FEATURE Founder | Craftsman, Kortney Hastin of Nornan Russell

It’s In His Jeans

by Gil Melott
Norman Russell is not your Daddy’s denim. Although in a manner of speaking, when chatting with founder and hands-on craftsman Kortney Hastin, his jeans along with the rest of his clothing line were in part inspired by his Dad, his Grandfather and his Brother.

When I first ran across Norman Russell, the brand appealed to me on a variety of levels – it appeared authentic, the products had distinctive quality and everything created with the intention of builidng a brand and clothing with longevity. It didn't hurt that the handmade selvedged denim jeans were tough and gutsy yet polished and the shirts were an amped up spin on familiar materials.

Norman Russell is not your Daddy’s denim. Although in a manner of speaking, when chatting with founder and hands-on craftsman Kortney Hastin, his jeans along with the rest of his clothing line were in part inspired by his Dad, his Grandfather and his Brother.

Kortney Hastin realized after a long circuitous trip from Tennessee to New York and meeting people who were doing things they loved - people creating well-made goods and not giving a crap about the bottom line or at least it wasn’t their only objective – that he wanted to build a business like that. He knew he wanted to build a business that could be founded around things he was passionate about, people and names he knew and ultimately with perseverance and a lot of sweat he might be successful.

The brand is a derivative of his Dad’s, Grandfather’s and Brother’s names: Norman was his navy shipman, Ohio State Golden Glove Champion Grandfather. Norman was known to meticulously hang his jeans with wire inserts to prevent his selvedge denim from wrinkling. The brand’s nod to the military in some of the designs is at once clear and in turn an ode to his Grandfather.

Hastin’s father, Norman Russell, a star athlete, was recruited right out of High School by the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees, but chose instead college and ultimately family. Hastin does not hesitate in saying his father is a role model and mentor to him. A lot of jeans and memories were broken in through years of little league and catch and things Dad's try to share with their sons.

And to bring the name full circle is Hastin’s brother Rusty, who is the touchstone for the rugged outdoorsman elements in this refined everyman’s clothing line.

“I knew if I had a truthful story, where I didn’t have to make shit up about the brand and product, its origin or its meaning, it wouldn’t be a marketing ploy. It would be an American product with and American story. Plain and simple,” explains Hastin.

“With social media and direct to consumer communication, the customer is so much more savvy. Nowadays, if a consumer doesn’t feel they can literally or figuratively shake the owner’s hand, take a photo of the product and share it up stream, etc. then you have failed!” adds Hastin. “People will tell you you’re a freakin’ fraud and they will tell everyone they know that you and your product have no worth.”

Every brand sets out with a vision for who they want to create product for - the utopian client. I am finding the more successful brands are those that can define their consumer in greater and greater detail and then create product for that consumer. Hastin set out to do just that.

“Listen, the guy I make jeans for, given it’s a limited edition jean (every jean is numbered and identified) and at given its certain price point. That guy is a guy who drives a Range Rover, but isn’t afraid to get that Range Rover dirty.” Adding for emphasis, “He understands the heritage of the damn thing [the Range Rover] – it’s an off roader with some luxury.”

“Hell, the jeans I make are the same way. They are a little bit more, and a luxury. But jeans are meant to be worn. They are jeans! And hopefully, jeans that will one day become that well-worn-in pair in your clset and your favorite.” With assuredness, “Those guys that aren’t tearing in that well-appointed, high-performance off-road Rover are doing it an injustice. The same could be said for the guy that doesn’t see the beauty and fucking utility of my jeans.”

A lot of people describe success in various ways so I asked Hastin how he would describe success. He had obviously set up a business plan, some financial, objectives – the expected things. I wanted to know what made a very creative, business-centric and fashion-oriented guy determine success.

“Success for me is certainly being able to make a living doing this, but also for me to provide a certain level of jobs for other people so they can also make a living of this dream too,” says Hastin. “We are American made and it’s about providing livelihoods and craftsmanship.”

It all starts at the beginning of the process. He sources the cotton from mills in North Carolina, and has fate would have it, even cotton fields that near where Hastin grew up as a boy produced crops of cotton that are actually milled in the factories he uses. Nothing seems very far from his intention to keep it authentic.

“Growing up as a kid, I really didn’t understand what was going on in those cotton fields it just becomes part of the landscape. But now to see it transformed is an awesome experience for me.”

So as a guy who can find insight and understanding in a variety of things certainly he has a point of view of what’s influencing men’s fashion.

“I tend to pay attention to all of the things around me. I consider myself a jack-of-all-trades [as an aside, he creates, manufacturers, and good looking enough to act as a model for his brand – just a few ‘trades’ he performs] and look at ideas the same way. I watch what’s going on in the surf industry, the Americana trends, action sports, you name it. Where ever my customer goes I am there with them.”

Hastin adds, “I hate to use the word trend, but a cultural shift, is that more and more people want a one on one interaction with the core folks of the brand or company. They want to know you’re real. That trumps fashion for guys.”

It’s like going to a fast food restaurant – you don’t want to meet the chef because you KNOW the chef is a fucking microwave! But if you go to a really nice restaurant and the food just blows you away and then the chef comes out from the kitchen and introduces himself and shakes your hand – that's a wow moment. You met the real deal, the authentic maker and that’s why it tastes great! That’s what people are looking for.”

Kortney Hastin is a guy who believes in his product and his passion is contagious, His designs have begun to get noticed by some of the larger names in the fashion trade and he gets it. But at the end of the day, he wants to continue to create timeless clothes for guys and grow in areas that make sense. Ultimately, he wants people who come to know and like his brand and to become a part of the Norman Russell family where you’re not just another number, well maybe a number in that limited edition runs. You’re that one of a kind in his eyes.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s created a line of distinctive, rugged and smartly developed clothing with a clear point of view. Look for growth into markets across the US, a more robust online sales a large department store partnership over the next 18-24 months.

QUICK TAKES FROM KORTNEY HASTIN

- “A guy I knew liked what I was designing and approached me and wanted me to start doing some designing for him. I said cool, give me a paycheck and that will be cool, work out just fine. But without hesitation he straight up told me that what I was doing (starting my own business) was a fucking pipe dream. So now I just hear 'pipe dream' and just move forward! I never turned back. It gives me momentum.”

- Baseball cap? Flatbill? Short-brim straw Fedora? “What’s sad is I think at one point I’ve had all three. But mainly it’s been a Dodgers ball cap although I grew up a Yankees fan. Primarily because of Don Mattingly. I do rock the flatbill every once in awhile with the ears tucked in. And I think I have retired the Fedora!”

- “The last couple of days, just because I went to their concert, I have been listening to The Wood Brothers at work. I had never heard of them until a buddy and a couple of friends took me to their concert at the Troubador. They’ve been around for awhile. But I am just now finding them and they are great.”

- “I think my dad would say that he was proud. That’s all I want from my dad, just to make him proud."

  • Gil Melott is Publisher of JACKarcher and head of JACKarcher | JA+. Gil digs all things that haven't happened yet but probably should in music, fashion, art, film, design - you get the picture. Likes the influencers of all things NEXT and the strategies to get them there. Can appreciate great fried chicken, an amazing Malbec, a 1971 Ford Bronco, finding hot bands, and riding a bike any time. He spends a lot of time with his American Bulldog Chap who is the biggest influencer of what happens NEXT.