Profiled: How Rails Became a Plaid Shirt Empire
The fashion industry at large is far from struggling, but success stories aren't exactly a dime a dozen. This is why the story of Jeff Abrams, the founder of wildly popular plaid shirt brand Rails, is of particular note—he built the brand from absolutely nothing seven years ago, and he basically did it by himself.
You would never know it now, with the likes of Jessica Alba, Selena Gomez, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Beyoncé, and many, many more style stars wearing his ultra-soft, luxurious plaid shirts. The celebrity world literally can't get enough of his brand, so we decided to find out for ourselves just how he did it.
"When I started I really, I really had no clue what I was doing," Abrams candidly told us. "I’d grown up doing some different art things, but I was working at the time I started Rails at a TV animation studio, and I sort of was figuring out what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to combine something that had the art background, but also where I could do some business."
The rest is history, so to speak. Keep scrolling to learn more about how Jeff Abrams turned Rails into the booming fashion business it is now!
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Kate Hudson in Rails
"When I first started making my own garments, I made this one hoodie," Abrams tells us. "Through trial and error, I figured out how to make a very basic hoodie, but when I went to garment dye it, all of the fabric came out twisted, and I thought I was out of business because the whole thing was torqued. But I started shopping it around anyway, and I heard such good feedback. People were saying, 'Oh we love how you made it twisted like that! That’s the best idea.' It was a total mistake, but people ended up loving it and buying it."
Lily Collins in Rails
"Little by little, I started building it out, and then eventually I had to move onto something that was a little bit more concrete," Abrams says. "So I found this plaid fabric somewhere on Ninth Street in downtown L.A., and it spoke to me because it was actually a double-sided plaid, a different print on the inside and outside. That's exactly how I was producing my hoodies, so I just made that connection. So once I got into the shirting category, I decided plaid was where I really wanted to focus."
Gisele Bündchen in Rails
"The whole time I was doing this, even though I didn’t really have a standard fashion background, I still knew in my head visually what I wanted—it was that I didn’t really know how to achieve it at the time, because I didn’t know the technical aspect of making garments and building a collection," Abrams explains. "So I was just learning as I was going, and I had to figure it out because I had no mentor, I had nobody who was guiding me. I just sort of started. "
"Looking back now, I think had I known how crazy this business is, I don’t know if I would have had the [guts] to just jump in and do it the way I did," he continues. "I honestly think in the grand scheme of things, ignorance was bliss for me."
Jessica Alba in Rails
"I think what helped us in the beginning was I started getting some celebrity following early on, and that whole part of our business has been very organic," Abrams says. "We’ve never paid anybody to wear anything, but we have every celebrity and blogger wearing our stuff. I think they’ve been acting like just regular consumers—customers are buying it because they feel the fabric, they love it, and I think the same thing has happened with people who are fashion trendsetters. They’re having the same reaction that regular customers are having. They just love the product."
Olivia Palermo in Rails
"It’s easy," Abrams says of exactly why his creations are so beloved by so many people. "You can throw it on anytime, and you feel comfortable but you still feel fashionable—it’s not like you’re throwing on sweats. You’re putting on something that feels like you could be living in it all day. I think people gravitate toward that."
Selena Gomez in Rails
"The idea always ties back to the California casual-relaxed vibe," Abrams says of the inspiration behind his designs. "I think that’s also been really helpful for us as we expand internationally, because Los Angeles style has become the forefront of fashion. Internationally, I think Paris is looking to Los Angeles for some fashion direction because L.A. style is so popular. People are catching on to not only L.A. but the lifestyle here and the desire people have to be here and to live this lifestyle. I think it’s permeating everywhere."
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in Rails
"The casual element is obviously an important part of our collection," Abrams says. "But it's also interesting to see how people sometimes dress up the pieces. Some of the ways people are wearing it in Paris may be different from the way people are wearing it here. In L.A., you might have people wearing it much more casually, but in Paris they may be wearing it all the way buttoned up with a sweater over it, like a little higher-end look. So you can style it however you want."
Cara Delevingne in Rails
"I think she’s somebody who’s travelled and is worldly," Abrams says of his target customer. "She's a younger, worldy girl who knows what’s happening in contemporary culture, who's paying attention to pop culture, music, fashion, and travel. She's sophisticated, but also someone who’s casual and relaxed. She’s somebody who likes to be active, who likes to go out and experience things, whether it’s going out to new restaurants, concerts, and things like that, just somebody who’s active and really involved in what’s happening in the world."
Beyoncé in Rails
If you go into some of these high-end stores we’re selling in [like Intermix, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue], our pricing is probably on the more competitive side of the high-end market," Abrams says of one thing that makes him particularly proud of his brand. "Our shirts are retailing a little bit under $150, so you can go into a store like that and say, 'Well I know I want to buy something here, but I don’t want to spend a ton of money.' I can still get a really great product and feel like I’m getting good value."
Reese Witherspoon in Rails
"When you're first starting out, there are so many opportunities for people to dissuade you from doing something," Abrams advises young people just beginning their careers. "They might say things like 'that’s too hard' or 'that’s too much effort' or 'somebody is already doing that.' But really, anything is possible. There’s room. You just have to make your own path. It really just has to do with internal drive, and you can’t be discouraged by any setbacks—you have to use those as opportunities to learn and to keep going. And just have that mentality: 'I’m not going to be stopped by anybody. I’m going to be successful.' And then eventually you will be, because you’re the only person that can stop you."