Archaeology, rowing, ancient cultures, and Arthur Ashe. Join us in an exploration of the visionary world of the founder of Rowing Blazers

Rowing Blazers is the fusion of enlightened wit, inspired design, and sports excitement. It’s a journey into the colorful fabric and graphics of a young cult brand that’s galvanizing the entire fashion industry. Rowing Blazers is, first and foremost, the brainchild and the ethos of its brilliant creator, Jack Carlson.

To understand this brand, we need to know its founder. Let’s travel back in time and retrace the steps of this 36-year-old entrepreneur-designer who is an archaeologist, athlete, and trendsetter all at the same time. Indeed, today Rowing Blazers shuns hype and mainstream fads, choosing to create their own. In its essence, there are no passing melodies or insignificant echoes; only athletic feats, mindful world wisdom, sensitive research, and an impressive academic background.

Jack Carlson

“The concept for Rowing Blazers stems from a book I created with the same name from 2014: it was a book I worked on for about four years, focusing on the study of blazers used by rowing teams. Rowing has always been my thing; I was a coxswain throughout my academic career and beyond”

Says the former member of the U.S. National rowing Team, who have had the opportunity to compete at (and win) many of the sport’s prestigious events, including Henley Royal Regatta (the Wimbledon of rowing), the Head of the Charles and the timeless Cambridge-Oxford Boat Race. These events inspired Carlson to write his book, Rowing Blazers, which ultimately brought him into the world of fashion, the culmination of an interest that began when he was in high school, where he designed his first blazers for the school rowing team.

“I’ve always been fascinated by blazers, their stories, colors, symbols, myths and rituals. So, I decided to study these garments. Fashion with a capital F has never interested me; I’ve always been more interested in clothes themselves: their history and meaning. Studying vintage clothes is archaeology in a way. Archaeology is the study of material culture; it the study of the past through objects.”

Carlson’s perspective was surely influenced by his academic career, in which he studied archaeology, heraldry and symbolism. But this is just one facet of what he is doing, which lies at the intersection of classics, sport, and popular culture. Rowing Blazers is in fact the complex evolution of an aesthetic known as “preppy”, into a future that finally strips it of social taboos and class connotations, modernizing it with a sense of inclusivity, history, and cosmopolitanism. And this former athlete brings this spirit both to classic American style, but also to his beloved sport of rowing: a fact exemplified by his connection with Row New York, a non-profit rowing and academic program serving students from New York City’s underprivileged communities where Carlson serves on the board.

When I was in high school, everyone wore Abercrombie & Fitch everyday. I was the odd one out, because I wore vintage things that had belonged to my parents: old Lacoste shirts, or cricket sweaters, vintage Ralph. Or I wore sports jerseys or tourist t-shirts I collected on family trips to Turkey or Argentina or Ireland or Japan. The term ‘preppy’ is tricky, especially when related to American culture. It has a lot of baggage, a lot of connotations about privilege and exclusivity. Many brands, especially when I was growing up, leaned into this image and this idea.  With regards to rowing: rowing is also a sport that has historically had a diversity problem, especially in the U.S. In my years on the national team, for example, I didn’t have a single Black teammate. Luckily, these dynamics are changing, both in fashion and sport. I’ve been collaborating for a while with the organization Row New York, which gets kids from different social backgrounds into rowing. They also help them in their academics. Rowing has to belong to everybody; it has to give everyone opportunities. And the same thing can be said for the fashion industry.

Raised between Massachusetts and London, Carlson works with fashion using sports and culture, decking out his creations with meaning and reflection, while also engaging in various prestigious collaborations. Gucci, Umbro, Fila, K-Swiss, and TAG Heuer are just some of the giants that have decided to join their philosophies and heritage with the vibrant creativity of Rowing Blazers. This creativity rushes and flows into a vast ocean of parallel brands, which the former U.S. coxswain seeks to foster and preserve, starting with the iconic Arthur Ashe.

I’ve always been a big tennis fan, and always admired him. Arthur Ashe is much more than a brand: he’s a sports legacy and social legend. In my opinion, he’s one of the greatest figures in modern American history: he fought for civil rights, spoke several times at the UN, boycotted apartheid, and changed public opinion about AIDS. Of course, he also won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, the Davis Cup, and more. He was a true American hero. I took over his brand almost by chance, thanks to Donald Dell, the man who set up the endorsements of Michael Jordan and Stan Smith. Through Donald, the Ashe family got in touch with me, and I have the honor of working alongside them. I feel some pressure, for sure, but I’m proud of a project like this, which goes beyond just sports and fashion, just as I am proud of the many connections created through Rowing Blazers. I still remember when David, the co-founder of RB, and I were writing our first extremely ambitious ideas for collaborations on fast food napkins. Rowing Blazers didn’t exist yet; it all seemed crazy…. Now, a lot of those collabs have come to pass. We had no idea how to make it happen, but it did. I guess we were channeling the right energy into the universe. And we want to keep doing that.

Photo credits:

Rowing Blazers

Text by Gianmarco Pacione