Rails is a brand that creates a unique intersection in fashion by blending the casual comfort of Southern California living with a sleek sophistication. Relaxed, but always refined, each collection draws on influences from international travel to metropolitan living.
Founded in 2008 by Los Angeles native, Jeff Abrams, Rails has grown from a small label (it started with just a single hat) into a full collection of women's, men's, and children's apparel. Synonymous with accessible luxury, Rails only uses premium fabrications in classic silhouettes, and has quickly evolved into a global lifestyle brand.
During the years that Maman has worked with Rails, we are constantly inspired by the brands ‘Rails Gives Back’ initiatives. Working with both charities and causes, Rails donates both it's time and percentages of its profits to support organisations such as No Kid Hungry, Surfrider Foundation and Be The Change. More recently over the global COVID-19 pandemic, Rails halted its garment production to create non-medical reusable masks, donating them to communities in need, teachers and schools in their local districts.
What we also admire is that Rails founder Jeff Abrams didn’t have a background in fashion, but didn't let that stop him from pursuing his passion. It all started in 2008 with a single black hat with the word “Rails” sewn onto it that Abrams sold door-to-door. Read the below to find out more...
How did Rails get started?
I grew up in Los Angeles immersed in the arts - painting, sculpture, photography, and a deep connection to the aesthetics of fashion. I was always thinking about how to express myself through a visual medium. But really it was in my young twenties living in Europe where I began to concept what would become the Rails collection. I wanted to blend the comfort of my Southern California lifestyle with the more refined sensibility I found abroad.
When I first began, I really had no idea how to actually produce a full collection. It was a journey of trial and error that led me through the initial stages of building the brand. I had just returned from Europe, I sewed the word RAILS onto a single black hat and a simple hooded sweatshirt, and embarked on a door-to-door journey trying to get orders. I drove all over the United States, walking into stores unannounced trying to build the foundations for the Rails collection.
I came back to Los Angeles and employed the same concept learning the business of fashion, walking into factories and suppliers, staying late nights at sewing facilities to understand the details of garment construction and the process of assembly.
Each season I refined the creative direction and focused on creating versatile pieces in luxe fabrications that represented the Southern California lifestyle. The idea was to build a collection that made you feel both relaxed and refined.
What inspires you the most?
I spend a lot of time traveling and always take time to absorb the nuances of different cultures and aesthetics, including that of Los Angeles and its diverse neighborhoods. Being a visual person, I find inspiration in everything from architecture, landscapes, textiles—anything I'm surrounded by that catches my eye. Throughout the design process, we envision the Rails woman and how she will wear the finished product in her everyday life.
What is the most surprising thing that has happened since Rails started?
In the beginning, I would get really worked up about things, but then I realized that the new challenges we face every day and the problem-solving that goes into them is what makes this business fun and keeps things interesting. You always have to be creative, even in a business context. There was a time in the early days when Anthropologie put in a 3,000-unit order. I hand-packed all 3,000 units, affixing stickers on boxes. A truck came, packed up the boxes, and I thought that was it. I got a call the next morning from the trucking company that the vehicle was robbed and the shirts were nowhere to be found. I was never able to reship the goods, so that could have put me out of business, but I found a way to survive, and here we are!
How has Rails been performing during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Rails has performed incredibly well considering what was happening on a global scale. Customers gravitated towards our product during the pandemic given the innate comfortability of our clothes. In the early days it was all about sweat sets, but we’ve now seen a strong reaction to our more feminine dresses and top categories as people begin to resume more normal activities.
Have you been hugely affected by forced store closures at different times in different locations due to the various lockdown measures?
The early days of the pandemic were certainly challenging for everyone in fashion, and we partnered with our retailers to ensure they managed their inventory levels, and had the right assortment for the new reality of Covid. For the most part, our retail partners have survived the most difficult stretch and we are encouraged by the recent acceleration of retail shopping that is happening in the US and internationally.
Have you had to pivot your business and invest more in your online business?
Before the pandemic, we had begun investing heavily in our online business, both in customer acquisition and user experience. We saw an incredible acceleration of growth once the pandemic hit, and we were fortunate to be in a position to manage the increase in traffic and orders.
We also tried to strike a balance between our business and giving back to our community and partners. We were one of the first fashion brands to produce masks and donate to hospitals, schools, and frontline workers. We worked closely with our partners and developed a unique affiliate program in addition to an in-house drop shipping initiative that supported our retailers affected by store closures.
How much have you seen your online business grow in the past year?
We have seen significant growth in our ecommerce channel with traffic up 150% in 2020 and an additional 150% this year. Through marketing tactics like in-home catalogues and digital advertising, we’ve seen demand increase dramatically as new customers discover the brand and become collectors.
Where to next for Rails?
Over the years, Rails has grown from a domestic, category-driven line to a contemporary, global lifestyle brand. We are excited to further expand into new fabrications and develop the men's and children's categories into complete collections. We look forward to exploring new markets such as South America, the Middle East, and Asia, and are excited to work on creative projects, whether it be exclusive capsules or shop-in-shop opportunities, and plan to eventually open our first Rails flagship store!