3sixteen’s Andrew Chen is one of those guys that cubicle jockeys everywhere look up to: He left the daily grind of a job he hated to pursue a career he loved. Six years ago, the former financial consultant decided to make something of all the doodles of denim, shirts, and jackets he sketched on his yellow Steno notepads during boring executive meetings. His scribbles led to the launch of his 3sixteen clothing label as a side project; it got its name from the Bible passage John 3:16 (though Chen is quick to say it isn’t a Christian company). After three years, the line grew, became known for its strong focus on durable, wearable, long-lasting denim, and Chen decided it was finally time to quit his stable, secure day job in 2006 to invest in a new life as a start-up design company that’s totally unpredictable. As a former finance man, he knew he needed to calculate the risks of his decision. But it panned out well.
The self-funded business has grown at a steady pace. He gained a partner, Johan Lam, who is based in Los Angeles, which allows the duo to have a bicoastal business with production happening in both cities, with almost all of the products made in the United States. “The menswear customer is becoming more educated and responsible with their buying and we fill that niche well,” Chen explains. “We focus on materials and cuts and it’ll be something that will last.” Together they launched their first full collection for fall 2008 and they have an ongoing collaboration with the Maine-based Quoddy Trail for hand-sewn moccasin chukkas. The spring 2010 collection continues their durability mantra and focuses on wardrobe staples such as lightweight knits, classic shirts, jackets, and, of course, denim. “We’re not trained in fashion,” Chen says. “We want to make pieces that will be able to last a long time. Our jeans are really meant to be something that people can build their wardrobe around.” And it would never have happened if he hadn’t bailed on the safe route. “I’m really thankful to get to do what I love every day,” Chen admits. “It makes all the difference in the world.” Now 3sixteen is stocked in over 25 stores globally, including Self Edge in the Lower East Side (which Chen and Lam opened in collaboration with the owners), Epaulet and Brooklyn Circus in Brooklyn, and online. They are also a featured designer on FadMashion.com. Click ahead to see a preview of what’s in store for spring.