Walk up to Corridor founder Dan Snyder and chances are he will have a smile on his face. He’s approachable, personable and his warmth translates easily. When we first met years ago I was struck by how his curiosity and enthusiasm shined through to the Corridor collection. I liked him and I liked the clothes he made. It was cool to hear about his early days just trying to figure it all out on his own. I admired his willingness to learn and do what needed to be done to bootstrap Corridor. It was organic and felt very real.
The collection grew slowly and Dan seemed mostly focused on making great stuff rather than being overly focused on building buzz for the sake of buzz. I always felt like Dan just had his head down working hard to create things that people would love. This made me appreciate Corridor even more.
It’s easy to overlook the roadmap of a brand — how it got started, why it exists, and the people that make it what it is. It’s hard for consumers to truly connect with a brand and discover the real story. Not the bullsh/t made-for-PR version. Dan never seemed interested in playing that game. He was probably too busy running from a factory to the wash house and trying to do the million other things that go into running an apparel company rather than worry about the marketing. Despite the challenges whenever I saw Dan he would be excited to show me the stuff he was making and talk about what he was learning. I would walk away thinking how much I appreciate both Dan as a person and the things he makes at Corridor.
The best part of resurrecting ACL has been the ability to talk about deserving people like Dan and brands like Corridor without having to fit it into some sort of news cycle. I want other people to feel as good about companies like Corridor as I do. That’s my motivation —pure and simple. I wanted to interview Dan because I know how hard it is to actually build a brand from scratch. People should know that there are good people out there laboring to make good things. Dan is one of those people and he deserves every bit of praise he gets. Our chat is below — I hope you enjoy it.
ACL: I really like your approach and what you have built, so tell me about Corridor — why should it exist?
Dan Snyder: Hi Michael, thank you, you’ve played a big part in growing it with the years of advice and the Pop Up Flea. Why should it exist? This is a big question, but I think that there is always room in the world for things of beauty and quality. Certainly, the world doesn’t need more clothing, but we are expressive beings and our clothing can be a way to present our interior worlds without speaking.
More broadly, I think that it should exist because we’re making beautiful, quality, contemporary clothing that’s responsibly made for the American guy. I think that we’re making clothing that is interesting but accessible from the best materials at a fair price.
Tell me about your background. What made you start a clothing brand?
My background is a strange one. I studied IT in undergrad and worked for IBM, Homeland Security, and FBI. I went to grad school at Tufts to do something at State or CIA and started Corridor while interning at the NYPD Counterterrorism center between school years and then my life took a very different route; almost like a do-over. The concurrent story is that I’d been making clothes in my apartment since my early 20s and had learned how to tailor in night school, thinking that I would tailor clothes as a hobby/side job.
Why did I start the brand? I have always really loved to make clothes, and it's been the most intuitive thing that I've ever done. I feel as though I instinctively understand proportion and color balance, and daily I use these innate traits…it's satisfying.
So when I started, I was immediately hooked and the business worked from the beginning when I was selling shirts to stores out of my backpack. I think that the brand has an organic quality to it. It’s never had any outside funding, so its growth has been tied to sales and my own personal growth, both as a designer and a business person.
I’m not trained as a designer or a business person, so I’ve learned as I’ve gone along - making mistakes and then making less bad mistakes.
I think that only in the past year has the brand begun to push and actualize from a creative and cohesive standpoint in a way that I couldn’t quite get to before. Maybe this headspace afforded by the pandemic has been a bright spot.
How has Corridor evolved over the past few years?
I think that the biggest change occurred within me, finding my voice as a designer and trusting myself more. I think that since the beginning we’ve always made beautiful, individual garments but lacked a collection.
As my aperture widened my mindset changed, and I started to see how other elements fit into this idea of contemporary American clothing. What is it? Who is it? What do they want and what’s their lifestyle? And selfishly, I think that I fit the mold, so I began to more specifically make clothes for myself, to my taste.
So I think that trusting my gut and my instincts has been a big factor in growing from a small collection of garment district-made shirts into the brand and collection we have today.
The other thing to note is the creativity allowed through manufacturing capabilities. My energies and interests have always been in cloth and textiles. Previously, I’d work with mills from Japan, Italy, and Portugal to buy stock fabrics. I found this very limiting because my patterns and silhouettes are mostly classic and shaped to flatter the customer. While fit is extremely important, I’d rather the observer not even notice fit because the garment drapes as it should and just take note of the fabric. So when I was able to begin designing textiles in India the collection took on a new brightness.
What do you think about making clothes in America after the way you have built Corridor?
Making clothing in America is tough. Contextually, I spent years in the Garment District snipping threads and carrying bolts of fabric between 35th and 38th St, eating in freight elevator restaurants, and watching it shrink year by year as hotels took over.
I didn’t go to fashion school, so working in the Garment District was my education — learning from all the trim suppliers— why I should choose corozo over poly over urea over troca. How to make a cutter’s must (which is a map of the pattern), what a cut ticket is, how to grade a pattern. These are the details that make the final garment good. It’s like learning the real guts of making clothing.
