The multiplicity of ways in which one can construct a shirt and the different shapes and sizes of a body result in incalculable combinations. While redefining a classic is always tempting, the shirt is surrounded by a canonical aura, a sort of rigid line that not so many are willing to cross. Probably out of devotion, most contemporary takes on shirtmaking feel like a tribute, rather than a challenge. Schnayderman’s was born in 2012 with the mission of questioning the status quo of shirtmaking and demonstrating that its intricacy can also be a conceptual playground where unexpected versions of form and function collide, renovating the nature of a classic.
The brand’s signature garments haven’t been unnoticed – neither has its unique, signature mindset. Schnayderman’s has just been chosen shirt brand of the year in Sweden and in the end of November the brand will see the opening of its first flagship store at its Swedish hometown, Stockholm. We spoke to Joel Urwitz at his studio about this ultimate wardrobe essential. Finding the perfect shirt is not easy, but as of today this might be the closest one can get to contemporary perfection.
What​ ​is​ ​Schnayderman’s?
I would say it’s a fashion brand with a focus on shirts. It’s not a regular lifestyle brand that has all sorts of garments. We started off with a regular shirt and then we built from there. Today we also do overshirts, which is more like a hybrid of a shirt and a jacket. We also do t-shirts, or our take on a t-shirt – it’s made with woven fabric, but in a tee style. We do a v-shirt – a modern take on a baseball shirt –, a longer version of our overshirt that we call a coat-shirt. With these different garments we try to expand the idea of what a shirt can be. We release two collections per year and we have a core program, shirts that never go out of style, which we always have in stock. Those are the basics, shirts that we think every man or woman should have in their wardrobe.
Speaking​ ​of​ ​shirts​ ​that​ ​everyone​ ​should​ ​have,​ ​what​ ​styles​ ​of​ ​shirts​ ​do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​are​ ​essential pieces​ ​in​ ​any​ ​wardrobe?
The first shirt that comes to mind is of course the white one. The fabric that white shirt comes in depends on your own style. I would say that for us a white cotton poplin or a white Oxford, you know, thicker cotton, are very useful. You can have it more formal or you can roll it up and have it more casual, you can wear it oversized or you can wear it fitted to your body. It’s never out of style and you can match it as you please.
A really good denim shirt also comes in handy. Maybe one made of a bit more lightweight denim, more formal, and then a heavier one, more old school. That can also be a good basic thing to have on your wardrobe. A good linen shirt, for summer. A Chambray – which is like a light version of the Oxford –; that one is perfect. A nice corduroy shirt. There are so many! But I’d say a nice Oxford, a nice denim, and a nice poplin are the ones. That covers it.
Do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​that​ ​the​ ​shirt​ ​has​ ​become​ ​such​ ​an​ ​iconic​ ​garment​ ​that​ ​the​ ​concept​ ​of​ ​it​ ​hasn’t been​ ​exploited​ ​or​ ​expanded​ ​enough​ ​in​ ​the​ ​past,​ ​due​ ​to​ ​how​ ​rigid​ ​the​ ​definition​ ​of​ ​a​ ​shirt​ ​is?
I think that’s a very good question. When we started Schnayderman’s, the shirt was in a kind of conservative room in Sweden, I think. Most of the brands were focusing more on business shirts, and if they ever expanded that – if they wanted to become, in their opinion, a bit more fashion or something else –, they would probably do some colour button, some contrast inside the shirt, a different lining, or a flower pattern. But they wouldn’t look at the shirt and see what you can do.
There are a lot of brands now who do this, but at least in Sweden we were quite early. One example is the overshirt. I think that today, if you look at many lifestyle and shirt brands, a lot of them have one in their collection; but when we started this five years ago it wasn’t the case. The overshirt is one of our signature garments. So to answer your question: yes, it has been a conservative garment and we see our role to change that.
You can say that we are​ ​challenging​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​the​ ​shirt​ ​in​ ​two​ ​different​ ​ways:​ ​by​ ​questioning its​ ​construction​ ​and​ ​developing​ ​garments​ ​that​ ​expand​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​what​ ​a​ ​shirt​ ​can​ ​be,​ ​and​ ​also by​ ​questioning​ ​its​ ​material​ ​and​ ​applying​ ​non-traditional​ ​fabrics​ ​to​ ​rather​ ​traditional shirtmaking.
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When​ ​does​ ​Schnayderman’s​ ​start?
