Interview with Jason Bleick
This fashion and design wunderkind talks about world travel, action sports and life in a teepee.
Give More Than Your Tourist Dollar ::
One thing Jason Bleick is adamant
about is the need to give back to
foreign countries. For Bleick’s part,
2010 will see his company making
donations from every EVER product sold.
In that same spirit, here are a few
ways you can make your next adventure
more than just a collection of pictures:
donate locally. :: habitat.org
Give Globally :: Every country has NGOs
to help, but there are also a few OC-
based organizations doing great outreach
work. Habitat for Humanity has a Global
Village division that builds homes for the
destitute in places around the globe –
from India and Ghana to Tajikistan and
even Hawaii – so there’s no excuse not
to give back to your favorite travel spot.
Another OC-grown organization doing
great work for the homeless orphans of
Tijuana is Project Mexico. In for a real
down-and-dirty adventure that might just
be the most satisfying “vacation” you’ve
ever gone on? Volunteer for a Habitat for
Humanity Global Village Trip. There’s no
experience necessary and all you need
is a spirit of adventure and giving heart.
And you’ll still feel like you’ve taken more
than you’ve given. :: projectmexico.org
If you go on a trip with Jason Bleick, be prepared to get down and dirty. You may be sleeping on the bank of the Nile in an Egyptian corn field, snapping photos of frozen Russian landscapes in the middle of February or hitching a ride in the back of a mule cart. But two things are certain: You’ll be very comfortable – except for the freezing part – and look spectacular.
That’s because Bleick is the founder and designer of EVER, a fashion-forward, travel-inspired clothing line for men and women, which uses the highest quality fabrics to create everything the comfort-seeking traveler needs, from soft-graphic tees and hoodies to denim jackets and jeans. Yes, you could call Bleick “traveler core” – the guy lives in a teepee, after all – but that’s exactly what seems to make his line popular with the adventurous jet set, not to mention celebs like Brad Pitt and Kate Hudson. As Bleick says, they can tell who’s walking the walk and who “is just in the business for the money.”
Bleick, who grew up as an action sports fanatic in Huntington Beach and went on to be Quiksilver’s VP of design before starting EVER, appears to be raking in the money by walking the walk – or riding the mule, as it were. While his competition is dropping faster than an IBS-ridden tourist in India, Bleick just opened his third retail store in Newport Beach’s Fashion Island. Call it his most recent adventure.
You grew up in the action sports and garment world, right?
Yes. I grew up in Huntington Beach surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding. Basically, a pretty active sports lifestyle. And my dad had sewing factories, so since I was a little kid I was exposed to the whole cut-and-sew process and saw how things were made. I spent the weekends sweeping up thread on the floor and sewing some of my own projects.
What was your first clothing line venture?
I was always very artistic and creative so as I got older I started putting my artwork on T-shirts, and when I was 19, I started an action sports clothing company. It was called Bleick and I sold to Nordstrom, Macy’s, PacSun, and surf shops. That business grew to about $3 million and it was really my big exposure to how a clothing company works internally.
Then, in 1998, you joined Quiksilver as Vice President of design. Was that where you were exposed to travel?
I had already been taking time off to travel a lot, but yes, that job had me traveling all over the world and spending time in many different countries: Europe, India, Vietnam, China, Korea, and a bunch of little places in between. I also got to go to a lot of fun places to surf or snowboard like Fiji and Hawaii and the Alps. I was really thriving on it.
In fact, Quik inspired you so much they lost you, right?
I guess so. The travel inspired me to want to go out on my own, travel more and do photography and collect images and art and create my own label. I felt like I just had to go do that, so I left Quiksilver in 1998 to create Ever, a brand based on and inspired by travel.
I design everything to be travel friendly, so when you get to your destination and pop open your luggage, you can just shake it out and it’s pretty much good to go. I also try to make things very stylish but also very comfortable, not overdesigned and over-embellished. We don’t do things really loud. It’s all very classic and understated, but very on trend and relevant to what’s going on in the fashion world.
Why travel and not action sports again since you were successful the first time at only 19 years old?
