Salute Lone Flag | Brand On The Verge

by Gil Melott
When you start looking across the landscape, literally and figuratively, for independent men’s retailers – you can end up looking far and wide and see a whole lot of nothing. Then you come across a guy like Sam Larson who, along with his wife Kelli, is making a unique mark and staking his territory with their brand Lone Flag.

He has combined the perfect blend of quality-crafted products, a relentless pursuit of genuine customer relationships and some damn cool vibes from the people who he partners with.

Ironically, with a name like Lone Flag the store does kind of stand out as a one of a kind joint. Planted in San Diego, this Midwest native brings an aesthetic and groove that translates into the neighborhood ‘drop-by’ for the guys that ‘get it’.

You get a sense right away from the images on the website and the videos that compliment - insights about them, who they are targeting and what the brand is all about. It doesn’t hurt that Sam and his wife are good-looking enough to be their own models and they seem to attract the same – most certainly in spirit.

When talking about starting this shop in November of 2013, Sam had already spent years in upscale retail and in wholesale distribution for several Australian brands. But what he realized while he was travelling for other people’s businesses was every time he went back home to San Diego, there wasn’t anything like the stores he was selling to.

“Here I was in San Diego – an amazing city, amazing weather, damn beautiful. And we would run into these great stores in other cities that looked stellar, smelled outrageous, had great teams and service and we just didn’t have that in San Diego,” he said with a lamented questioning in his voice.

“So over time we asked ourselves why don’t we have that here (in San Diego)? Is it because no one will wear that kind of thing or they don’t want it? Is there not enough traffic to support it? Is it because no one has tried it yet? Are we even stupid for thinking about it? We realized from L.A. south there was a black hole. Nothing like what we wanted (or at the time we could even sell to) AT ALL. But we also realized people from San Diego were driving two hours north all the way to L.A. to buy things – we said what the hell. Let’s go for it. That was the catalyst.”

Having been successful already in a couple of other wholesale businesses Larson had to carefully weigh out the risks.

“I’d say there were risks. Jumping into completely new territory, having a young child and another one on the way.  Then, there’s money to invest, brand building as well because we do our own vertical brand as well. It was a huge leap,” he paused. “But for us it is was as much about doing it for a way of living out our passion and for creating those unique experiences and elements of a brand we thought were missing out in the men’s space.”

It’s evident that Larson and his wife, and as he calls it the village it takes to create the brand, are very clued in on what they want Lone Flag to be.

“We knew from the start that we would take a very holistic approach to the experience. We wanted to be highly curated, and we knew that meant we were highly dependent on creating a trust relationship with our brand. As an example, we may have fewer items than other stores at any given time, but it is more likely we will have the right item of the right quality. It’s a strong belief - build trust with your customer and they trust your point of view.”

Partner that curatorial sensibility with things like perfectly placed art or chairs, smells, coffee and the occasional beer, music, etc. and the environment embodies the character of the brand and the brand is the customer. The brick and mortar has even become a community hang out spot and gathering space. Seems like the online community is hanging out too. 10,000 Instagram followers definitely want to hang with these guys.

When I asked Larson what gave him the confidence that he had the ability to curate the brand successfully his response was perfect.

“Well, it was like fifty-percent stupidity – you know just thinking I could and believing I could. And the other fifty-percent was my history in the fashion business gave me a sense of confidence that it was possible. I had been to tons of trade shows, understood wholesale, made a lot of friends along the way. And I knew a slew of brands that I really liked that just didn’t have great presence.”

One thing is for sure. Larson knows his target. “We know it’s those great guys who are hitting the beach all day and surfing and living hard on the boards. But that same dude has to step up and out of the board shorts and tanks and into something with a little more substance,” Larson says confidently. “Clothing that allows them to make the move from the beach to the workplace or dress to impress for the perfect date in a premium jean or shirt or boot. Yet never lose their individual sense of personality. We get that.” Yeah, Larson has a jean for that.

“The goal for us is to help a dude get set up initially head to toe. Let them live in the style and the feel for the clothes and then come back to us with a good idea of what is right for them and they start down the path of self-identifying style. We just take a walk along the process with them. It’s a cool thing to see.”

Mixtape | Lone Flag | Staking Territory from JACKarcher on 8tracks Radio.

Besides having guys buy the merchandise and hang out and drink coffee in the morning or beer in the afternoon, I was curious as to what provided a sense of accomplishment.

“I will tell you it was the brands that we sell and what they did and said. When some of them came into our place for the first time or second or third even and had the experience we try to create everyday – like you said, a community of people dropping by, buying stuff, hanging, local craftsmen bringing in cool new things. The brands saw our space and our business and were blown away by what we have built. These are people who travel to some of the most successful and largest businesses around. That is just awesome. It just meant we were doing something right.”

Obviously Lone Flag is doing something right. You are the sum of the people you hang out with. And it seems like there are plenty of people who want to hang out with Sam and Kelli – and they are all people who want to live the good life, create great communities and look damn good doing it. Not so lonely a life for the Lone Flag.

Quick Q&A

When was the last time you were really freakin’ happy?
Two days ago staying home with my daughter playing around the pool. Being a Dad is the greatest day.

What is the ultimate American film?
You’re gonna laugh at this one. But it’s the movie “Rad” with Cru Jones, and it’s really the scene where he’s doing the BMX bike dance. Now I have a son being born in September and we are naming him Cru. That’s rad.

Best road trip you have ever taken?
Minnesota to Texas in an old Ford Aerostar minivan.

Do you have a favorite American landscape since you’ve travelled all over?
Definitely the deep south. Louisiana, Mississippi. Birmingham. Don’t know why it fascinates me so much but it does.

What’s the greatest album?
Anything that is super-old Neil Diamond. You know, that level of Neil Diamond! Otherwise it’s Led Zeppellin 2 is probably my ultimate album.

What’s the slang phrase you use most often?
Okay, this may be hard to follow but work with me. There are a lot o young Asian dudes who come in here, love to buy jeans – Norman Russell, 3Sixteen – like that. And they always do this whacky high five. It’s great. So now any time anyone does a high five, they call it the Asian clap. Do what you can to make that sound right! Because it’s great, but sounds crazy when I just said it out loud to you. But seriously, I will be around town and run into someone and go in for a bro hug and the other person will say ‘naw let’s do the Asian clap’ and I’m like dude how do you even know about that! (editorial note: it’s a funny story and well-intended, so laugh dammit.)

All time favorite fabric now that you touch it all the time?
Chambray. For shirting, for hats, for everything.

Lesson you want to teach your kids?
Do what they want to do and not worry about money in terms of vocation. Let me underline that for you. I grew up in super blue-color midwestern family. Everybody worked hard - that was their cross to bear. My wife and I have tried to live our life the opposite. Do what we are passionate about and love to do and get paid for it.

What American fictional character or icon that would be hanging out in your shop who would it be?
Paul Newman. I grew up in Minnesota. So Paul Newman in his uniform from the movie "Slapshot" is the man.

  • 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.