In 2012. My friend and partner Victor and I started to think about the idea that we would like to start a shirt brand. The reason was that we really lacked one that we liked. I’ve been growing up with shirts around me, I have always been a shirt nerd, but I always felt that there really wasn’t a good shirt brand, at least in Sweden. There were a lot of good shirts from different collections from different Swedish brands, but you couldn’t find a really good stand-alone shirt label. The idea was to start a mono company around shirts, since that didn’t exist back then. There were some brands outside of Sweden, but I thought they were either too American or too Italian. We wanted to do it in our Scandinavian way, with the influences that we had.
I lived for some time in the United States and had some influence from there, so I took all of those references and put them into a Swedish shirt brand, Schnayderman's. Also, five years ago we weren’t shopping online as much as we do now. We didn’t really have access to everything as much as we do today. So in the first place the idea was to bring something that wasn’t really here. Now it’s much easier to get everything, for good and for bad.
How​ ​would​ ​you​ ​define​ ​the​ ​Scandinavian​ ​feel​ ​that​ ​you​ ​just​ ​mentioned?
I think we have a ‘less is more’ approach. If I find a really nice fabric, I want to bring it up, I want to show the best part of it and not add a lot of other stuff. This way we get a more straightforward look. I also believe we Scandinavians have a big focus on functionality to the whole experience, which includes garments, packaging, store design, e-commerce and brand awareness, which I think is something that maybe doesn’t get as much attention elsewhere.
I​ ​find​ ​it​ ​very​ ​interesting​ ​that​ ​you​ ​mention​ ​that,​ ​how​ ​in​ ​Scandinavia​ ​there’s​ ​this​ ​respect​ ​and craft​ ​around​ ​building​ ​a​ ​brand.
It’s really everything. Doing anything around the brand that can lift it, from a physical space to a magazine to packaging, a box or even the people around; it is really important. Retail is detail – it’s such a cliché, but it’s really true.
Is​ ​there​ ​any​ ​shirt​ ​that​ ​you​ ​grew​ ​up​ ​with​ ​and​ ​you​ ​can’t​ ​forget?
There actually is. There’s this shirt that I can’t use anymore but I still have. It’s a shirt that I bought in the United States at that time, probably fifteen or twenty years ago. It was a bit oversized so I could wear it for many, many years. It was a really nice blue Chambray, all cotton shirt with selvage lines. It was just the perfect shirt. Also it was a really good fabric so it lasted forever. But it got softer and softer and now it’s opening up on my elbow. But I had that shirt with me for a very long time.
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You​ ​mentioned​ ​you​ ​work​ ​with​ ​fabrics​ ​from​ ​all​ ​over​ ​the​ ​world.​ ​How​ ​do​ ​you​ ​select​ ​them?
We just finished doing Fall/Winter 2018. As you can see here in the studio, there are a lot of swatches that we brought in from different weavers. For example, this one that I’m holding in my hands is from one of the best Japanese denim mills that I know.
Sometimes we go and visit them directly, and every season we also go down to Paris, to the big textile fair, Première Vision. Most of the best mills exhibit there. Today I think we are working with between ten and fifteen mills based in Portugal, Italy and Japan. Since we aren’t reinventing the wheel every season, since we aren’t inventing a lot of new garment products, we can instead put a lot of time in sourcing the fabrics. What people always say when they talk about Schnayderman’s is that they really like the fabrics and the trimmings, which is always nice to hear because we really spend a lot of time sourcing that. 
Where​ ​are​ ​the​ ​shirts​ ​produced?
When we started Schnayderman’s we dreamt of producing in Sweden. It was a big textile country back in the days, just as Portugal today or even Spain. But in the sixties we couldn’t compete with countries that had lower wages. Borås, which is in the middle of Sweden, was the centre for the Swedish textile industry. When we started Schnayderman’s, there were some small brands that had started producing there again, so we really dreamt of doing that there.
I was very naive at first. We went down to a Swedish factory and talked to them. But in the end, that shirt – a basic one – would have cost five thousand Swedish crowns (around four hundred euros). What we did find was a Swedish producer that had moved his factory to Estonia, which is just across the Baltic Sea from Stockholm – a forty-five minute flight away. We found this factory there that was run by Swedes and could produce for us. It was a straightforward shirt factory, and that’s where we produced our first collection.