I couldn’t have created Corridor without the Garment District and the people in it. My first production run in 2013 was 32 shirts in 3 patterns made with leftover jobber fabric, but the shirts were beautiful — fully chain stitched with Japanese cottons.
That being said, it’s really hard. It’s rare that the operation can happen under one roof. We would cut the fabric on 38th, sew on 35th and then wash on 37th Street or in New Jersey. When you make stuff things get f/cked up easily and it’s really hard to control quality. Depending on the size of your team someone would have to be there all the time which leaves little time for everything else
I think that the future of U.S. manufacturing depends on the product, but certainly, the garment district is shrinking. The workforce — the operators, the cutters, the owners are getting older and there doesn’t seem to be much investment in New York’s version. Nationwide, there are exceptions who are doing amazing things like David Mullen’s Save Khaki factory in L.A., and a few L.A. knitwear brands (Topwin that makes Velva Sheen and Lady White Co) to name a few, but I mainly deal with wovens it is different.
I do think that it’s problematic to make wovens in the U.S. because there are very few weaving mills remaining. The raw material is either extremely expensive or not very good. So nearly all USA made shirts are made with cotton designed and milled elsewhere and flown in. I think that there is a future for knitwear and footwear, but wovens will continue to diminish.
What has it been like making clothes in India?
Making clothing in India is a little like working in the Garment District. It’s not easy, but you can make a beautiful, authentic garment from seed to sew.
There are mills and factories that were making gorgeous flannels, dobbies, and more for Ralph Lauren and Orvis for decades, but most left for China and Vietnam in the ‘90s. So, the quality and skill are very much there and you can make pretty much anything that comes to your mind. But, much like the Garment District, it’s not very easy, at least the product that I’m interested in is not easy. We are designing, weaving, and sewing with the same people season after season.
Because of my years in the Garment District, I feel really comfortable working in factories and take a lot of inspiration from the work, the people and the actual structure. It’s a mixture of combing through their archives and updating them to color, scale and texture but keeping the bones the same because I know that the factory can do it well from a milling, washing, and sewing perspective.
On your e-com site it says "Made responsibly in India" — what does that mean exactly?
To me, responsibility means knowing who made your clothes, how they made your clothes, and how they are treated. It’s spending over a month in the factory every year, understanding the materials and the individuals — all of which make up the garment.
I don’t think responsibility is using random organic cotton in some abstract place where neither the designers nor anyone from the company has ever visited. I want to actually take responsibility for the garment and be proud of it from both a design and manufacturing level.
I like the term responsibility because it blankets the product from all levels and puts the onus onto me and Corridor. We know what the products are and we take responsibility for them.
When it comes to sustainability, it means very little. Is made in the USA sustainable? Maybe, but the raw materials are probably lower quality and shipped across the whole world to make the garment. Is a shirt made of organic cotton but constructed in Bangladesh in a low quality work environment without standards or certifications sustainable? Is a handbag made in Italy of non-organic material containing harmful dyes with trained well-paid artisans considered sustainable? Can a well-made shirt, in an ethically considered workshop be considered sustainable?
This is the conundrum, and each buyer will have to make their own choices. For myself, I need to be proud of and responsible for the work and everything that goes into it.
I know 2020 has been a difficult year for many, but I'm wondering if you have any silver linings from this time?
I’ve had a number of silver linings, the biggest being that I’ve had a lot of time to work on my photography. We’ve gotten lean during the pandemic and I’ve become the in-house photographer which has actually been a real joy.
I started taking online classes at the beginning of the pandemic and then started renting various cameras- Pentax 67ii, Mamiya RZ67- and then really started to learn to use the ones that I have — a Nikon FE2 and a Canon 5D Mark4. The other part is learning to edit the photos to my taste and that has allowed for better presentation. Getting good at photography has allowed me to better communicate my ideas and feelings to the customer more directly and distinctly.
In the past 6 months, we’ve grown a lot despite the pandemic and I think that’s because our visual presentation has improved, so this has been an excellent thing.
Did anyone tell you that fashion is a very difficult business? What have you learned?
No one told me. And if someone would have, I would not have expected it to be as tricky as it's been. I don't regret this because I think that it's strengthened me as a person and know that I have through this. I've gained a type of grit and resilience that only comes from warehousing in a 6th-floor walk-up.
I’ve learned that change is good and required. What I’m trying to do is watch as the world turns and pick what is coming at the right moment and to understand what is both ahead of that and also behind. I really have to be in tune with myself and keep my eyes and ears open to everything in the cultural sphere.
I’ve learned about the importance of nature and natural elements to design. We are not separate from nature and natural elements are intrinsically beautiful to our eyes, as though we are looking in the mirror and recognizing ourselves when it feels true. That is my explanation for the human desire for authenticity. I’ve learned how to use nature as my most essential design principle.
As it relates to responsibility and because we create objects from the threads, I’m interested in the objects’ vibrations. I know that these risks moving into the charged crystals world, but science tells us that all objects are vibrating and thus all objects have a vibration. So, can a garment be a vibrational object? How are they influenced by concept, input, and the hands that touch them?
Maybe if the cloth and the garment is the sum of positive choices, the shirt will still possess those feelings? I don’t know, but I want to think this is true and I make clothes with this in mind.