How a small, family-owned company in New Jersey has been manufacturing American cool for more than 100 years

A jacket at Schott's Union, New Jersey, factory.

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A jacket at Schott’s Union, New Jersey, factory.
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Sarah Jacobs

  • Schott Bros. NYC is an apparel company that is headquartered in Union, New Jersey, and has been around for over 100 years.
  • Its flagship product, the leather motorcycle jacket, has been worn by everyone from Marlon Brando to Bruce Springsteen.
  • Business Insider got a peek inside the New Jersey factory to see how they’ve been manufacturing the coolest apparel for decades.

Schott Bros. NYC is more than just a jacket-making company. It’s a legacy – one that’s been manufacturing jackets worn by some of the coolest people of the last century. The company, which was started in 1913 by Irving Schott on New York City’s Lower East Side, invented the motorcycle jacket in 1928, and it’s been hand-sewing the jackets in the same way ever since.

Everyone from Marlon Brando and James Dean to the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen have donned Schott’s Perfecto jacket, or a slight modification of it. The company also manufactures other apparel, including peacoats, shirts, and shoes for men and women.

Schott gave us a peek into their factory in Union, New Jersey, in 2016 to see how they’ve been able to do it for more than 100 years.

All photos are by Sarah Jacobs.


In an unsuspecting town, on an unsuspecting street, far away from the glitz and glamour of their Manhattan boutique, hides Schott’s corporate office and factory.

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Sarah Jacobs

Walk past the reception area, down the halls lined with offices and conference rooms, and make a left. You’ve reached the factory floor, where about 100 union employees work tirelessly to pump out 200 leather jackets and other pieces of apparel each day.

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Sarah Jacobs

Jason Schott, the great-grandson of Irving Schott — one of the original Schott Bros. — runs the company as COO, along with Roz Schott, his mother, who serves as president, and Steve Colin, his uncle, who serves as CEO.

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Sarah Jacobs

Schott has been making leather jackets and wool apparel for more than 100 years — and now, as the rocker look comes back into style, they’re more popular than ever. “We saw a significant increase in 2014, and it’s been consistently hot since then,” Jennifer Goldszer, director of public relations at Schott NYC, told Business Insider in 2016. Schott’s leather jackets run about $700 to more than $1,000 and a thick wool jacket will set you back around $400.

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Sarah Jacobs

It all started in 1913, when pattern maker Irving Schott decided to strike out on his own and sell raincoats door-to-door. Schott struck gold when, in 1928, he decided to put the still new zipper on a leather jacket, creating the first of what would later be called a motorcycle jacket.

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Schott NYC

It was sold nationwide through a deal with Harley Davidson dealerships and Beck motorcycle-parts sales magazines. From there, Schott scored several lucrative contracts, creating peacoats for the US Navy and bomber and motorcycle jackets for police officers. The factory moved to New Jersey to expand.

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Schott NYC

Some of those early examples still exist in the Schott archive, like this NYC Transit Police jacket.

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Sarah Jacobs

The leather jacket picked up more cultural meaning in the 1950s. The company grabbed mainstream attention when Marlon Brando donned a motorcycle jacket in the 1953 movie “The Wild One,” effectively putting Schott on the map.

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Facebook.com/schottnyc

The leather jacket became symbolic of the bad boy and rebel, and students would be banned from wearing them at school.

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Sarah Jacobs

That stigma was reinforced in the 1970s and ’80s, when the Ramones wore Schott jackets as part of their signature punk look.

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Facebook.com/theramones

Modern stars have embraced the signature cool look of the Schott leather jacket. Rihanna, Kanye West, Matthew McConaughey, and Jay Z have all been photographed wearing a Schott brand jacket. Schott told us that the company never actively seeks these endorsements, but that the stars appreciate Schott for being a “cool underground brand.” Schott admits that they’d like to be “a little less underground” at times.

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Facebook.com/schottnyc

The brand has now developed a loyal cult following through their commitment to their customers and to making only minimal changes to their styles year after year. Their annual factory sale on the first Saturday in December regularly has people lining up around the block to get a chance to snag a coat at a lower price. Schott does not regularly run sales at other times of the year.