Today we have production both there, in that first original factory, and also in Portugal, for heavier stuff. Portugal is very good in production, of course, but also in washing. Around Porto there is a lot of good knowledge about how to wash, how to garment dye, and they’re much more focused on outerwear, while the Baltic countries have a long tradition of shirting. Everything is made within Europe and we really try to keep the production as close to us as possible. As I said, the weaving we do mostly in Europe, Italy and Portugal. But when it comes to denim, there is nothing as good as Japanese mills, so we mostly buy it from there. The buttons are handmade in Italy. Our zippers are mostly Japanese as well. Our snap buttons are Swedish though, used mostly in outerwear, as in Fjällraven, but we wanted to add this outerwear quality.
What​ ​was​ ​the​ ​first​ ​shirt​ ​you​ ​made? 
The first shirt that we made when we started Schnayderman’s was a white Oxford shirt. That was the first sample, the first thing we ever did. It actually took me a long, long time to pick my favourite Oxford fabric. For me, a perfect Oxford weave is not too loose, but rather thick. I mean, there are thousands of Oxford fabrics around the world, and variations around their heaviness and thickness. It took a long time to find the perfect one. But when we did, then we sewed the first shirt. We call it our number 1, just like Chanel nº 5 (laughs). We still have it, it’s part of our core collection and it’s one of our most popular products.
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How​ ​did​ it ​feel​ ​when​ ​you​ ​put​ ​it​ ​on​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time? 
Surreal. It’s surrealistic to create your own brand – at least it was for me. But what I think is even better, and still is today, is to see someone wear the shirt that you have created, that you’ve been part of. It’s still bizarre to see someone walking around town in Stockholm, Tokyo or Los Angeles with it.
Do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​that​ ​the​ ​perfect​ ​shirt​ ​exists?
No. There’s a perfect shirt for each person, but the fact that it’s perfect for someone doesn’t mean that it works on everybody else. Everyone is different in their body, in the length of the arms, etc. Everybody has their own taste and opinion. When it comes to Schnayderman’s, we’ve tried to make a shirt that fits most people. It won’t fit just anybody, but we try to make a shirt that will have the broadest use for everybody. We have one fit that can be changed a little bit depending on the fabric, and then we have a lot of different sizing – everything from extra small to double XL. So if you’re short, tall, bigger, and depending on how you want to wear it, you can go up and down in sizes.
If​ ​there’s​ ​no​ ​shirt​ ​that​ ​is​ ​perfect​ ​for​ ​everybody,​ ​do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​there​ ​is​ ​something​ ​in​ ​a​ ​shirt​ ​that will​ ​flatter​ ​everybody?
The fabric. Everybody can appreciate a nice material and texture. People can have different tastes and prefer a button down or a v-neck, but a nice fabric is always a nice fabric.
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How​ ​do​ ​you​ ​feel​ ​about​ ​the​ ​upcoming​ ​opening​ ​of​ ​your​ ​first​ ​store?
We are opening up our first flagship store, our first physical space, in Stockholm. It will be a contemporary store that will express what Schnayderman’s is today but in a physical way. It’s going to be a small space, but perfect for us. We are very excited to get closer to our customers.
What’s​ ​your​ ​opinion​ ​on​ ​the​ ​current​ ​situation​ ​of​ ​retail?
Everyday I read about how physical retail stores are not the future, so why open a store in the middle of this? I think successful brands today have created a world where there’s both a very good physical space as well as a very good online presence. I think that’s the future. Even if the majority of our brand will be online, I think it’s important to have some place where you know you can show how you want to inspire your customers.
The future, for us, if it works, is to have a series of small shops where we can show the full collection and inspire people with our kind of styling while at the same time having a good online presence, with both an online store and presence at e-tailers. Everything will help. The industry is changing, people are adapting. Give it a couple of years and we’ll really see that shift. I think the ones having a harder time right now are those who have no online presence but have huge spaces, like big department stores. Those who have small retail spaces and good online stores are doing better. I think that of course you can succeed without brick-and-mortar, but we really want to do it. To me it’s a matter of two sides helping each other.
It​ ​makes​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​sense​ ​for​ ​Schnayderman’s,​ ​considering​ ​that​ ​fabric​ ​is​ ​such​ ​a​ ​big​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the identity​ ​of​ ​your​ ​product.
You want the consumer to touch and feel. If consumers can visit our store and attach to their memory that feeling they got at the store, they will always keep it and carry it with them. That’s what you want to create, some feeling.
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