Lisa Cooper | 25 Years as the Boss Lady of Ebbets Field Flannels
Ebbets Field Flannels is a purveyor of 100% hand-crafted, authentic throwback sportswear since 1988, but they're also known for their collaborations with big street wear players such as BAPE, Stussy, Supreme and Undefeated to name a few. The woman behind this cross-branding ingenuity is Lisa Cooper, VP and Creative Director of Ebbets, who is an all around boss lady and force to be reckoned with. She shares with MISSBISH insights and wisdoms of her 25 years in the industry, and what it takes to be one’s own boss.
In your words, what kind of spirit does the Ebbets brand capture? Who wears Ebbets?
Ebbets has always been embraced by the creative class and attractive to people of independent spirit. We are a brand for the self-thinkers, those who appreciate high quality, a well told story and esoteric design. We’re kind of rouge and do things a bit differently which people seem to really like. Newer customers tend to think of us as a street wear brand but in earlier days our customer base was a bit less definable. Entrepreneurs, athletes, writers, musicians, politicians, news people, sportscasters, entertainers, comedians, professors and designers. They spread the word for us. We have this funny sort of impossible to classify broad appeal. We love our customers. Oldsters, gangsters, hipsters, sisters. It’s a diverse mix.
Ebbets has transcended onto the street wear scene by doing many collaborations with big brands such as FUCT, Supreme, Undefeated, BAPE, and Stussy. What are some of your favorite collaborations that you’ve done? Any notable female personalities/brands you’ve collaborated with?
I am waiting for that lady personality/lady brand to turn the gaze towards us. The timing needs to be right. If it’s a brand it’s going to be one with a strong vision akin to what Mickey Drexler did with our ball caps.
But we are going to refuse to play the race to the bottom game a la H&M and Zara— which seems to be what womenwear is about these days. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordan would be a perfect collab fit. She started X-Girl in the 90’s and was right on the mark. Bey or Nicki Minaj. Vashti. Joan Jett. Ladies with a sense of play who can also kick your ass sideways.
The 2014 collaborate I am most awed by is Bianca Chandon—talk about eloquent design. Simplicity is key and they understand this concept well, and just as importantly, they originate rather than imitate. The Bianca satin jackets quite literally stopped me in my tracks. The Hundreds did some great things here recently and they nailed it with the Jerry interview in their F/W Magazine. Total pros and a great bunch.
“Good bosses build cohesive teams who in the face of such adversity just pull together, give it a nudge and make it fly.”
What is it like starting and being your own boss of the most respected American heritage brands in the world? Any challenges?
Rewarding. Frustrating. Difficult. Amazing. There are new challenges all of the time. One on-going never ending challenge is getting customers to realize that you can’t build a Maserati for the price of a Volkswagen....not going to happen. Everyone is used to off shore pricing. They want US Made...and expect the same sort of structures and costing. Well...nope. At least not at Ebbets. Quality costs and it takes time. Lots of it.
Being one’s own boss- it’s a love hate thing. Love it when everything is flowing and working as a well-oiled machine. Hate it when the machine forms a leak or the springs come flying off of it. Good bosses build cohesive teams who in the face of such adversity just pull together, give it a nudge and make it fly. I feel like we have that in our department here at Ebbets. The respect that you mention above makes it all well worth it too. For all of us. The phrase ‘hard work pays off’ rings true when you hear from people just how much what we are doing means to them and about how we inspire. It’s a big motivator for sure.
You started 26 years ago, where things were not as easy for women in the workplace. Given that, you were at the helm of an athletic wear company in an industry that is heavily male-focused. How did you navigate that, and do you have any advice for women in similar male-dominated industries today?
Trial by error and baptism by fire. You learn quickly in the hot seat. I have lots of advice- which you can take or leave at whim and it goes like this: Observe and learn. Make mistakes, own them and learn from them. Don’t blame others. Make damn sure you can deliver what you promise. Know your game. Stay true to your core. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Women are far better collaborators then men, specifically because they possess greater emotional intelligence - which is a nice tool to have in the tool box-wield it like a velvet hammer.
Business is about relationships. Be concise. Be fair. Be kind. Be a good listener. Look at things from every angle possible then form multiple solutions. Always have a plan B. Alternatives are your secret weapon. Stay open to a fair critique of your work and learn from it. Remember critique and criticism are two very different things and know how to distinguish one from the other. Knowledge is power. Defensiveness is weak. Go over, around or under stonewalls or just blow them up. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Ebbets has primarily focused on athletic wear for men, but do you think there will ever be room for a women’s line?
Yes indeed- I am thinking that by Fall 2016/Winter 2017 it will come to fruition. If some big guns were to step forward wanting to collaborate on a women’s line before then- it would speed things up. Women’s is tricky though, not without its pitfalls- so we tread carefully.
If you could go back in time and tell your 25-year-old self any advice/wisdom, what would you tell her?
That this takes a heck of a lot of stamina. And that keeping on track while persevering through thick and thin will result in Ebbets owning its own lane in unforeseen ways. That creating and growing this niche in our own way will result in Ebbets becoming a singular, iconic American Heritage brand. And that our work will be admired & respected as a game changer by all sorts of people from around the world.
“Trial by error and baptism by fire. You learn quickly in the hot seat."
What’s next for Ebbets? What’s next for you?
Bringing in more and more of our manufacturing processes. I also have a long simmering retail concept involving mechanics as yet unseen/untested that I hope to bring to fruition over the next few years. Can’t really talk about it though. Ssshhh... It’s a secret! I turned 50 this year, so I am now starting to set sights on succession planning for Ebbets Field. Build it so that our cherished and dedicated long-term team players here end up owning and growing Ebbets even further.
What are your 3 hidden gems in Seattle?
1) Martha Washington Park is a total hidden gem in South Seattle on Lake Washington. Best views of Mt Rainier in Seattle and nobody knows of this park! I can’t remember the Duwamish name for it—but I do recall it translates to Sacred Place and conversely Taboo Place (I appreciate the dichotomy).
2) The Kingfish Café on Capitol Hill. I did not realize until recently that former Seattle Super Sonic Gary Payton is half owner. The two sisters who foundered the Kingfish have created to me the most legit atmosphere in Seattle. Solid, on point, and unpretentious.
3) This is a 2fer tossup between the Hillman City Collaboratory and the Massive Monkees Studio on Beacon Hill. Both are creative innovators and social influencers here in Seattle and everybody should know about the fine work they do and how it makes Seattle that much greater.
Photography: Bryan Anton