Brand Love: Marine Layer
April 8, 2016
Last summer I fell in love. With a hoody. It had me at hello, or more accurately at ‘Oh, Hey’. My destination was Shinola in Chicago, a pilgrimage born of an earlier brand love affair. After resisting a major splurge on a watch from Detroit I heard the siren call of an unknown brand casually beckoning me from across Damen Avenue. As a seeker of great retail I was surprised by the unfamiliar label on this increasingly upscale retail corridor. Marine Layer … curiosity piqued. A sign in the window stated “Incredibly soft t-shirts sold here,” but it could have offered any number of things since the rush of retail therapy was already coursing through my veins…
Inside I was greeted by Fee, the sole employee present in the small shop, which at the time I thought may be her own. The shop was bright and airy with an easy going retro vibe. T-shirts were displayed on a simple assembly of concrete blocks and wood planks with AstroTurf underfoot, all lazily surveyed by the “logo dude” relaxing in his hammock stretched between the twin towers of the Golden Gate below a setting sun.
As I browsed, Fee told me that Marine Layer was born in San Francisco and explained that their shirts are made of recycled beechwood which makes them softer and stretchier than cotton. Then she breezed through the breadth of the offering; tees, sweats and women’s scarves. While sifting through a short stack of tees, small, medium, marge, large….wait ‘marge’? “That’s a medium body and a large length for guys like you,” Fee said. “Brilliant,” I thought. And it was. For years I’ve pondered the absence of medium tall; I was going to buy something here. T-shirts were $45 or three for $100, which for the frequency in which I sport a t-shirt felt a little steep for the day, plus the angel on my shoulder kept repeating that Macklemore lyric from Thrift Shop…(I had done some damage at Shinola after all). Luckily, chillin’ for me in the sale section was a hoody that felt so right I knew we were going home together.
A month later, back in Chicago checking out the Bonobos GuideShop and Warby Parker in Lincoln Park I spotted another Marine Layer store and quickly ushered my party inside. After I threw down the product knowledge to my friends and tried on a ‘marge’ that caught my eye, the host (Dude, for lack of my memory), said “Wow man, you should work here.” Once I explained that my co-worker and I work in retail design and we’re both general brand geeks he shared some more of the Marine Layer story. “We have an Airbnb above our Bucktown store. Yeah, and our tag line ‘Oh Hey’ is more or less a joke; like when you wake up in the morning after a late night out and there’s strangers in your house…and your like ‘Oh, Hey’.” How can you not laugh at that?
I booked the Marine Layer Loft for Thanksgiving. The rate was a steal for three queen bedrooms and a whole lot better than shacking up with the extended clan. Just like their stores, the loft was totally tricked-out in what I might describe as 60’s/70’s SoCal surf style. Vintage furniture, retro décor with tropical touches and a few completely random surprises that fit the theme. Crashing in the Marine Layer Loft was like experiencing the lifestyle of the brand; it was just…laid back.
So Marine Layer, why do I love you? Let me count the ways. 1) You’re authentic and relatable. You don’t ask me to be someone I’m not to be part of your club and you speak to me like we’re friends. 2) You’re premium but not pretentious. You’re about happy people living life in comfy clothes. I dig it. 3) You’re honest and you own it. When it snowed in Tahoe and your staff all decided to go skiing you told me the truth … awesome. And finally, ‘marge’, you’re a dream come true.