What’s Next for Jack Carlson and Rowing Blazers? 

Image provided by Rowing Blazers/Jack Carlson

“I’m proud to say I wasn’t cool. I was an eclectic dresser. I picked up stuff traveling with my family over the years. Italian soccer jerseys; hand-me-down Lacoste polos from my mom; rugby shirts I bought at cathedrals in England and stadiums in Ireland; and bootleg Garfield and Tintin tourist tees I collected in Argentina, Turkey, and at the Great Wall.”

So declares Jack Carlson, the founder of Rowing Blazers, explaining the inspiration behind his cult American clothing brand known for its take on preppy clothing. Carlson, a three-time member of the U.S. rowing team and World Championships medalist, founded Rowing Blazers in 2017 after writing a book of the same name about the myths and rituals related to the iconic blazer sported at rowing clubs around the world. 

It All Started at School

Jack Carlson’s love of all things rowing began at school in Cambridge, Massachusetts — the place he calls the “spiritual home” of rowing in America.

Carlson says that since the age of 11, rowing has been his principal sport. He rowed throughout his teenage years in high school, in college at Georgetown, and at Oxford in the United Kingdom, where he competed in the Oxford-Cambridge lightweight boat race before going on to win Henley in 2013, a personal career highlight. 

Carlson attributes his love for rowing to the sport’s legacy and traditions, particularly in England, where it is steeped in history and pageantry. There, spectators are required to wear club blazers and ties in the case of gentlemen, and large hats or fascinators with dresses that fall below the knee for the ladies.

During his racing debut at Henley as a teenager, an unfortunate first-round knockout meant Carlson spent the next five days as a spectator. It was this, Carlson says, that piqued his interest in rowing blazers. Conversations with other spectators concerned no other topic, and there were club blazers as far as the eye could see. “Every nation, every club, every college, I discovered, has their own eccentric set of blazer traditions,” he recalls. “I thought: Someone ought to write a book about this!”

Writing the book as a passion project, Carlson traveled the world to see — and collect — an array of vintage blazers. He noticed that nobody was making traditional club blazers anymore. With this in mind, alongside the success of his Rowing Blazers book — Ralph Lauren was so inspired by it that he hosted the book launch events for it — Carlson founded the Rowing Blazers menswear brand four-and-a-half years ago. 

Creating a Cult Icon

Over the years, many of the old traditional tailors who historically fashioned blazers for rowing clubs had closed down. Of those that stuck around, many stopped producing them in the traditional fashion, instead opting to merely buy blanks and sew patches on them.

When Jack Carlson released his book, however, lots of clubs began contacting him asking where they could get a proper, traditional rowing blazer. The rest, he says, is history. 

Rowing Blazers was officially established in 2017 in New York City, producing collaborations in Manhattan’s Garment District and in Europe. It should come as no surprise the brand’s very first product was the rowing blazer. 

While making blazers is an important part of the brand, Carlson has always envisioned doing a lot more with it, including collaborations. The brand’s first was with J.Crew. Carlson says J.Crew reached out to Rowing Blazers out of nowhere to mark a pivotal moment for the brand. Since then, Rowing Blazers has worked with Barbour, Babar, Lands’ End, Harry’s Bar, Fila, the NBA, and many more.

Carlson creates his Rowing Blazers collections based on what he’d like to see in the world. Describing his tastes as eclectic, they cover everything from 1820s vintage and 1950s American preppy to 1990s street. “Everything we do is a reflection of that,” he says. 

“I’d like to think our campaigns carry a sense of authenticity. By being eclectic, by being a little rogue, by having a healthy sense of irony in everything we do, that’s what makes what we’re doing less stuffy, less exclusive, and more fun.”

What’s Next for Jack Carlson and Rowing Blazers? 

Recently, Rowing Blazers opened its first international pop-up in Seven Dials, London. Located at 16 Earlham Street, Jack Carlson’s pop-up shop was spread out over 872 square feet and featured a curated product edit from the autumn/winter 2021 line. 

While the store was only open throughout the Christmas period, it marked a major milestone for Rowing Blazers. Commenting on the opening, Carlson said, “Seven Dials is such a vibrant neighborhood and to be among so many other like-minded brands is great for our first U.K.-based physical retail store.” The brand’s autumn/winter 2021 range also sold at Selfridges’ flagship store on Oxford Street. 

In a recent interview, Carlson hinted that the brand is working on a lot right now. 

“We have a three-way collaboration with Babar the Elephant and Fila tennis coming out around the Open,” he says. “There are some amazing, idyllic illustrations of Babar and his family playing tennis. Halcyon days. It’s a great vibe. It’s fun channeling that energy into a collection. Later this year, a second project with the NBA, and a couple of ski-themed capsules.”

Soon, Carlson hopes to launch a custom blazer and suit program, which he has been working on for several years. As for the Rowing Blazers book that started all this off, Carlson says he’s working on a new edition featuring rowing clubs that weren’t in the original, from Japan to the Bahamas and beyond. 

From the brand’s recent growth in the U.S. and its temporary physical expansion to the U.K., it’s clear Jack Carlson has big things planned. With his touching reverence for British life combined with his American can-do attitude, Carlson is bringing the classics back to the mainstream.