This week, Greg Monteforte's Golf Threads Blog features an interview
with Seattle-based Alial Fital menswear designer Gibran Hamdan. The former NFL
football player discusses his “American Made Artisanal Fashion” approach and
his philosophy behind AF’s “Stand Apart Movement.” Reprinted here with Monteforte's permission. For more Golf Threads, check out:
Even before starting GolfThreads, I had been a fan of Gibran Hamdan and his creative work at Alial Fital.
Hamdan’s story is as unique as his designs. After a six-year career as an NFL quarterback, including a stint with my beloved Washington Redskins, Gibran traded his shoulder pads and helmet for a sewing needle and fabric. He taught himself how to make patterns and then how to sew using his wife Jenny’s sewing machine. Making his own dress shirts, Gibran’s friends started requesting the carefully designed and custom-made polos for themselves, which led him to start Alial Fital in 2010.
GolfThreads: You essentially traded a playbook for a sketchpad. How does an NFL quarterback transition to a fashion designer?
Gibran Hamdan: I was in such a fortunate position after my career ended to have freedom. I wasn’t set for life, but there was enough cash available to have a runway to explore what I wanted to do. Although I considered many avenues I leaned on what I felt were my best skills and talents. I felt like I had a unique design perspective. I am creative and am drawn to the artistic side of things.
A key motivation was to never be defined by any one thing in my life. One of the things I am most proud of 5 years into Alial Fital, most people I meet don’t know that I ever played in the NFL. It’s most likely because I had such an unheralded career. But to be known for doing something else well brings me joy.
GT: At a time when professionals and amateurs alike are turning to day-glow colors and aggressive patterns in an effort to stand out, you’ve started the Stand Apart Movement. What’s the difference between standing out and standing apart?
GH: This is a great question. Our Stand Apart movement is less about the brand & the products we are producing & more about our fans & customers.
As you mentioned there is an angle where brands are designing to stand out. Doing so puts the focus on the product. How can we make something that will stand out? Set us apart and thus increase profits.
Our Stand Apart movement aims to have men confidently & independently decide what THEY want to wear. How THEY want to dress. If that’s wearing Alial Fital, then great – if not that’s fine too. It’s not about control, marketing, or the bottom line. It’s about conveying a message that I believe in. First I want to be an authentic person who is true to myself. I enjoy hanging out with authentic people. I want to drive potential customers & anyone that sees our brand to be authentic to themselves and their own style.
The Stand Apart movement is a success anytime a gentleman thinks about their personal style choices, decides how to move forward with putting his wardrobe together, and finally doesn’t care what anyone in the outside world thinks.
GT: You’ve said that 7 out of 10 men won’t wear your clothes, and but the other 3 will buy everything you do. What’s the profile of an Alial Fital customer? Why do your designs speak to them?
GH: You’re right – that was a statement that I heard from one of our few wholesale accounts. We’re not for everyone – that is ok with me. The goal is to be respected by all that see the brand and loved by a loyal few who wear the brand.
I think the Stand Apart movement is a direct tie in to who the Alial Fital customer is. First – it’s not easy to find us. We are the smallest of small. AF gentlemen find us in the search for what can’t be found with the mass-produced and imported garments on the market. The desire to search for UNIQUE is a big 1st step in identifying our loyal Ambassador.
The Alial Fital man appreciates the American Made aspect of our brand. Once again they appreciate that it is and always has been authentic to how we do things. The company is built to make 100 of each style in Los Angeles – not 10,000 of each style in China. They like that and appreciate it.
The Alial Fital man is honest – he appreciates the transparency & small business qualities of my brand. The fact that my Instagram feed is littered with pictures of my son Pendleton and my wife Jenny resonates with him. I know this because trust me I’ve heard from plenty of gents that complain about seeing my family on the AF Instagram account – it’s crazy.
GT: You take a lot of pride in the fact that Alial Fital apparel is made in the U.S. and offered at the same price point as imported apparel from other brands. What benefits will customers see in American made apparel?
GH: Let me first say – there are plenty of brands that produce terrific apparel overseas. IMHO – High quality garments have less to do with the location of production. High quality garments are a result of using the best materials and diligent hands.
First our American Made garments have to abide by US laws and I can guarantee you a 12 year old is not sewing them in a sweatshop.
Domestic production allows me to design in smaller batches with shorter lead times. The result is the freedom to produce more unique styles. Customers love that only 100 people in the world will ever own one of our limited edition designs. I couldn’t do that producing overseas.
GT: Bo Van Pelt has worn Alial Fital for several years on the PGA Tour. Last year you added Tour player Jim Renner to the team. How do their personal styles mesh with your design philosophies?
GH: With regards to BVP – our style resonated with him from day 1. He was first an AF customer and the sponsorship followed. He loves the American Made aspect – that has always meant a lot with him. As I think about it he may be the epitome of the Stand Apart movement. When we first started working together past images of him on the course conveyed a subdued style.
At some point he came into his own and stated defining his own style. Making his own mind up about what he liked. It just so happens that we were the brand that captured his eye when he was ready to make the move. I will always be grateful for that.
