Noah designer Brendon Babenzien and Rowing Blazers‘ Jack Carlson started talking about working together on a rowing-inspired collection the very first time they met. And on Thursday, the fruits of over a year of creative labor will finally be available when their collection, which benefits Row New York, hits both brand’s stores.
Fifteen percent of the proceeds from this capsule collection, which includes rowing blazers, rugby shirts, hoodies and canvas tote bags, will be donated to the organization. It’s a cause that’s close to Carlson’s heart — he’s been involved with Row New York since he was a member of the US national rowing team.
“When I first heard about Row New York, I’ll be honest,” Carlson said. “I thought it was paying lip service to this nice idea, taking kids who would otherwise basically never have access to the sport of rowing — which is an expensive sport — putting them in the water and saying, ‘That’s how rowing works!’”
But the program is much rigorous than that. Over 4,000 kids from all five of New York City’s boroughs participate in it annually, and the training they get is of medal winning quality.
“These kids win state championships,” Carlson said. “They qualify for the national championships. I never qualified for the national championships when I was in high school.”
Every year, Carlson’s young brand makes commemorative blazers for graduating high school seniors in the program. They’re embroidered with emblems he designed to represent the boroughs they come from. Babenzien, a Long Island native who was the design director of Supreme before founding Noah, thought those emblems were the perfect grounding element. Customers can choose for each piece to be emblazoned with a crest for Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, or the Bronx.
“They’ve got kids from every borough rowing. As a New Yorker, you couldn’t ask for a better situation,” Babenzien said. “It was a really nice way to do something that doesn’t fall into a borough conversation. A borough conversation in my world is usually, Brooklyn or Bronx — if you’re talking about hip-hop. This was a really nice kind of twist on that.”
Once they’d decided on that theme, they worked on finding the right pieces to carry it. The navy, aqua, red and yellow striped worsted wool used to make the blazer was a fabric Noah’s design team had already planned on using in another collection. It made perfect sense as the material for the jacket in the collection, and its pattern carried over to the rugby shirt.
“We didn’t want it to be too subtle,” Babenzien said. “We wanted you to know you’re wearing a rowing blazer when you’re wearing this thing.”
The same logic applies to the rugby shirts, whose backs feature large-scale versions of the crests. “There’s only so many things you can wear where big and loud really make sense and don’t look goofy,” Babenzien added. “A rugby shirt is definitely one of those things, so you take advantage of that.”
And even if you don’t hail from one of the city’s five boroughs, it’s still a collection of clothing you can wear with pride — it’ll have a tangible impact on the lives of the kids who participate in the program. While about 75 percent of New York City high school students graduate, only about 37 percent of them are prepared to go to college. Among Row New York participants, “100 percent of those kids graduate high school, and 99 percent are ready to go to college,” Carlson said. “And 100 percent of them meet the CDC’s exercise and health guidelines.”
“It just blows it out of the water of what the average kid is experiencing,” Babenzien added. “There should be more things that can tout those kinds of stats. Our school system should be able to say that.”
Both brands make it a part of their DNA to champion causes and ideas they care deeply about (see Noah’s careful, earth-friendly fabric sourcing and manufacturing practices, and Rowing Blazers’ support of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation), but this takes that commitment to doing good through clothing to another level. If you want a piece of the collaboration, you’ll find it on both brand’s sites — and in their New York stores — starting Oct. 18.