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Facebook/SchottNYC

Schott has recently branched out to boutique retail stores, opening locations in New York City and Los Angeles, as well Europe and Japan. More are planned all over the world.

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Facebook/SchottNYC

Jason Schott told us that the company places a special emphasis on production, since many of their items are designed and manufactured in-house. “For us, it always started from the production side of things,” Schott said.

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Sarah Jacobs

“My great-grandfather used to wear this tie clip that said YCDBSOYA: You can’t do business sitting on your a–,” Jason Schott told us. “That really is the family motto.”

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Sarah Jacobs

When constructing the jackets, it all starts with the leather. Schott uses full-grain cowhide leather, the highest quality you can find. It uses the full grain of the hide for enhanced strength.

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Sarah Jacobs

Schott mostly uses cowhide, but some special jackets are made with sheepskin or other leathers. Many of the women’s jackets use lambskin, which is somewhat softer.

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Sarah Jacobs

Each jacket has its own pattern and stencil for the leather and lining pieces to be cut out of.

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Sarah Jacobs

The lining will be sketched out on paper, then overlaid on the material, and cut together using a pair of shears.

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Sarah Jacobs

For leather, the process is somewhat different. The leather cutters cut the leather pieces into the shapes for the jackets using a knife and a polymer plastic stencil.

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Sarah Jacobs

The cutting is extremely precise work, and new leather cutters must prove themselves by cutting hundreds of smaller pieces, gradually working their way up. They’re trained to use as much of the hide as possible, making every nook and cranny part of the jacket.

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Sarah Jacobs

That’s no issue for John, who has been a Schott leather cutter for 43 years. “All my life,” he said.

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Sarah Jacobs

For smaller pieces — think the belt loops on a motorcycle jacket — a machine can cut many at a time.

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Sarah Jacobs

After being cut, the pieces are then bundled together with similar pieces and taken to the place in the factory where they will be stitched together.

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Sarah Jacobs

At this point, the pieces are also checked for uniformity.

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Sarah Jacobs

The pieces are then stitched together. Some of them are delicate, like the zippers in the sleeves.

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Sarah Jacobs

But others less so, like the tag in a peacoat. The peacoat is still one of Schott’s best sellers. “Every year, once it gets cold, people want their peacoats,” Schott told us.

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Sarah Jacobs

Some of the machines are extremely old, and when they break, a part must be custom-made to fix it. This one is nearly 100 years old and stitches a very delicate part of the jacket: the belt loops. Only the mechanic is allowed to operate it.

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Sarah Jacobs

The stitching creates a seam, which is then glued and hammered down to create a smooth inside.

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Sarah Jacobs

The jackets are stitched inside out, and a small hole is left in the sleeve.

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Sarah Jacobs

They are pulled right side in using a metal spike, which creates a perfect edge.

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Sarah Jacobs

Any ornamentation for the jacket is then added, including Schott’s signature star detailing on the epaulets. A machine operated by a foot petal punches the stars into the leather.

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Sarah Jacobs

The hole is then sewn up, and the jacket is sent to quality control.

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Sarah Jacobs

Every jacket must be inspected to ensure perfection.

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Sarah Jacobs

After inspection, the jackets are tagged, bagged, and sent to the shipping area.

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Sarah Jacobs

At this stage, some jackets could also be put in this industrial tumble washer with stones before being tagged. Tumbling around with the stones will break the leather in faster, allowing the jacket to conform to the owner’s body more quickly.

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Sarah Jacobs

The jackets are then stored in the warehouse, waiting to be shipped to the Schott retail store, wholesalers, or customers’ front doors.

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Sarah Jacobs

As many as 30 to 40 styles of jackets are being assembled on the factory floor at any one time. “At least half of our styles will remain in our collection from year to year,” Schott said. “We’ve got a good handful of styles that have been in our collection for 30 years. It’s building that long-term relationship with our customers, because we plan to be here for a while longer.”

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Sarah Jacobs