As you know, I am obsessed with denim—women’s denim! I confess I know next to nothing about men’s jeans. I am intrigued, though, by the often-male fascination with raw and otherwise dark and stiff denim, and the obsession with finding the best way to care for and wear it in perfectly.
So when I heard about Ulrich Conrad Simpson (AKA Ubi, pictured above), I wanted to know more. He is a designer of the aforementioned style of men’s denim, but for an even more niche clientele. With his San Francisco-based label UBI-IND, he specializes in designing jeans that fit the likes of Magic Johnson, Klay Thompson and Carlos Boozer. Rapper Waka Flocka, who is 6’4″, is also a fan, along with pro surfers, race-car drivers, and street artists. Ubi makes jeans for big dudes.
All UBI-IND jeans are made in the United States of Cone denim. And even though we only emailed, Ubi is one of the most candid and entertaining interviews I’ve ever experienced. Read on for his thoughts on keeping manufacturing in the U.S., his disdain for B.S., and who he’s voting for for president.
What is most important about the fit of men’s jeans?
“Well that’s hard to say because we try not to take a general approach to fitting you in our jeans. Similar to the women’s business, there isn’t one jean that fits all body types. At UBi-IND we have created five fits that, based on your body type, will fit you like a glove. I.e., if you’re a guy who has a small waist but large quads we have a jean for you, or if you’re the for-the-nose tackle for the Oakland Raiders, we have a jean for you. We actually sell at the Bay Club gyms in [San Francisco] which is an unlikely place to sell jeans, but I felt like, hey, you gotta go to the source. I mean what better place to sell jeans to a guy who spends his time working out? I could definitely use a little more time at the gym lately. The other important thing is how we scale in size. I not only fit on a size 32 model, I also fit on a 42 waist size, which has different needs. This is one of the things that make us very different from the competition. It’s more of a custom grade depending on your body type.”
What’s your philosophy when it comes to designing clothing for a not-average sized guy?
“We actually do have a good number of average size customers that love our jeans. It’s just not our ‘main’ focus. I think there are great brands that do it well for that guy. You have brands like Tailor Stitch, APC, Mister Freedom, etc., that do a great job. I guess our philosophy boils down to 2 words: SIZE MATTERS. Hahahhahahaah.
What have you found are the biggest complaints these men have about most of the denim they find?
“For our customer they are happy that someone is finally listening to them. My best selling size is a 34 and a 40. The industry standard is 32-34. Each of our five fits hits one or two different needs that hasn’t been serviced in the past.”
Can regular sized men also wear your jeans?
Are you from San Francisco? How did you decide to open a store in SF?
“I’m originally from NYC, but I’ve lived in SF for six years. My wife and I had our first child about a year and a half ago and I needed an office because shipping from our kitchen was getting a little much with a newborn. I stumbled upon Active Space in the mission—a great strip of shops with like-minded vendors. Originally, I was just looking for an office but I lucked out they had an opening on the ground floor and the rest is history.”
How did athletes learn about your brand?
“It started on a photo shoot for Flaunt Magazine with a stylist friend needing a pair of jeans for Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys.
So I sent them our Modern Slim style, which is currently our number-one fit. He tried them on and loved them so much that Alba Legacy, which specializes in custom suits for NBA, NFL and NHL Players, asked me to supply them with jeans for their athletes. Since then we haven’t looked back. P.S., I’m dying to work with the Oakland Raiders. I just love what they stand for so that’s my next move. Hahahahah.”
What motivated you to make everything in the U.S.? “I was tired of everyone bitching and moaning about jobs and our economy and no one doing anything about it. Let’s be honest, it’s much easier nowadays to get things done overseas, and not everything can be made in the U.S., which is a shame. But luckily denim is one of those last remaining categories that can survive. We’re doing our part. I can’t speak for others. With other companies I’ve worked overseas and you don’t have have half the politics and B.S. I’ve been on both sides of the coin for the last twenty years—I’ve consulted for brands like Diane Von Furstenberg, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach and Nike, so I get it. Luckily, we are small enough that we can be nimble. We are at a point now that we need to grow to two factories. So it’s important we pick a factory that works with the same values we have. We were introduced to Sky Blue a few months back and we will start producing in SF this season. I really like them. They’re smart, efficient, and stand behind their product with no B.S. You cant ask for more.
Speaking of B.S.: It’s funny, a few years back I sat on a panel in Los Angeles with 20 hand selected companies to discuss with the Obama team what were the big issues in manufacturing and what we thought should happen. You should have heard the bitching and moaning on how they couldn’t compete with brands like Old Navy and Forever 21. After about two hours of listening to the rhetoric, I got up and said ‘I’m sorry to break the news to you but that ship has sailed. Why don’t you focus on quality not quantity? How about even have some integrity and stop being a bunch of whores looking for 65-75 % Markup. Hah! I wasn’t around in the ’50s but what we did have in the U.S. was pride. Pride to be American, pride to buy American products. A pride in quality—something we lack now. Instead of focusing on mass-produced product, why don’t we focus on well made garments and stop being afraid of technology and embrace it already. You guys are going to die a slow death like the Music industry.’ Lets just say I didn’t make a lot of friends. But, you know what, they needed to hear it. I mean if every U.S. apparel brand made at least 20 percent of the goods in the US, we wouldn’t have nearly as many issues with unemployment. I’m no politician nor do I care to do that job. What I know is jeans and apparel. Can you tell I’m from NYC?”
Are you voting for Waka Flocka for president?
“No… but (for) some one with big balls or big ovaries!!!”