Jason Hammerberg grew up in a typical Duluth family, the youngest son of an engineer dad and nurse mom — who loved to shop.
That, he says, is what got him.
“I always knew I wanted to go into apparel,” he said. “I blame it on my mom and sister. They took me shopping.”
He got his first job in Ed Barbo’s Columbia Clothing Co. in downtown Duluth. (“It’s a third-generation store. And it’s still there,” said Hammerberg.) He studied retail and design, then worked his way up the ranks at Dayton’s and, later, a small local boutique.
Now he’s the proud owner of three almost-eponymous stores, Hammer Made, that sell men’s shirts and accessories.
We talked to Hammerberg about the state of guy style in Minnesota, rock stars in gingham, the future of neckties and the purpose of pocket squares.
Q: Do you think most Minnesotan men are, well, slobs?
A: Some people don’t know how to do casual, especially business casual. They throw on a T-shirt and pair of baggy jeans and call it good. But we’re turning a corner on guys caring what they look like.
Q: How so?
A: Guys are starting to understand that how they look and dress sends a message, that if you look good, you feel good. And if you feel good, you perform well. It’s all connected.
Q: So, what do you wear?
A: Ninety percent of the time, it’s dark denim, a blazer and a pocket square. That’s my style. That’s who I am.
Q: A pocket square? Really?
A: Yeah, really. It allows you to get away with not wearing a necktie and it steps your outfit up to the next level. It also gives guys something to play with.
Q: What’s your favorite color?
A: I’d feel bad for all the other colors if I said. But I always love a blue shirt. It’s so easy.
Q: Walking into one of your stores, it’s easy to see you’re into patterns — stripes, checks, plaids and florals. Do you have a favorite there?
A: Right now I’d say reverse prints and micro patterns.
Q: And the occasional pheasant pattern?
A: Yes, but I grew up with that.
Q: You’re predicting a comeback for the tie. Why?
A: There’s a big resurgence in neckwear. Look, there’s nothing wrong with ties. A tie is easy to wear and it’s one of the few accessories men have.
Q: What led you to open your own stores?
A: There’s a void in menswear. There’s H&M at the low end and Neiman Marcus at the high end. There’s no middle ground. I want to stay with shirts and accessories and stay in the middle ground. We have three price points: $98.50, $128.50 and $148.50.
Q: You advertise “distinctive, limited-run shirts in premium fabrics, at a value.” How do you deliver on that?
A: Here’s my secret sauce: I work directly with the mills in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Turkey. There’s no middle man.
Q: You offer one cut of shirt, which you call a tailored fit. Who’s your customer?
A: We cater to the 35- to 55-year-old guy, but we dress everyone from a businessman to a rock star. Charlie Watts was in when the Stones were in town. [For the record, Watts bought a black-and-white gingham check shirt and three pairs of socks.] We do a lot of the sports guys, too.
Q: Hence the low-budget TV commercials that run during games?
A: Yeah, my wife and I made those. I’m very respectful of how I spend money. They run on different channels, but they follow the sports programming.
Q: Is “Mad Men” still a force in fashion?
A: It never came on my radar. It’s too boring, too safe for me. But one thing we did take from the show is fit. That generation knew about fit — tailored shirts, slimmer jackets, narrow lapels.
Q: Are you involved in the fashion scene in Minnesota?
A: No, I’m too focused on my company. We’re not interested in the hottest, latest fashion trend. I’m not into the runway.
Q: Is there a Minnesota fashion scene?
A: There are people who are fashionable.