Opened in November 2013 Jane Motorcycles in the brainchild of business partners Adam Kallen and Alex DiMattio, two longtime motorcycle enthusiasts who also have an interest in men’s fashion. Their shop, in the burgeoning Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, is a true hybrid: it’s a motorcycle store that sells gear and custom bikes, a coffee shop where people are welcome to hang out and a purveyor of men’s clothing and accessories from heritage and motorcycle-related brands such as Red Wing, Schott NYC and a growing eponymous in-house line. It also sells art and books. Here the two owners discuss their unique retail concept and the importance of having fun at work. Interview by Christopher Blomquist

What is the background and history of the store?
Alex DiMattio (AD): I grew up in New York and lived in Miami for a few years. I worked around motorcycles my whole life and I owned a clothing store down in Miami for a little bit. So I have always been interested in clothing and motorcycles pretty much. When I moved back to New York I felt that there was a void of something and we really didn’t know what it was. I asked Adam if he wanted to open a store and he said yes and we realized that we had an idea but had no idea past that initial idea. We sat down and started coming up with what we thought we wanted as a store and it slowly evolved and we opened with a very minimal inventory. We opened with our own money and we built the store ourselves. We knew we wanted to do men’s clothing centered around motorcycles and make it a place where people could hang out so the coffee gave people a reason to hang out. It was inviting and it was also supposed to pay the rent.

Flag outside the store
Flag outside the store
Adam Kallen (AK): Essentially we wanted to build a place where we would want to go to and hang out. And we combine all the things that we loved–primarily motorcycles, clothing and coffee. It started out just putting out ideas and throwing things against the wall and seeing what stuck. We knew what we didn’t like. We kind of reversed engineered it, so to speak.

What brands do you carry?
AK: We carry everything from Red Wing to 3Sixteen denim to Reigning Champ to Levi’s Vintage, Schott NY, Lewis Leathers, Woolrich, Topo Designs and we have our own brand as well which we are developing. Right now we have already manufactured our gloves, headwear and tops and we are in production right now for pants and jackets–all very well crafted and styled goods that you can actually wear motorcycle riding.

How important is it to have your own brand as a retailer today?
AD: Now with the Internet you can’t just sell things. People will just go online and buy it so you have to sell them a vision and one of the ways to do that is to make your own clothing.

AK: And it’s fun. It has always been a dream to ours to manufacture and design our own clothes. And on the business side of things the margins are a lot better when you are selling your own clothes. Our vision is to make the best quality clothes possible; we are not cutting corners. We do research to find that specific zipper that is going to make the pants last a long time.

Interior at Jane Motorcycles
Interior at Jane Motorcycles
How do you select brands for the shop?
AD: What we did was align ourselves with brands that told our story because we weren’t able to tell it. Adam and I really don’t know our ass from our elbows about any of this. When it came to do this it was like: What do we do? In a year we have managed to meet every single person we wanted to meet and we’ve gotten brands that are really hard to get, like Red Wing. We now have a following with the Japanese workwear world which is great so we carry expensive denim and things like that.

What are your bestselling brands?
AD: We have done really well with Topo Design bags. And we do well with Red Wing. There is nothing in this store that has been dead but in terms of retail there are certain things you need to have, like gray sweatshirts. But nobody is going to say, “Oh my God, they just got a gray sweatshirt in.”

Coffee bar inside the store
Coffee bar inside the store

Who is your typical customer?
AD: We have a few. We have the motorcycle guys who are just our friends and guys that ride here and get a cup of coffee who will probably never buy a pair of $300 pants. Then we have the affluent 30- to 50-year-olds with a $200,000 a year job–guys who religiously buy whatever we just put in the store. And then tourists.

AM: And we have the younger kids who just come in for T-shirts and hats. We have a decent social media presence where we will get somebody who will come in and say, “I have been following you guys on Instagram for a year now and I can’t go back to Belgium without picking up four shirts for my friends.” We do well with that whether it be Asia, South America or Europe. Alex and I sometimes look at each other and ask, “How did that happen? How did we create such a buzz about this brand?”

What is the biggest challenge of being a retailer, especially in Williamsburg?
AD: Rent. They say that the best business to be in is real estate. We’re good and we’re happy and we’re not complaining but after being here a year and hearing the rents that people are quoting for different spaces, the foot traffic just doesn’t warrant it. The biggest problem is to own a store that actually has to pay its own bills and not have some investor or daddy’s money to pay its bills.

AK: We talk to other people who have stores all around the country and they tell us what they are paying for rent and our jaws drop. But then again, they don’t get the tourists, the foot traffic and the people with disposable income that we have in New York City.

Shoe shelf at Jane Motorcycles
Shoe shelf at Jane Motorcycles
What is your advice for new retailers?
AD: If you’re going to be a destination spot you have to know that it takes a long time to build that. And at the beginning you can’t afford to hire the best guy and you can’t afford to have the worst guy. So you had better figure out a way to get the best guy to really like you. A friend of ours owns a design firm. We spoke to him, he loves motorcycles and he came in helped us design the store. Just based off his knowledge we were able to figure it out in like three days.

Why do you think the motorcycle look has remained so popular?
AD: Motorcycles have changed. In some sense, motorcycles are extremely cool and are used by everybody. Like Ralph Lauren is layering his place with motorcycles. We wanted to take the cool factor that all the fashion people use and actually be bike guys and have a store that has the soul. It’s not like these bikes are here because we bought them from somebody. We built them. They are our bikes.

AK: One of our main things was the name. It’s Jane and it's a feminine one. We were never going to be like skulls and crossbones and lightning bolts and Hell’s Angels in leather chaps. We were never going to be anything like that.

Product presentation at Jane Motorcycles
Product presentation at Jane Motorcycles
Why?
AD: We wanted to show the other side. And it has worked. We have a huge riding base and it is all those people who didn’t want to go hang out at the bar or a big Ducati dealership but they ride. And they don’t wear it on their shoulder. They just love to ride.

What are the long-term plans for the store? Might you open additional locations?
AK: Absolutely. Actually we are presently negotiating a lease for an even bigger place right now. It’s here in Williamsburg is twice the size of this place and it’s going to be awesome. Alex and I also want to open in new cities and we have a couple of cities in mind. The goal is to have a store in Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco…. But where those will be we are still figuring out.

What is the best part about running the store?
AD: This was all based on us having fun. We come to work every day and have fun. We buy clothes because we like them. We go to trade shows because it’s fun.

AK: We are about building a community as well. Alex and I were just talking about how many people we’ve met in this last year and a half that are such great, genuine people. We’ve become friends with really talented artists and artisans and contractors and workers and designers. That is the greatest thing for us. Our world is now open to this world, which is amazing.

AD: It’s a world we always wanted to be in and now we are actually in it and have a say in what goes on. It’s insane what you can do in a year.

Jane Motorcycles
161 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11249
USA
+1 347 844 9075
www.janemotorcycles.com