His philosophy? A man should look great without really trying. Hayati did indeed look perfectly ‘imperfect’ when we caught him for an interview at his SoHo offices and talked about everything from growing up in Turkey to defining the DNA of your brand.
Alister &Paine: Tell me how you launched the brand.
Hayati: I had a retail store which I was about to close and I started designing my own clothes in the basement. I designed 50 shirts, made samples and went to project New York show. We had sales of half a million dollars at the show, at the time I didn’t have a company, I hadn’t formed any corporation. I said, I think I’m in business!
A friend of mine was making the goods for me in Turkey, he was doing the production and I was distributing to the stores here. We came up with the name Just a Cheap Shirt…he said why don’t you call it Just an F*cking Shirt? We liked it but decided Just a Cheap Shirt was more appropriate and it really caught on. That eventually turned into JACHS.
Alister &Paine: How did you come to America?
Hayati: I was born in Instanbul, Turkey. It’s a 99% Muslim country; I was born Jewish and went to an all-boys Catholic school, covering all these cultures and religions at such a young age. At 17 years old I finished high school and went to study in Paris. I was young and in Paris by myself and really did not do much studying. I did a lot of clubbing, shopping, and experiencing. I was thinking about America when I went to go see this movie ‘Fame’ in the ‘80s. Everyone is dancing on top of the yellow taxis and it just looked wonderful. I called my parents and said ‘I’m moving to New York! I want to go to design school and live my dream.’ I came to New York without a word of English and not knowing how to draw.
I went to FIT—they had just launched the menswear department. I graduated in 1983 and didn’t have any place to go so I stayed a year in school without anyone knowing I was living there. One day the guy in charge of whatever said I had to get out. I opened up a company doing production in Turkey, making a collection and selling here. I had a really strong year without really knowing the business and thought ‘Wow it’s so easy.’ The next year I lost everything.
Alister &Paine: What is the DNA of the brand?
Hayati: You have to have a DNA of a company. That’s crucial. Once you find that it’s easy…but it is the hardest part. In the beginning I made up our DNA to be very true American, vintage, grunge-y style. When I started no one was doing that. Sometimes you need to get lucky. All of a sudden everyone was looking for plaid shirts, and I was the only one doing it! Everything is innovative—we treat it like an experiment with all the different washes.
We wash fabrics in 15 minute sand, 30 minute stone, enzymes, silicon, we do one dip, two dip…we overdye it, tie-dye, we make it unrecognizable just by playing with it. There was a shirt from the last collection that didn’t sell well—I spent some time with it at the washhouse and now everyone loves it. That’s being a smart retailer. It’s all about reimagining and redeveloping.
Alister &Paine: Who is JACH?
Hayati: JACH became a guy that is in my mind. This is what he likes, this is how he dresses. When he travels he does this, weekends he dresses like this, weekdays he dresses like this. Then JACH needed a girlfriend. Spring 2013 we launched little JACHS, so JACH and his girlfriend have grown up and started a family.
Alister &Paine: How do you separate yourself from competitors?
Hayati: We are very innovative people. We spend a lot of time in the washhouses and we design all the fabrics in-house. The market fabric is available to everyone, so we started designing it all ourselves and making it completely exclusive. We pick our colors, then the combination of our colors with the designs, plaids, prints, and we start playing with it. After we finish the concept we start construction—let’s make this in twill, linen, cotton. I go to the vintage shops and apply that inspiration into the construction.
Alister &Paine: What’s the company culture here?
Hayati: It’s very relaxed and friendly with a strong work ethic. There’s a good energy here. Most of my staff is very creative and it’s a family vibe…I treat everybody like my brother/sister. It’s literally a transparent atmosphere…I just built my first office, and it’s made entirely of glass.
Alister &Paine: What is on the horizon for JACHS?
Hayati: We just opened a shop in the West Village at 310 Bleecker, it’s a prototype of more shops for us (currently we’re in 500 stores nationwide including Nordstrom, Saks, and independents). Also we’re opening 100 stores in China and eventually Korea, finalizing those details now.
Alister &Paine: Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
Hayati: It’s very cliché maybe but stick with what you know. There will be good days and bad days but never give up. I give the same advice to my kids. If you give up on your dream for any reason that’s a real shame.
Every collection we do, we want the next one to be better. Innovation is key. If we stop innovating, we’ll be like the other companies. I’ve had lots of ups and downs and I know how it feels to have money and to be without it, so I’m a good leader to these kids. I feel like a kid too, just with a few white hairs.