American Rag Cie hosted the Timberland MarkMakers party in Los Angeles. Their US buying director sits down with us to talk shop about breaking into fashion and “the style trends that last.”
Caleb Lin, American Rag Cie’s US buying director has worked in fashion for years. Originally from New York, he was born and raised on the Lower East Side before moving to California in 2000 when he was 16 after he fell in love with the Golden State at first sight. He spoke with us from Los Angeles.
How did you end up in California?
When I first came here, I didn’t want to go back to the East Coast. I really liked it. I took a trip out to UCLA with one of my friends, because he was going there, and I stayed a weekend with him. After that, I knew that the number one place where I wanted to go to college.
How did you get into the clothing business?
It wasn’t until later in college when I really took the time to step back and figure out what I wanted to do.
After I got out of college, I started interning at a brand called 3Sixteen in 2008 and working at a street wear boutique in Pico on the south side of West L.A. That was kind of my intro into that world. That’s how I got into it and it put me smack dab in the center of different things that were going on in LA at the time, too.
What was the next step in your career?
After 3Sixteen I took a break to study graphic design and design in general and after that I jumped back into retail at [clothing store] Opening Ceremony.
I worked there for a couple years and became a manager at their West Side store in 2009. It it was still pretty early on because the company only opened in 2007.
How did working at Opening Ceremony influence your career?
I had one of the most amazing managers—Jenny Le who’s still in charge of the LA store and West Coast operations. She was like a mentor to me and really showed me the ropes in a lot of ways. She was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.
I remember when we set up the store, she came in with a bunch of the people from the New York store and they were with us until four in the morning. Then they went home, washed up and were back at the store first thing in the morning, and that always stuck with me. They worked super-hard.
People like Jenny really left a mark with her whole work ethic. She would never ask any of her staff to do anything she wouldn’t do.
It really opened up my eyes to see all the products fitting together, and how they would approach collaborations. When they did a collaboration with Timberland, they actually went back into the archives and found this water shoe that you could wear to the beach and looked really amazing. This was before people really started wearing trainers and sneakers and stuff on the regular. They were always a little bit ahead of the curve.
How did you end up working for American Rag?
In 2013, I joined as a buyer for the new store opening in Shanghai. The idea was that they needed a domestic buyer to work with them. I would travel back and forth to China to visit the stores every couple of months.
I’d helped Am Rag open up the flagship Bangkok store last September and the head buyer stepped down soon after, so they asked me to come over to the domestic side and take over the buying for the US collection from the L.A. store.
How does Timberland fit in with American Rag Cie’s merchandise?
Timberland has such a presence in shoes and apparel, and it really represents the culture and flavor of the time when I was growing up. Whether your background is more street or urban, or more contemporary, these different genres meld together and that’s where Timberland fits in now.
In places like Japan, people have always had a very good grasp of taking different genres and putting them together in special ways. The global scene has finally caught up and embraced that. In a lot of ways, that’s the place Timberland occupies for us.
At the MarkMakers party in LA, what Timberland products caught your eye?
I love the Euro Hiker Boots that Travis [Gumbs of Street Etiquette] was wearing to the MarkMakers event. We actually weren’t able to get it in time for the event, but I saw them on Timberland’s Instagram and thought, “What are those?”
That was the shoe that really grabbed me. Everybody has an Oxford, everybody has a Wingtip, and everyone expects a 6-inches boot from Timberland. These shoes were very stylish in terms of New York street style and what’s relevant. It’s an example of that slightly athletic/hiker style that you can carry down into a casual style.
It’s really cool for me because from a design perspective it’s obviously a great shoe, but from a stylistic aspect, that’s one of the styles that’s really gonna catch fire.
I want to buy a shoe that’s relevant within a brand’s range. It’s a style that they’re good at making. I feel like that Euro Hiker was something really special.
What do you think of Timberland’s evolution?
There are a few brands who have left their mark as iconic fixtures in the fabric of cultural history. For hip hop culture, especially during the 90's, Timberland and their six-inch boot holds this position.
I think this is something to be proud of and when you really dig deeper into why this style was embraced, you'll find a lot of the foundational values that any brand would be proud of – its heritage as a classic American company whose name now represents a certain level of quality and a subtle sense of luxury.
In contemporary fashion, you find the Timberland style also having a resurgence in high fashion, as the lines have begun to be blurred in today's market.
I don't think you can mention the name Timberland and not point to its presence in the culture as a kind of significant accomplishment - the kind you can't fabricate or manufacture, that has to be driven purely by an authentic movement.