When you stumble across high end NYC outerwear label The Arrivals, you don’t automatically think cycling. Founded in 2014, they’re known for their carefully designed, considered leather jackets and puffers. It’s the brainchild of partners Jeff Johnson (from an architecture background) and Kal Vepuri (a tech investor) who reconnected in New York after knowing each other for years. Kal thought the outerwear industry needed shaking up and thought Jeff would be the right guy to do it. “We ended up just diving into it. And six months later we launched the company in one weekend. We were on Vogue and New York Times. And it just all snowballed,” explains Johnson.
So how did they become the next brand to collaborate with a Melbourne–born cycling apparel brand like MAAP?
When you meet Jeff, it all makes sense.
Although The Arrivals are as New York as it gets, Johnson has called San Francisco home since 2019. The city’s all-encompassing cycling culture rekindled Jeff’s love for riding that he picked up as a college student in Colorado. He’s so far back into it that he now heads up the Bay Area-based progressive cycling team Away Message. And it was a call from Away Message about a team kit that got MAAP and The Arrivals talking about a collaboration.
OTF: How do you describe the Arrivals?
Jeff: I see our identity and our path forward as an outerwear brand that marries contemporary design trends and creativity at the forefront of our innovation, with function and performance. I think from our launch to today, we’ve continued to move more towards say outdoor and performance-driven design and products. Whereas earlier, we were more and more fashion leaning, which I think part of that probably has to do with me moving from New York to San Francisco and my lifestyle changing quite a bit.
OTF: You come from a design background, how did you come to launch a fashion label and where do those disciplines overlap?
Jeff: From a design background, I have a lot of foundations that are quite elastic between different disciplines. But I have zero experience in the actual industry of fashion. That junction, or that transition from our architecture into fashion, there are so many things that daily, I’m like, “Oh man, I’m so glad I have my architecture background to be able to figure this out.” Because I think there’s just a level of discipline and just man hours that you dedicate to design that go into supporting a lot of disciplines. But other things that I’m like, “Oh my God. I am so naive and I know nothing about this industry.” It’s both I think a great enabler as well as encourages me to stay, I don’t know, humble and hungry.
OTF: What’s a product that is quintessentially The Arrivals – that really typifies the label?
Jeff: The newest puffer that we’ve just released – it’s called the TURBO Puff and it comes in a woman’s and men’s style. I think it’s a really good example of how you take that quintessential item that is super, function-driven, super simple, but do it in a way that just feels very relevant to the design, fashion, contemporary consumer. You can’t quote me on this, but it’s like that pizza, that there’s not too many ingredients. The dough is perfect. All the ingredients are perfect. It doesn’t have every topping in the world. And I think we’re just trying to create good design. It’s beautiful fabrics, beautiful construction, beautiful hardware. The fit is fantastic. And ultimately, it shouldn’t be that complicated. And this piece, it’s like every angle you shoot it at you’re like, “Oh, that looks amazing.”
OTF: When did you start riding?
Jeff: I went to school in Boulder, at the university of
Colorado, and I had a roommate that was into cycling and he went away. And he left his road bike. And I hopped on it one day, with zero permission. And I rode with a major tailwind, probably 40 miles in one direction. And I was like, “Dude, I’m Lance Armstrong. I’m king of the world.” And turned around and I bonked so hard. And it probably took me three hours to get home with no water, no food, but it was so much fun. I mean, that’s literally the first road bike ride I ever went on. That was probably 2003. And I just got the bug hardcore.
OTF: How hardcore did you get?
Jeff: I started racing. At that point, I actually gave myself a two year window to see if I could do the whole pro racing thing. Senior year of college, I started racing a lot. The next year I continued to race and went through all the categories here and had a lot of fun doing it. I traveled all around southern US. Looking back at that, it was one of the funnest, little periods of my life. Just because there was so much discipline and focus.
After Boulder, and his two year push at serious riding, life got in the way of riding. And by life, we mean six years working at one of the world’s most celebrated architecture practices, UNStudio in Amsterdam. He carried his road bike with him to Amsterdam, and back to New York but it wasn’t until he moved to San Francisco that cycling became a big part of his life again.
OTF: What was it about San Francisco that brought you back to riding?
Jeff: San Francisco is such an amazing place to ride. And so, it’s been really amazing to just fall back in love with the sport. And I think there’s such a big community out here as well. And so, that’s been really fun to move to a new city. You connect with folks that you already know. But then, to build a little social circle out of something besides just your career, which I think New York is so akin to, it’s all career. San Francisco and I think a lot of other places in the world, there’s more spheres that you can have in your world.
OTF: Tell us about your racing team, Away Message.
Jeff: Away Message started mid-pandemic. A handful of (friends) were just riding. And we were like, “We need to make a kit. We need to one, start a team of people that we’re super inspired by and two, only partner with brands that are products that we’re really interested in.” Almost thinking, if you were a retailer and you had to be very thoughtful about who you brought into that space. That’s how we wanted to think about building a brand. And then, we basically just started reaching out to friends that were on various racing teams and saying, “Hey, we’re starting this team. Are you guys interested?” And people were so keen. They were excited to be part of something new. And we’ve been quite selective with just the individuals that we reach out to, just because we want to stand for something. And we want to be sure that we’re sure about our identity.
OTF: What’s the ethos behind it?
Jeff: I think at a certain point, you start to find your people. Individuals that were design driven, maybe have similar backgrounds to you and similar interests. And recognizing that a lot of these individuals are on big racing teams. And they are on racing teams that have a legal office sponsoring them or some pharma. Just various sponsors that really have nothing to do with their interests, their lifestyle. So we wanted to create a space where it was like, “Let’s create an ecosystem of brands, individuals, ideas, partnerships that are just a creative extension of what we find exciting and inspiring.” And so, that was so fun for us just to start talking about on the rides. Being like, “Oh, we’re going to get a tattoo gun.” Just having fun with these ideas.
OTF: Ok, let’s bring it back to us. What was it about MAAP that drew you to collaborate?
Jeff: I’ve seen MAAP’s product in the past four years really improve faster than any other brand next to it. And just being able to be part of that story, I think is really fun. For us, we want to do the exact same thing, where our goal is always to push product. And it’s not just in the design of technology but what are the tangents and tendencies to other stories we can tell? And telling that in an outdoor space with a device like a bicycle is super fun.