While San Diego certainly has it’s own set of inherent allures, a progressive fashion sensibility hasn’t typically ranked high on the list (being a San Diego native myself, I feel I have the authority to make such a bold statement). Largely driven by beach culture and year-round moderate temperatures—board shorts, tees and flip flops have always reigned supreme as San Diego’s core clothing categories, but it was with this observation that Sam Larson recognized an opportunity in the market.
Inspired by the fashion scenes in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York—Sam and his wife Kelli opened Lone Flag in Del Mar (a beach town in northern San Diego county) in 2013. The shop features high quality menswear, apothecary goods, accessories and homewares from brands like Welcome Stranger, Freenote, 3Sixteen, and Filson, to name a few. Since opening its doors, Lone Flag has brought a much-desired dose of refined fashion onto the scene and has amplified the conversation around quality, transparency and longevity of goods within the community.
The shop also sits adjacent to Other Sons—a design studio initially founded by Sam and Kelli that has grown into a small team of creatives. The studio works closely with small, independent brands (many of which are featured in the shop) to help develop their visual identity and strategic direction. The studio also plays host to bi-monthly “coffee talks”—small, RSVP-only conversations with local tastemakers, focused around the role of design in small business enterprises.
One thing that is evident as I pursue the shop and learn more about the operation is the connection and sense of community that underlies the concept. The rapport between the store’s staff and customers feels far more personal, brotherly, and localized than typical retail experiences. A cozy sitting area and small tray of Whiskeys indicate that it’s perfectly fine just to come inside and hang out (I was tempted, but I stuck to my mission). What I personally appreciated most about the store was that it paired the design-minded ethos of a modern boutique with an incredibly evident passion for forming connections between customers and like-minded brands.
Sam was so kind as to give us some background on Lone Flag—continue reading for more.
TMH: Give us a bit of background on yourself and how Lone Flag came to be.
Sam: I worked for several brands over the last 10 years both corporately as well as in external sales so I spent a lot of time in and out of retail spaces. Later in my career I became more and more inspired by brands doing things differently and making things well in smaller batches. I also grew to love and appreciate a handful of brick & mortar spaces that were curating product in interesting ways and had a unique look, feel, and ambience about them. With time I also became a little obsessed with raw denim and realized that no one in San Diego had any of the brands I loved and there wasn't a single store that captured that feel I saw in San Francisco or New York. I wanted to have that place here but it was a huge risk to do it because there wasn't any proof yet that the concept would work here, especially in a beach town like SD. One day in 2013, I quit my corporate job to jump off the cliff and do it and my wife was behind me so we just went for it and dumped all of our personal savings into this project together.
TMH: When you think menswear in San Diego, you typically think board shorts and flip flops. What compelled you to break the mold?
Sam: That’s a great, great question. We are a city of casual wear and convenience. It's definitely a flip flop city and I think there are good elements to that, I'm not going to knock it. I also think there are times when guys should look more adult and embrace pride in their appearance. San Diego is behind other cities in most things, but it's also coming around fast and it's a great place to live with great people. I found it very risky to offer a forward brand assortment like ours in a city like San Diego, but there were also so many people that I knew that were seeking those brands out in LA and having them shipped down. It was enough of a gut feeling to try it out here. I was a huge fan of 3sixteen, Reigning Champ, Our Legacy, etc, etc and thought there might be more people like me in a city of this size. Turns out there are.
TMH: What’s your curatorial point-of-view with your products? Where do you look for inspiration?
Sam: I think the word "curated" is pretty overused now so it's a tough way to describe our brick & mortar offering since it's pretty subjective. That said, there isn't another word that works there so we often use it to describe our space in the best way we can. Our main approach to what we offer of is to highlight products that have function, are made well, and have a minimalist feel to them. We have a design agency as well called Other Sons next door to the shop, so I like to think that we also seek out product that has design details, care in packaging, and is aesthetically pleasing on every branding level as well. Ultimately, it should be made well and have transparent sourcing as well as have longevity. Those are the biggest things.
We look to a lot of other brands and retailer relationships we have to find inspiration. I also read quite a bit of textile and branding periodicals so I can be on top of brands coming out of Europe and Japan as well, mostly because I'm so interested in it all.
TMH: You cite “community” as one of the store’s areas of focus. Tell us a bit about why this is important to you and how the idea is brought to life in Lone Flag’s retail environment.
Sam: People come in and out of our space all day long, every day of the year. If you don't like people, why have a brick & mortar space? So many of the new school "cool" stores out there treat people poorly or ignore them upon arrival. We always wanted to create a space where everyone felt welcome, even if you don't understand or care for the brands / offering. Most of our customers that come in we know by name and many of them have become great friends over time. We also host events and an ongoing design series in our studio called "coffee talks" built around design driven conversations with the sole focus to inspire creatives in our city and fellowship together. Ultimately, if we were to go out of business tomorrow I want the legacy to be that the community of San Diego gained something from our space, not that we were just a retailer that came and went. We want to be more than that.
TMH: What exciting things are on the horizon for Lone Flag (that you’re willing to share)?
Sam: We are expanding our current brand selection in store and bringing in some amazing new ones for Spring. I still can't believe we'll be stocking a few of these brands and that they'll be in SD. It's exciting for product nerds like us.
We're also working on a second concept space that will be larger and also include a full coffee shop that will open in Feb 2016. This project is the brainchild of our friends at Moniker Group and we're collaborating with them on the project and building out the retail portion of it all. We're pretty excited to offer some women's brands in this space as well as more homegoods and design-driven accessories here. It will be a really, really, compelling space once completed in terms of general aesthetics. We're going all out.
TMH: What are some other local, San Diego brands you’re inspired by?
Sam: We do a lot of work with the guys at Bradley Mountain. I love their approach of just making things as well as possible without cutting corners, that's really what's built the brand. The whole team at Moniker Group has been an inspiration as well. They have been designing out spaces and building commercial projects for a while now in San Diego and their vision is unmatched. It's also a really cool time for beer and coffee brands in our city right now. I think we owe a lot to that movement since both of those categories have really pushed forward the mindset of "buying small and better" in the city. There are a ton of great ones in town now but our team loves Ironsmith Roasters, Lofty Coffee, James Coffee, Ballast Point, Modern Times, the list goes on forever....
Lastly, I worked corporately at Nixon for a long time in the past and although I'm focused on a different market now, I still love how the brand stayed so close to San Diego as an identity and has built a global brand from an Encinitas garage. I learned a lot from my time there and cut my teeth on the biz so I'm forever grateful for that opportunity they gave me.