The Willis Woven
Water Ski Tahoe – Natural
Streaky Terry Hoodie
Every spring I reluctantly throw away favorite T-shirts. Cotton alone does not stand the test of time. Enter Marine Layer, a San Francisco-based clothing company. Like many Bay Area start-ups, Marine Layer began by solving a problem—replacing that old worn-in-just-right T after it gets tossed into T-shirt Heaven.
"I wanted to be able to buy my favorite shirt without having to break it in," says Mike Natenshon, Marine Layer's founder.
In 2008, Natenshon, a soft-spoken, 35-year-old, went to work. He traveled to Los Angeles exploring textiles.
For most brands, the traditional move away from cotton is to a cotton-polyester blend. Back in 2009, Natenshon felt the word polyester carried a negative connotation so he moved to a modal, a semi-synthetic cellulose fiber made from beech trees, and cotton blended piece of magic that hangs loose, fits well, and takes a UFC-like beating like a champion.
Marine Layer prides itself on a casual, laid-back, and outdoorsy vibe, exemplified by their logo, a dude kicking back in a hammock strung between the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. The T's come in seven sizes—extra small, small, medium, marge, large, larger, extra Large. The in-between sizes make it easier to find a good fit. Larger, for example, is for taller people.
Natenshon brought in his best friend, Adam Lynch, who Natenshon calls "the smartest guy I know." Together, they took out personal loans, signed a lease, built out a small space, and went to work. As soon as they opened, sales went through the roof. Natenshon and Lynch have been building the brand, today with six retail shops and 34 employees, ever since. Best of all? All of their stuff is made in California. Their fabric comes from Los Angeles and cut-and-sew clothing is made by the San Francisco shop that used to produce garments for another Bay Area start-up—The North Face. When TNF moved their production overseas, the factories laid dormant. Today, Natenshon estimates Marine Layer is giving these local factories around 80 percent of their business.
Marine Layer has collaborated with Folsom Skis, producing T's for the ski company in exchange for custom skis. The skis, mounted, sit behind Natenshon's desk in Marine Layer's converted movie theater-to-office-space San Francisco headquarters they call the ML Workshop.
For this review, I took a size larger T-shirt, large Streaky Terry Hoodie, and large Willis Woven. Then I wore the crap out of them for two weeks. I wore them to the beach and after-surf coffee. I soaked them in salt water three times, sweated in them post-mountain bike rides twice, drunkenly slept in them, drove overnight from Tahoe City to San Francisco and back in them, and then washed them in an industrial machine for 40 minutes after a boozy brunch accident. So far, the garments are unscathed, still soft, and the fit remains unchanged. In fact, I'm wearing the hoodie and T as a type this review. The baristas at this coffee shop must think I'm a real dirt bag wearing the same thing every other day.
Marine Layer's California-manufactured clothing comes at a price, a steep one at that. My water ski Lake Tahoe T-shirt retails for $45. Others go for $39. All T's are $90 for three. Hoodies are between $60-$125. The Willis Woven retails for $98. Marine Layer releases new designs and products in limited runs every two-four weeks, so it helps to check their site frequently if you're looking to snag something.
As for the future, another retail store is planned for Chicago in the coming weeks.
"We live and work in the city," says Mike. "But we get out to surf on the weekends, go up to Tahoe during the winter to ski. We embody that California lifestyle. It's fun."