When you drive down Broadway Avenue and see Junkyard Jeans, a squat little storefront painted up like a giant, surreal face--the doorway a gaping mouth--you probably wouldn't guess that inside, Eric Schrader and his crew are designing vintage-inspired vests for West Coast Choppers' Jesse James and chain-stitched camo jackets that will sell for more than $1,000 at Barneys of Japan. You might not believe that Schrader recently custom designed a WWI-era garment bag for David Beckham, or that he regularly sells vintage denim, leather belts and jackets to Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie and Fitch, or that he features prominently in the denim documentary Blue Gold, which is slated to play at Cannes next year.
Schrader, who purchased Junkyard Jeans more than a decade ago, after he was paid $30,000 for three pairs of jeans he found at a Nampa garage sale, is a buyer and seller of vintage denim, leather, T-shirts, military and workwear. He is also, more recently, a rather accomplished clothing designer and manufacturer.
Why are you in this business?
I drive back and forth, to and from L.A., the Rose Bowl swap meet, nearly every month, and have for about 12 years. The Rose Bowl is where anybody who is somebody in this business goes. I have accounts along the way, and when I'm out there, I stop in all these little hole-in-the-wall thrift stores where I might find a $3,000 jacket for a few bucks. Now, that doesn't happen all the time, nor as much as it used to, but it's that treasure hunt, the thrill of the find. I started out knowing a little about vintage clothing, and then I found three pairs of jeans that I paid $6 for and sold for $30,000. That was the money that I actually used to buy Junkyard Jeans. Those three jeans woke me up to the potential of the business. I compare it to a gold miner who finds the main vein, a guy who's been looking for little nuggets all the time, then comes across the big score and it changes how he thinks about his business. It's all still so rewarding to me.
Who paid that 30K for three pairs of old jeans, and how did the deal go down?
The jeans were from the early 1900s, and I sold them to a guy named Roger Beale. I knew they were worth thousands of dollars, but I didn't know how many thousands. So, I flew to L.A. and went to the Rose Bowl, and I knew this guy was a player, one of the top guys in the business. I went to him, and I could tell by his reaction right away that these jeans were special, valuable, but I didn't know how special. We were in a hotel room in Pasadena at about 11 at night and he says, "Well, I can do 30." And in my mind I was like 30 what? It took me forever to realize that he was offering me $30,000 for three jeans. He had a Japanese guy that was with him, and right there on the bed he counted out $30,000. I was thinking that the ATF or somebody was going to come breaking in because no way this could be legal. I'd never seen that much cash in my life, but that's what got into my blood.
What was the work you did for David Beckham, and how did that come about?
In L.A., I met a guy named James Bond, literally, who's a real good friend of David's, and he asked me if I could design a bag for David, something he could take to the opening of his new clothing line. I found an old World War I garment bag and redesigned it using a 1940s-era tent and other hardware to make it more functional. Then we took the tattoo design off the back of David's neck and made a stencil of it, then put it on the bag with No. 23. Everyone asked me how much I got for it, and when I made the deal, I asked them for an amount that would equal a couple of minutes of his playing time. They said, "Do you have any idea how much David makes for a minute of playing time? Do you have any idea how much he makes every time he breathes in and out?" So I told them, well how about a couple of David's deep breaths for the deal.
Do you think many people in Boise know what you do here?
No, but you know what's funny is that since we've started to do more design pieces, we've gotten more local attention. Like, we just did five jackets for the Fall Out Boys, who put the jackets--and who made them--up on their Web site, and people in Boise came in the day they were up asking about them. And we just did a jacket for a new hip-hop guy out of Detroit, and the same thing happened where the jacket and our name was up on his site, and people came in. Even though Boise is not our primary market, we do get people who come in wanting unique pieces--custom biker jackets, belts, shoes, chain-stitch items--but really, most people here have no idea what we do behind this door.