peels, the chinatown brand inspired by a palm beach paint shop
Jerome Peel’s customized workman’s shirts have won a cult following of NYC skaters and their friends.
When Florida-bred Jerome Peel sewed his first Peels shirt, he never imagined it would turn into New York's next cult brand. In less than a year, he's gained fans like Sunflower Bean frontwoman Julia Cumming, skate legend Mark Gonzales, and model Ilana Kozlov.
Peel's early name-embroidered workman's shirts were made as gifts for friends and his father, who has a painting company of the same name in Palm Beach. But pretty soon requests became so frequent that he realized it was time to start taking the brand seriously and launch an online store. He also lost his barista job after the owner of the Chinatown cafe where he worked caught onto his side project. "My boss said, 'I wish you'd put the same energy into selling our coffee as you do selling our customers your shirts,'" Peel remembers.
He and his girlfriend, model Sarah Brannon, hand-sew custom patches to order, so each of the brand's classic button-up shirts is unique. "Every garment passes through my hands, and I'd like to keep it that way for as long as I can," he explains. This may get more difficult soon though, as orders increase and the collection expands. Recently, Peel added a selection of screen-printed t-shirts and embroidered bomber jackets to the line — which were photographed on models and buyers at fashion week not long after.
Tell me about your dad and his influence on you growing up.
My dad grew up in South Florida surfing every day and school was never his first priority. This, in a way, was one of the main reasons I chose to pursue college. He always wanted me to do what's right and not end up doing what he's doing. He became a painter for the freedom. He wanted to make his own schedule and be his own boss. He became one of the most respected painters in Palm Beach. He mastered the craft and his work cannot be compared to. He always taught me do the job once and do it right, and "hard work pays off" — which was printed on our first t-shirt. My dad had me on a skateboard before I could even walk. He had me try team sports but they never worked for me and he didn't push it. My dad was a pretty wild teen so he did his best to keep me on a narrow path. He's always supported what I've done to the fullest extent. We traveled Florida a lot to different skateparks and he's just always pushed me to make something of myself.
What brought you to New York?
I came to visit my sister, who moved here a few years before I did, and fell in love. I'm pretty sure I stayed at her apartment until I wasn't welcomed anymore. Definitely the convenience of everything and not having to drive were factors, and all the creative people and different ethnicities. I look back and I'm mad I didn't move earlier. Living in a small town really had a negative impact on being worldly and knowledgeable. I'm glad I got out when I did.
The city can be a great motivator.
If you aren't using the city for its advantages, you are just another person overcrowding the subways. If you're here, you have to be pushing yourself to progress and make something of yourself. I think of the city as a platform that helps young entrepreneurs, or anyone doing their own thing, make it. It's super inspiring and I feel like I couldn't have started Peels anywhere else.
Where did the idea to start Peels come from?
The first shirt I ever made was sent to my dad. It was intended to be a one-off type thing to help his business and make him look more professional. I liked his so much I made one for myself, my girlfriend, and a few skater friends. People started to ask where they were coming from so I decided to make them available for purchase. It was on my personal Instagram until I finally decided to make a separate account, which later turned into a webstore.
Why do you think it's taken off?
I think people understand that this isn't a brand based on profits. This brand has a story. I'm not here to just sell a product because I want to be a clothing designer. I want to keep my brand as real as it gets. The authenticity makes Peels special and the personalization of each garment makes it unique to the individual.
Do you hand-sew and dye everything yourself or do you have help?
It's just my girlfriend and me for now, and I'd like to keep it that way. The colors are limited because these are real working-class work shirts; they have black, navy and stripes. We started dying them pink to give another option but also to take it from a strictly workwear piece to something with some character.
Of all the people that now have their names sewn onto a Peels shirt, who was the most exciting to make a piece for?
It was never a goal to see if I could get a mainstream artist or rapper or whatever to wear a shirt. But I've made shirts for Mark Gonzales, Dev Hynes, Brian Anderson, and Chloë Sevigny, people who are all super inspiring to me and who I've looked up to.
Tell me about the photos in the lookbook.
Everything reflects either a part of me or my father. He's so influential to the product and I want to have him stoked on what I'm producing. My dad loves Hondas and dirt bikes so we try to incorporate both in the photos.
What does your dad think of Peels's success?
My dad is in shock. When I sent him the first shirt he didn't even want to wear it. He cherished it. He's involved as much as he can be. I asked him to send me photos of him painting just to inspire me. Sometimes he sends me like five a day [laughs]. He just wants the best for me and I think he deserves all the credit.
Text Paige Silveria
Photography Mateus Lage