February 26, 2013

Out and About: Khaki’s of Carmel 

I have been living in the Bay Area for a little over two years now, but there is still a long list of places I haven’t experienced yet; I have yet to visit  Alcatraz, drive down Lombard St. or hike Half Dome, to name a few. Fortunately, though, I was able to check one item off of my list over the weekend when I went down south to visit Khaki’s of Carmel, a place that many men’s clothing enthusiasts consider to be the Mecca of menswear on the West Coast, and perhaps the whole country. I was fortunate to spend a good amount of time talking with the Jim Ockert, the third-generation merchant that created Khaki’s over 20 years ago. He was able to give me good insight into what his store was about, how it came to be, and where it is headed.

Spring is in full bloom at Khaki’s, and shipments of drool-worthy clothing and accessories are being added to the mix every day. Jim Ockert runs the store with his wife Connie, who works hard behind the scenes to give Jim the time to do what he loves: design his store and meet his customers. 

“I’m not sure where it came from, but I’ve always had a knack for displays and merchandising,” Jim remarks. “I just love seeing pieces come in and imagining how they’ll go together.” His passion for the products is obvious at the store, where over 90 mannequins are dressed in a constantly morphing array of colors and patterns. Even the space itself was the brainchild of Jim; “There used to be walls there, there, everywhere, really,” he says. “I wanted a big open space so we took them all out. We even polished up the steel braces to give it a new look.” The resulting space gives expansive views of colorful and playful clothing for the upcoming warmer seasons (not to say that California has been experiencing a particularly difficult winter or anything like that).

Khaki’s didn’t get its reputation from just carrying high-end clothing, though; there are plenty of places in the Bay Area and beyond that have large stores full of top-notch brands. What makes Khaki’s unique is the phenomenal breadth of the store – the product line is curated in a way that provides pieces for for a wide variety of styles, and each piece is carefully selected to fit in to the store’s overall aesthetic. Although Jim’s personal affinity is for tailored clothing, his previous work in the Pacific Northwest denim scene is obvious. Rows of Incotex, Edward Green, Boglioli and Luciano Barbera sit next to supreme workwear brands like John Wolrich, Eastland, Levi’s Made & Crafted, and John Barbour & Sons. The “blended cocktail” of goods is truly something to behold. 

Another exciting aspect of the menswear mecca is its growing “Private Label.” The house line already carries a variety of trousers, shirts, sportcoats, and ties, with plans to continue expanding. This gives Jim, a self-described perfectionist, the ability to control nearly every aspect of each product. “Our end goal is to have 20-30% of our stock be our own line,” Jim says. “If we can’t find the perfect product out there then we’ll do it ourselves.” The products look to be very impressive; I was fortunate to handle some swatches for sportcoats that will be available in the coming months, and the fabrics are sublime. It’s clear that Jim has thought deeply about what goes in to all of his products; the linings, buttons, and other details all show signs of his discerning eye. The quality of the products is impressive as well; for instance, many of the items in the Private Label are made in the United States by the esteemed Martin Greenfield Clothiers. It is clear the Jim will only introduce products of his own when he knows that they can go toe-to-toe with the other brands in his roster.

Even outside of their house label, many of the products at Khaki’s are customized specifically for the store. Jim spends a good amount of time every year at trade shows working with vendors to tweak their products for him. “We’re always looking to add something to every product, whether it’s an increase in quality, a unique detail, or something else entirely,” he explains. For example, many of the shoes in their Edward Green selection have been given extra details like additional burnishing or sole colorations that can’t be found anywhere else. “Edward Green was a little uneasy lightening up the edges of their soles, because that’s not what they do in England,” he jokes. “This is California. Things are a little different here.” Those that are interested in learning more about Khaki’s product line should be informed that a webstore will be going live in the very near future - keep an eye out.

It was very refreshing to see a retailer that remains so passionate about his product, year after year. It is clear that Jim approaches each season with renewed vigor and a discerning eye, and the outcome is quite spectacular. 

Spring is only beginning to arrive in California, but Jim is already becoming enamored with his new fabric swatches for autumn jackets. The colors, patterns and textures look to be a lot of fun, but there’s still much to be done before then - shipments of Private Label stock are still coming in, vendors need to be contacted, and some of the mannequins have to be touched up. It’s a lot of work, but Jim is up to the challenge. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he says. “This is exactly where I’m meant to be.”

The rest of the “Out and About” series can be found here.


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