In the ’80s, when I had the action sports line, it was all about your ideas and your product. But a change occurred in the ’90s where brands became more marketing giants and who your team is. You need a Kelly Slater or Bruce Irons or some other superstar because that’s what the kids gravitated toward. They attached themselves more to the team, and the quality and design got watered down while more effort was put on the marketing of these brands. And it costs money to get a Kelly Slater. So I knew, starting out on my own again, there was no way I could afford a team of 10 guys, or even one good guy. Also, as I got older, I’ve always looked at the fashion market and been inspired by it and I wear a lot of it, so it was always a goal of mine to launch my own high-end contemporary brand. So after 20 years in the action sports industry I felt it was time to evolve in my career.
Ironically, you did get a superstar “team,” but in the form of celebrities like Brad Pitt and Kate Hudson. How?
I consider the celebrities as our team riders but we don’t pay them. Brad Pitt gravitated toward the brand since day one and we have a good relationship with his publicist. But there’s a lot of ways that Ever is naturally bought by stylists and celebrities. In the Newport store, we just had Kate Hudson and A-Rod buy a bunch of stuff. And up on Melrose, we get a lot of celebrities. I get calls from the managers a lot; it’s fun.
You now live in a teepee. Why?
I moved to Hollywood about six years ago, right after I started Ever. I have a great house in the Hollywood hills that looks over the entire city. But I wanted to get back to the beach and live very minimally. So I rented my house out six months ago and now I live in a teepee with no electricity, on a horse ranch five minutes from the beach. It’s 20-foot diameter at its base and goes up 30 feet. I have all oil-burning lamps and candles, some books, guitars, my dog… some taxidermy. It gets a little cold at night and when the rain comes I get a little wet because of the hole in the top, but I’m working on fixing that.
Why a teepee, specifically?
I had a friend who went to Mongolia and he was living in a dirt hole in the ground and for some reason that got me interested in Mongolia, so I started studying the culture and found that everyone lives in round yurts. It’s similar to a teepee, except it has a flat roof. So I started thinking about living in a yurt, but the yurt led me to the teepee. So I had some guys in Montana hand-make me one. They carved all the sticks out of willow trees and hand-made the canvas skin that’s wrapped around it. I planned to live in it for a year, but now that six months is already up and I’m enjoying it so much, I think it’ll be two years. There’s just something about sleeping in a round structure that really does something for me creatively. I think it’s because all of us have basically slept in a square or rectangle our entire lives, so it really does something magical to change that up.
So you’re living the brand, so to speak, here and through your travel.
True. I think what’s made us special in this contemporary market is that people know that there’s something behind the brand that’s important and real. I’m going to a lot of third-world countries to find inspiration for my colors, on the streets, walls, doors. For instance, I just [got] back from Egypt and that was very inspiring and colorful and I’m going to Mongolia and Tibet soon and I expect to get a lot from that.
How do you stay both practical and fashionable?
We use a lot of fabrics from Italy and Japan that perform better as they start aging. For instance, with our really high-end fibers and fabrics, the more you wear them and the more you wash them, the better these fabrics wear. They become softer and softer and become like part of your body, shaping and forming and feeling and fitting better. I always ask myself how a piece is going to look in five or even 10 years. I want people pulling these things out of the closet in 10 years as their favorite piece that they just can’t get rid of.
How are you able to expand and open new stores during this challenging economic time?
There’s good and bad about the economy. It’s hard and I feel bad that people are suffering, but it also weeds a lot of people out that shouldn’t be in this market. That opens up more dollars for people who are doing a good job and buyers are putting their money into brands they know are the best and made with quality. We find that with all these other companies going out of business, we’re actually benefiting from the bad economy.
Where are some of your favorite places?
So many. Usually it’s the last place I’ve been. I just got back from Egypt and ended up taking a boat down the Nile. The man who took me invited me back to his house and I ended up staying with him for a while. It was a very simple adobe home and pretty interesting. It was a family of 15 who didn’t speak English and never really saw tourists. There were turkeys walking through the kitchen and I ended up sleeping on the bank of the Nile in their corn fields for a number of nights. But it was great raw experience and I was able to get some great photos.
Don’t you get the craving for a five-star hotel?
I used to stay at nice places quite a bit but for the last couple [of] years, I’ve really tried to live like the people live and experience that. So I’m trying to get down and dirty and meet the people. But you’re right, one night I bounced into a Four Seasons. I had been out in the streets for a while and I just needed a night with nice, clean, white sheets. So I’ll mix it up.