Jerome Peels is the founder of PEELS NYC, a clothing brand inspired by his father's work ethic, entrepreneurial instincts and the classic mechanic's work apparel Jerome Sr. always wore. Female Hercules met up with Jerome to discuss how the business got started and how it evolved - including growth in demand, the move to New York City and the hustle and bustle that is being an entrepreneur.
ALL PHOTOS BY JON STARS
How did the concept of Peels originally manifest? Why the name Peels?
The concept was originally inspired from an old mechanic shirt that I took from my dad. He was a mechanic before he started painting in 1990. I'm jerome Jr, so the shirt already had my name on it. I wore it for a few years before I came up with the idea to recreate it for his current job (peel's painting) peel being our last name.
When did you know Peels would be a success and that it should be a company ?
Peels is still so small and growing. I don't really call it a success yet but I hope to reach that one day. I decided it should be a company after people started to see the shirts around. I had made myself one and a few close friends. People started seeing them via Instagram and I started getting a lot of DM's for orders and then I decided I could try to start a little company.
Where are you originally from, why be in New York?
I'm originally from Florida (home of Peels painting.) I came to nyc because I love the diversity. I've loved it since I came here to visit my sister when I was 17. I loved all the culture and different people. I felt more at home here than I had ever felt in Florida. It's so cut throat here but it's also so motivating. Like if you fail at all, you just get eaten up I guess.
Who is Peels for? Who do you want to see wearing your clothing?
I've really tried to not make it a niche thing. It's a family run business, it's not some cool guy image piece. I want it to be for anyone and everyone. I want it to reflect me and my dad. No one should ever feel they don't fit the criteria to wear something. I want it to be available to people that grew up like me.
Did you learn anything unexpected from starting up Peels? Perhaps the difficulty of sewing or running a business?
It's a constant learning process, it's super untraditional. Buyers are constantly yelling at me, people think it's unprofessional but I wasn't even ready for this, it's so often still such a surprise to me. I've learned a lot from embroidery, to sewing, to doing business stuff, inventory and the list goes on. I'm still new to it so s*** gets fu**** up pretty often. Everyday is scary. I thought I was going to have more free time to skate and play in the band once I quit my coffee job and did peel's full time but it's the opposite. I have less time than ever to do my own thing.
How does Peels reflect yourself?
Peels reflects everything that I like. I like skateboarding but I don't want it to be a skate brand. I play in a punk band but I don't want it to just be classified as something to do with punk. I like to slightly incorporate the things I love into the brand without falling into a classification.
Explain the evolution of the patch.
The original patch said Peels painting with a paint brush, the new patch was simplified to just 'Peels' with the rose. The rose is the New York State flower. I wanted to incorporate New York without actually writing nyc on something; I feel like that's so played out. I plan to manage the evolution and growth of Peels whilst perfecting a shirt that is timeless.
What is the New York entrepreneur hustle like? Crazy stories?
Really just taking on the role of so many different jobs. It’s still pretty much a one man show so people see me running back and forth from east side and west side like a bike messenger but on a skateboard. Doing random drop offs and pickups.
I heard some people talking sh** about the brand in line at China chalet, I loved it, it inspired me hahaha,
I also had people see me wearing a Peels shirt and tell me they know the owner lol.
I've also definitely had a few people being nice to me that haven't been so nice in the past (you guys aren't tricking me hahaha)
Would you consider Peels to be a streetwear brand? What’s it’s relationship with skateboarding?
I try to keep it from falling into any direct category. I don't want Peels to just be for one type of person or style. I want anyone wearing it to feel special and confident that they fit the piece and it fits their style.
I've skated my whole life so that kind of just rubs off on Peels. My close friends all skate so they were the first people I had given shirts to at the beginning.
What is it like to get as much big press as you do?
F***, every time it just is such an amazing surprise. I've never dealt with a press agent because I want sh** to happen organically and not seem forced. Press comes and goes, the exposure is cool and I feel like the biggest thing I think about when press approaches me is their audience and how they will react. I'm not trying to have some agent hitting up rappers or artists I'm barely familiar with to just make the brand blow up quick, that is so corny to me. It's so much more amazing to get someone I look up to to wear my shirts rather than just a random famous person, regardless of their fans/following.
Perks of owning your own company?
For every perk there's a downside. Being able to make my own schedule has just as many pros as cons. It's terrifying at times but I push everyone with their own idea to pursue it and make it happen. I'd help anyone try to make their own brand. Fu** having a 9-5 and I've never dealt with bosses well. Neither has my dad. That's why he originally became a painter. So that he could be his own boss.
What are the next steps for Peels?
I'm really trying to get the resources to produce the ideas that come to me. Refine everything and continue to apply what I've learned. I don't think the work shirt is a trend. I feel like it's a piece that people are taking a risk on and that's amazing to me. I want to keep making new designs and make something for every type of person. I want to refine the classic shirt but still keep it somewhat edge-y.
ALL PHOTOS BY JON STARS