. Matias Sol Runn fit-it’s a great fit that was designed for someone that was going to travel 10 hours on a plane, and can wear the same pant right into a meeting. So, it’s dark in color with a stitch color that is tone on tone, so it makes them look a little dressier for being a pant. It’s straight in the waistband like an old-fashioned pant, it doesn’t have a lot of suppression, so it’s very comfortable on the body and the tummy. You can control the waistband with a belt. So, if you want to tuck in a shirt, you can tuck the shirt in and there’s not a lot of pinching. Then you just finish it with a belt. If you want to wear it on the weekend with a little attitude because they’re straight in the top block, you can wear them with a t-shirt and drop them down a little bit with a looser notch on the belt. Which makes these pants really easy to wear.
3. Our house jean, AB Fits 1195-we love them because they are our point of view of the guy today. You can wear them a little bit easy because it has a good shape or you can wear them more snug. It has a really nice front package and a perky ass! haaaaaaa!
DB – Y’all worked hard on that fit?
HG – Yes, we are very happy with this fit. It’s available in blue and black.
Each one of these fit a different body, sometimes they can cross over, but these are just specific fits to the type of body that walks in the door. A 3 of them have the elements of a great fit, a very specific fit, and fabric to match.
DB – When someone walks in, do you just kind of know which one of these 3 favorite jeans would fit that person?
HG – Yeah, that’s one of the games we play, what will look good on the person. That’s one of the first things we think about after we greet them, is what is going to look good on them…what jacket, what pants, what items would look good.
3. What’s the bestselling brand overall?
HG – It’s Raleigh denim because we sell men and women. I guess they would be the bestselling, they are good on men and women.
DB – They have great fade potential too?
HG – Yes, and i really love the tinted weft that they continue to use on most of their jeans.
DB – You have some nice faded ones hanging up in the store.
HG – It’s nice to be able to show people examples.
4. In your personal opinion what’s the best 3 pieces that you offer? Your favourites?
HG – That’s exciting to talk about, because we just received our fall collection or most of our fall collection and there are pieces I would like to get to know because i just got back from a trip and i see them upstairs and I want to know them more, but it would probably be…
1. Engineered Garments Field Vest-it’s a vest/waistcoat, it’s very sporty and it’s got a hood to this vest, it’s navy blue. The fabric is really tightly woven, so it’s got a lot of body to it. When you put the hood over/on, it’s got some fullness to it.
2. COF Studio has some really great basic shirts right now, in different colors. This is our first shirt delivery, which marks the beginning of our shirt program. Just really clean, good fit, well-constructed. And made to last. And these I’m hoping will be customer’s favorites.
3. Really cool Frogs Eat Butterflies pants-they are made like a pair of trousers, they’re denim and if you look inside, they are very much a pair of trousers. They are a fashion fit, a wide stove-pipe leg with a medium to high rise.
5. What the best thing about working at AB Fits?
HG – The best thing is my team of employees and the great customers, that’s what keeps me going anyways.
DB – Did you have any idea that little store you started on Pacific would end up being like this and that you’d still want to be doing this, this long?
HG – No, not much thought on that, but i will say i remember very much from the beginning things that drove me to putting the project together is the fact that it would be a good place for people to come together, friends and family. To enjoy good quality clothing that fit the way it’s supposed to fit. That’s the thing, i wanted to put together a store that would people together. I can see the employees or myself speak to a customer that is very happy with their experience here and it is really what keeps me going. And customers will say this and i love that they say this, the piece that i choose for them, they would not normally choose for themselves and they’ve trusted me to allow them to give it a try and those pieces, often times, turn out to be the thing they wear over and over again, that they get compliments on.
DB – I think of you as the King of Fit. I’ve seen you watch people walk in, not putting them in any sort of “box”, definitely figure out what they’re looking for and be able to offer them something they haven’t tried put them in something that might push themselves a little bit, and then be really happy.
HG – Our customers that walk in that we meet for the first time, there is of course a “let’s get to know each other” dance, and if they would like to try stuff on. I pretty much try to fit them with what they imagine and what i see is on their body right now. And then when the relationship gets better and i can offer something a little bit different, and it could be the same thing. All of our regulars or returning people, i will show them something that they make shake their head about at first, but then we go. We get on with it. Then they try it on and they’re like, ooooohhhhhhhh, ok.
DB – As you talk about new things in the store and what you like about specific pieces you have a distinct smile on your face. It’s still excites you after 27 years?!?!
HG – It does! It does very much excite me. I love products!
DB – And fashion and denim? It’s not just stick in the mud, it’s not al shrink to fit denim, you run the gamut!
HG – We do, no particular style, just denim fashion. I mean things that feel really good on the body and make you feel really good. That’s what i’m after.
DB – How did you come up with the name? That’s the last thing I’ll ask.
HG – Hahahahahaha! I just liked the way it sounds, it doesn’t mean anything to me, i just liked the way it came off the tongue. Somebody one time said to me, what does AB Fits mean, does it mean Any But Fits? I said to her, do you mind if i use that? So i use that from time to time. Truth be it, it was just something that not only did i like the sound of it, it didn’t mean anything to anybody who had been in the store or heard about the store. So, we’re hoping that when someone comes in, they will take away the experience of the store and will match it up with the name. That’s it.
MEET THE REVIEWER
NAME: Suzie Rudloff aka @denimbitch
1. How does the store feel when you first walk in? What springs to mind?
The store has a warm, rich feel. It’s in North Beach, San Francisco, so it has these great squeaky wood floors, tall ceiling and tons of charming character. The clothes are lined up on either wall (female/male) and denim in the center. The door you come in is a split door, so a lot of times the top part is already open which seems so neighborhoody and welcoming.
2. Where does the shop’s product originate from?
Everywhere. There’s stuff from Japan, Italy, the US and more.
3. Describe the customer service?
There are only a few folks who work here and they seem to stick around. So, they become friends since you see them every time you’re in. Or Howard, the owner, will be there to greet you. They are always nice, welcoming, but not too helpful, if you know what i mean.
4. What’s the product selection like?
It’s very curated. There’s so much good stuff, but not so much as to overwhelm you (Engineered Garments, Chimala, LVC, SNS Herning, the Hillside, Feit, COF Studio, Railcar, Rogue Territory, Red Cloud, Masterson). It’s the perfect amount. Howard has such a knack for what people will like, the drop in person just visiting the area or the long-time customer. Some is more hardcore for the denimhead and some stuff for the fashion-oriented person and everywhere in between. The perfect mix, but all well-made, beautiful garments and accessories.
5. How are the prices?
The prices range just like anywhere, but they have small, cool accessories that are relatively inexpensive, to handmade bags that are more expensive.
If any of you fellow blue bloods, like Suzie, have a store either close or far that you are enamoured with then feel free to give us a shout. Now that the features are flying out we want to keep pinning to ‘The Denim Map’, either with a feature like this one or just by adding to the Denim Map page that will be set up soon (perhaps). Hit us up in the comments, through our Contact page or via our various Instagram accounts and stay close peeps.