Eastman Leather Clothing has been in business for over thirty years now, located at its long standing premises in Ivybridge in Devonshire. Since their inception they have always specialised in flight jackets, particularly the military styles from WWII. Over the years they have acquired a unique expertise in this area that is considered by industry insiders as second to none. Due to their extensive, persistent research about the original cuts and materials used, Eastman learned how to perfectly reproduce period Flight Jackets using similar practices as employed during the 1930’s. Such is the accuracy of Eastman’s research that they have become desirable garments for use in period filmaking. Eastman Jackets have appeared in Hollywood Blockbusters; Pearl Harbour, & Red Tails. Within menswear too, the quality of the jackets is such that Eastman have been attracting collaborations from newer brands with younger profiles such as You Must Create (YMC) & Heritage Research. The Holborn decided to get in touch with founder Gary Eastman to find out more..
So how did Eastman Leathers get started? How did Eastman actually go about getting things made at the start?
” I started my company in July of 1984 on Margaret Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance scheme. I was a printer by trade, having done a 5 year apprenticeship from 1978 – 1983, after leaving school. I took a year out after finishing my apprenticeship, and went to the US. While I was there, I followed my nose and dug around for that which I had a passion for – vintage flight jackets. The US certainly proved to be quite bountiful in that regard – having previously had to make do with scouring the vintage clothing stores in London, like FLIP (that’s the original FLIP that was in Long Acre Road, Covent Garden) for such articles.
I came home with quite a bunch of garments, and started selling them in the Exchange & Mart – there used to be two whole pages devoted to militaria in that periodical back then, and that was the place to sell vintage flight jackets.
Unfortunately, the trade I had spent 5 years learning was in decent – desk-top-publishing was fast replacing the traditional method of print, and so I found myself struggling to find work. I fancied doing something in the field of vintage clothing – especially flight jackets – but sourcing enough originals to make a living was tough – it was then that I hit upon the idea of making very accurate reproductions. I figured: people really want to wear these things, but generally originals are too hard to find, don’t fit, and are too delicate to wear, so a good reproduction could be a good alternative.
I went to the library and took out some books on pattern making and grading, borrowed my Mothers sewing machine, and with a few old bed sheets made up a rudimentary toile to see if it could be done. Several attempts, and several bed sheets later I was reasonably confident enough this might be possible.
I took the small amount of money I had from selling the originals I brought back from the US, and went to London and bought an old 1930s singer sewing machine, some leather, other trim parts, and set about making the first Eastman A-2s in my garage. I was able to produce 5 garments from the first batch of leather I bought, and they all sold in the Exchange & Mart within a week. I carried on like that for about 3 years, whereupon I employed my first sewing machinist in 1987, and not long after, my Father (who had recently been made redundant from the print trade as well), to help with the cutting – he still works at Eastman to this day, and so does that first machinist. Since then I haven’t looked back, or even had time to think about looking back, – it’s as crazy busy today as it ever was – nearly 30 years have passed – ha” .
Where do you source the fabrics for your clothing?
” The main material of course is leather and sheepskin. These can be sourced from anywhere in the world, but generally it comes from Italy and the US. We quite often use finishers within the UK to finish leather crust the way we want it – i.e. the crust is brought in from overseas, and then the dying and finishing is done here – it’s easier to monitor the spec that way. However, some overseas tanneries have good finishing departments as well, and so some of them can be relied upon to supply the finished material just as you want it – but it’s gamble to do that with everyone, which is why we often use finishers in the UK”.
How do you ensure the quality of your garments? Where are they manufactured?
” All the jackets (both leather and sheepskin) are manufactured right here at our factory in Ivybridge, Devon. The quality is ensured because the operators know they are making an enthusiasts product. The emphasis is on taking time to make a good job. There are no mass-production lines at our factory – it’s a small workforce of a dozen skilled people – after a garment is cut and prepped, the sewing machinist makes the whole garment, from beginning to end. When the garment is finished, it is then quality control checked by another person, who scrutinises the garment for any possible errors or problems – the operators are so conscientious though, this rarely happens. They know what the score is, and they know the customers are keen about these products, so there is no ‘that’ll do’ mentality at all”.
Where does your appreciation for historical flight jackets come from?
” I’ve always been interested in the whole WWII aviation thing from as far back as I can remember. I suppose it’s got a lot to do with being brought up in the post-war era as a kid, where WWII stuff was all around us, from tv to toys to model-making etc. Many of the war movies from the 50s and 60s were quite hung-ho about how we won – and they made it look cool (quite different in reality of course, but that’s how we saw it). As I grew up, and realised it was possible to acquire the actual stuff i.e. a real flight jacket from WWII – that was like dipping back into the past and pulling out a part of history that you could feel and smell, making a connection to an era that was otherwise impossible to sense. I still get the same nostalgic feeling even now when I find an old jacket”.
What is the personal experience like of creating a quality product and then seeing people wearing the fruits of your labour, particularly on screen?
” I get great satisfaction from a customers satisfaction – because I want them to feel like I would, if I didn’t make jackets, but found something like this. That’s kind of the whole driving force behind any new style I make when its under development – I want to be able to look at it and say ‘yeah, I’d buy that, that’s looks bloody amazing, I got to have it.
When we produced all the jackets for the movie Pearl Harbor – which was the first real movie production we supplied – it was quite weird seeing the jackets on the big screen for the first time. We were invited to the movie premier in Leicester Square, which was quite a lavish affair with after show party and all, and when the first scenes of the jackets appeared, I did feel quite an overwhelming feeling of pride come over me”.
Do you have a favourite piece from Eastman? What do you wear it with?
” It’s hard to say because I try to make them all favourites, but I find myself wearing mostly the G-1 – it’s such a practical design, it works anywhere – I generally wear LVC or Edwin jeans, along with either Redwing or Buzz Rickson footwear, and Buzz Ts or sweatshirts”.