Many innovators end up in the business of commerce or technology because they are trying to solve a problem — usually their own. This is often a good or service they find they need, and that the market doesn't offer, which sets off a light bulb and begins the cycle of innovation.
Gerry Kelly didn't have a problem so much as he had an interesting pair of pants. The pants in question were patchwork jeans, and purchased in a San Francisco vintage shop while Irish-national Kelly was on a world tour — a tour which included a final stop at Burning Man. Kelly needed appropriate attire, and he felt the patchwork pants would get the job done.
“I was planning on staying in California for six months," Kelly said. "Needless to say, nine Burning Mans and a pair of wrecked jeans later, I still had no desire to return to Dublin."
So, California became his home, and his problem presented itself: Kelly needed new patchwork pants because, after nine Burning Mans, his pants were no more. Unfortunately for the Irish native, though, patchwork pants were nowhere to be found.
“In the weeks leading up to yet another Burning Man, my wife Christine and I laid out all sorts of different color denim patches on the living room floor and got a seamstress to put them all together," Kelly said. "We got three pairs made in different patterns and colors.”
And, as it turned out, others found they needed patchwork denim to call their own, too. More than 100 pairs and a few flea markets later, Kelly was done with his day job in real estate.
"I quit to seize the opportunity to pursue my denim dream," Kelly said.
After spending time as a bartender, a law student and a world traveller, Kelly settled in as the" inventor" of a line of patchwork pants he calls Sonas (the Irish word for happiness) and the proprietor of an online fashion brand: Sonas Denim.
Ethical Clothes For The Incredibly Hip
“We make the jeans for men and women almost exclusively from recycled or repurposed denim," Kelly noted.
Sonas Denim products are also made entirely by cutting and sewing contractors in the U.S. — and manufactured in downtown Los Angeles, with no underpaid textiles workers in evidence. The ultimate goal for the Sonas brand, Kelly notes, is to own his own production factory and expand Sonas' vegan patchwork clothing offerings to a range of casual wear. Kelly hopes to also sell t-shirts, hoodies, accessories like bags and even furniture one day.
The brand's ethics around pay and products are good ones, and they also happen to be good for business. The ethical Sonas Denim line has attracted a fair amount of celebrity attention and skews toward a younger crowd. Perhaps unsurprising, given its corporate origins, it is a brand for those "who love a festival-rock’n’roll vibe and are rebels at heart,” according to Kelly.
We look forward to a future in which our couches can double as demonstrations of our internal rebelliousness.
“We have already created an active fashionwear line, including leggings, which you can work out in or go to the club in," Kelly said. He also noted the brand has begun to develop more of an international following, particularly in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Africa.
And though its founder is an import himself, he is one that is unlikely to ever return to Ireland.
“I think people in the U.S. are more supportive of each other and interested in helping you succeed,” said Kelly. “San Francisco, in particular, has a great entrepreneurial community. People love sharing ideas and you don’t get many naysayers.”
And, Kelly noted, there is also the possibility of getting better ideas. When Sonas — before it was Sonas — rolled out its first 100 pairs of denim patchwork jeans, they were quite an immediate hit. But,“When you show them a 50-piece jean, and you’re a nobody, people think you’re crazy,” Kelly said.
Fashion industry veteran Allen Chevalier, who boasts a past history with Ron Herman and Fred Segal, didn't think the patchwork jeans were crazy — he felt they just need refinement. Chevalier, now an Advisory Board member at Sonas Denim, introduced the brand to high-end cottons and re-cut patches to create a more flattering fit.
And, with that flattering fit and expanding customer base, Kelly's goal is to do something that hasn't been done in a while — successfully disrupt denim.
The blue jean, as envisioned by Levi's, hasn't changed much in 100 years, he noted. The average woman owns seven pairs of jeans, but would be hard pressed to tell them apart but for pocket detailing. "New" ideas for jeans pop up occasionally, but, Kelly said, the essential style is the same.
Sonas Denim wants to be different, and find "the balance between busy, coarse, edgy jeans and high-end fashion jeans,” Kelly said.