A perfect example is in our 1st year together I helped pick out his outfit for every round. As our relationship grew I realized it was a detriment to his style expression and I started doing less and less of it. Today, for the most part he is matching his tournament attire together on his own.
Jim is drawn to brand for other reasons. I think he loves our fit. He loves the performance aspect of things. He’s less keen on some of our more innovative styles and more apt to stick to our tamer designs. Again, Jim is a true reflection of the Stand Apart movement. We check the boxes that matter to Jim and that’s why he wears us.
GT: You recently converted an old dentist office into an ultra-chic showroom. What can customers expect when they make an appointment to visit the showroom?
GH: First to be offered something to drink. I’m focused on making their life easier and giving them the direction and support they need to find their own style. I’m proud of the space and so far everyone that has visited ends up making another trip. I take it as a sign we are doing something right.
GT: Unlike most apparel brands, you are constantly releasing new pieces throughout the year. How important is it to offer fresh designs throughout the year, rather than just in the spring and fall?
GH: I call it Artisanal fashion. Staying true to our limited edition nature is paramount to everything we do. I have fun designing – it’s one of the favorite aspects of my job. The intention is to design on a whim, free from traditional apparel market norms. I’ve never been to a trade show and not because there wouldn’t be value in the exposure. It doesn’t fit our production model to focus on the mass wholesale market.
I guard our model and “Artisanal” American Made aspect of the brand tightly. An added bonus to this model is that it enables me to innovate with less pressure. I enjoy being the tip of the spear. Trust me I’ve had tons of misses with our designs. Many of which may prove to have been ahead of their time and not suitable for today’s market.
If I adopted the traditional model of a few collections a year – produced in large quantities AF may not have survived those mistakes. This is a large issue in the apparel business. Many terrific designers in the apparel industry feel the pressure of the bottom line. Make no mistake I grapple with it as well. My model reduces the pressure significantly. The design can come first. I can take the risk.
Many must play it safe when designing. Hence you see a lot of the same old same old – because it’s more apt to sell quickly.
GT: Your two newest collections are the Pop Art and the Masters Collections. Where did you pull inspiration from for these collections?
GH: The Pop Art series was in fact inspired by my favorite Art genre. The Pop Art movement has always resonated with me. It always has been a source of inspiration for me. This was the first time specific pieces by prominent artists served as inspiration.
The Masters collection is a grouping of many different thoughts I’ve collected in the past months. I am proud of our product pages and how thorough we dive into the inspiration for each design.
GT: Recently, you expanded your product line to include pants, which have a very modern silhouette and an effortless look that can go just about anywhere. Talk a little bit about the pants and the design process
GH: Much like the process that led me to our dress polo shirt, the pants were born out of necessity. I was a Bonobos customer for a long time before making the Alial Fital pant. Their Straight fit was good around the thighs but too baggy past the knee. Their Slim fit was too tight in the thigh but just right past the knee. I wanted a better fitting pant for me – so I made them. This initial pattern is for men that have the same problem I do. They want room in the thigh and a trimmer fit past the knee.
So far the response has been solid. Those that buy them and like the fit end up buying a bunch. Those that don’t like the fit return them for a full refund. That’s how we roll.
It’s a constant process to find new and innovative fabrics for American Made production. A weakness of my model is new products are always difficult because sourcing can be an issue. There are so few of us producing garments here. Many sourcing options just exist close to countries that have a high volume of production these days.
GT: You have built a loyal customer base by sending hand-written thank you notes with every order, rewarding your best customers with watches and soliciting feedback on new designs. How has engaging with your customers and rewarding them helped to build the Alial Fital brand?
GH: Authenticity has been the key to engaging our customers and growing the brand. I’ve always written the thank you notes. I am not the first to do it and won’t be the last. I don’t have a better explanation other than – it’s just what I do.
It’s so difficult for a small business to earn a new customer. To pull someone away from a Nike, Adidas, or Peter Millar is no small feat. Those are behemoth brands. They couldn’t write handwritten thank you cards if they wanted to.
If someone is willing to give me a shot, I am truly humbled and honored. I need to thank them and let them know how important that order was.
When it’s boiled down it’s pretty simple. My job & our brand depends on a small amount of customers compared to our competition. When a customer supports us – they are putting food on my family’s table. That deserves the best I can give them. That deserves the best product I can produce. That deserves responding to their emails quickly and taking care of them.
It just so happens out of this necessity I experience a huge value add to my brand. There is such a low expectancy with regards to service these days. It should come as no surprise that Humans appreciate a kind and understanding business. The key is the authenticity of it. People realize it’s not an act. It’s just in the Alial Fital DNA.
With regards to the Alial Fital Ambassadors Club and how I rewarded our Top 11 customers dedication last year with American Made watches – when certain customers own over 40 – 50 of a brands designs, or pump you up to everyone they know, or send your son a gift for his birthday don’t you think they deserve something awesome? I do.
Those that know us well understand we are a big family. I deliver value to our Ambassadors and they deliver value back to me. That’s Alial Fital in a nutshell. We’re just trading value back and forth.
Alial Fital Website: http://www.alialfital.com
Twitter: +Gibran Hamdan