The Man Behind the Menswear: Jim Ockert

The best part about running this blog is that it’s given me an opportunity to meet many great people – fellow bloggers, styleforum celebrities, industry insiders, aspiring clothiers, and even the occasional reader (hello!). It’s a wide spread of personalities but the common thread (no pun intended) of passion for men’s clothing has connected me with this diverse group of men and women and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Over the weekend I went on a short trip south to spend some time in the sun and visit with Jim Ockert, the menswear mind behind Khaki’s of Carmel (and another solid guy that I never would have met without this blog). We chatted about the future of menswear (our bet: pant rises will be coming up soon), his upcoming projects (some phenomenal stuff on its way), and some exciting staff changes (welcome to California, Kiyoshi!). I also took some time to chat with him about his career path – for many of us, owning a store filled with the best men’s brands from around the world sounds like a dream come true and I was curious as to how it happened for Jim.

As I mentioned before, Jim is a third generation merchant and has been taught the importance of aesthetics and quality from a young age. “There’s this picture of me as a kid…I’m wearing donegal trousers with suspenders, a white oxford button-down, and a bow tie,” he jokes. “I couldn’t have been more than five.” His parents gave him the opportunity to see how a successful retail store runs from the inside – he would work at their furniture store every summer. He remembers the time well, saying that “my parents, my mother especially, just had an eye for decorating and was a great buyer. I learned a lot.” Eventually he left the family store for college at University of Oregon, after which he ended up at a denim chain in the center of a clothing revolution.

The Seventies was a crazy time for fashion, and denim was at the center of that craziness. “It was out of control,” Jim recollects. “The cuts, colors, and details were so much more diverse than what we have today – it was aggressive, loud, and expressive stuff.” Even the height of the recent workwear trend was no match for the power of the 70’s denim scene. Jim spent his days at a denim chain called Squire Shop – a store with a huge following that brought the Pacific Northwest all the denim they needed. According to Jim, “it was denim to the roof. We would have 800, 900 pairs of jeans – easy – and everything was just flying out of the stores. Everyone was crazy for it.” Squire Stores were well-known for carrying the best denim around, and clothing enthusiasts flocked from everywhere to sample their wares. The stores were successful and made their mark on the clothing scene, but Jim still had a burning idea in the back of his head. He says that “I just loved tailored clothing, and I had this image of a great suit store, just rows and rows of suits for guys that really like wearing them.” With that thought in mind, Jim left the denim scene to join the tailored clothing division at Nordstrom, a now infamous department store that was at its peak.

Jim spent a good deal of time working at Nordstrom during the company’s heyday. “It was so different,” he recalls, “you probably wouldn’t even recognize it.” This was a time when each store had its own independent buyers, allowing all locations to have different inventory; a time when you could go there to buy Edward Green shoes made for Cole Haan (try to wrap your mind around that). Obviously, the store has changed, and so have the brands that are sold there. “I loved the time I spent at Nordstrom; they had the best products, the best people,” Jim remarks. “But I still had this idea of running my own store. My father said that if I didn’t do it now it would never happen, so I figured I’d give it a shot.” Jim continued to change career paths for a while, but after taking over the family business with his wife Connie he eventually moved back to California and opened the first iteration of Khaki’s of Carmel.

Over time, the store has morphed and adapted before finally culminating in its current form. The breath of Jim’s background is obvious in the store – high-end tailored clothing, raw denim, workwear classics and workweek essentials are all residing in the same space. It’s clearly the culmination of years of experience and fine tuning. The common theme running through the store is that all of these items are not meant for the casual observer, but for the true clothing connoisseur; these items are meant to be worn by those that savor getting dressed every day.

Jim will be the first to admit that his store would not be where it is without the help of others. In particular, his wife Connie runs the numbers side of the store, which gives Jim the time to chase all the best makers around the world and work closely with them to make truly unique products. “I had many great mentors and lots of help along the way, making sure that nothing gets in front of the integrity of the product,” he says.  And although he has spent almost his whole life working with men’s clothing, it doesn’t seem to me that it’s made him any less enthusiastic about his products. “I still love it,” he says, “that much hasn’t changed.”