Men of the Cloth
Clothing Brand 3sixteen Strives for Excellence in Craftsmanship & Character.
When Andrew Chen and Johan Lam first met, they knew immediately that they were cut from the same cloth. This may be a corny metaphor for a couple of guys who founded a clothing company, but it is true.
They were first introduced at a wedding in which they were both groomsmen. Both men recognized the other was wearing an “underground brand” of clothing. Johan recalls, “If you saw someone wearing these brands that weren’t well known or widely available, you’d know that they were into the same things as you.”
Andrew was working full time in Chicago, and Johan was just about to start college in Los Angeles when Andrew approached Johan with the idea of starting a clothing company. At the time, the idea felt like more of a project than a full-fledged company, but Johan thought, “That is really cool!” and agreed to help out as much as he could.
More Than Just a Brand
They named the company “3sixteen” in reference to John 3:16. “We wanted the name to be representative of who we are as people. We want our beliefs and our morals to stand through how we do business and how we run the company,” Johan explained. It is an interesting challenge to be upfront about their Christianity in a secular industry and to be able to do really good work that is respected by both believers and non-believers.
The 3sixteen collection started with products like printed t-shirts, embroidered hats, and hooded sweatshirts that were easy to produce and didn’t require a lot of technical expertise. As the duo developed relationships with the right factories and gained the right resources, they were able to go beyond “printables” and start making actual clothing that required a lot more knowledge and know-how.
Today, the 3sixteen brand includes the highest quality denim jeans, shirts, tees, outerwear, footwear, and accessories. They even market branded lifestyle products including a travel coffee case, coffee mug, candle, and artwork. They have grown an extensive channel of 85 specialty retailers across the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia and also market directly to consumers through their website.
Being Christian in a Non-Christian Industry
While the 3sixteen brand has gained a faithful following, the reference to John 3:16 hasn’t necessarily helped to sell clothing. “It is not an easy thing to be Christian in the fashion industry. In fact, most of the time, it is a bit of a hindrance,” Johan explained. “There are a lot of people who don’t subscribe to the same beliefs, so they don’t want to buy clothing with any religious affiliation. There have been times when buyers have turned down the brand. They like the product, but they can’t carry something that is religious or Christian. That is something we accept.”
"We aim to be honest and upfront with everyone we deal with. Maybe through a positive experience or by creating clothing that they think is really cool, we can shift somebody's thinking on Christianity.” Johan Lam
There are also many people who aren’t Christians and who hold negative connotations toward Christianity. For these people, Johan and Andrew want to be a positive example of Christianity by the quality of their product and the way they conduct their business.
Johan shared the story of a friend and talented designer who texted them after reading an article about 3sixteen on a Christian website. “He was surprised to find out we were Christians,” Johan said. “He hadn't spent a lot of time around believers and expected Christians who were strong in their beliefs to be judgmental. But instead, he experienced a lot of love from us and saw that our faith drove the integrity that we hold in our business and personal lives. That meant a lot to both of us, because it is the crux of what we strive for on a daily basis.”
The team thought the name would be a lot more obvious to people. After all, John 3:16 is probably the most famous Bible verse ever. Despite the name, they don’t consider 3sixteen a “Christian brand.” Andrew and Johan are Christians, they don’t make clothes for Christians, and they don’t make clothes to tell the Christian story. “But we do try to make the best product humanly possible. And,” Johan added, “We aim to be honest and upfront with everyone we deal with, whether it be the factories, our pattern makers, our wholesalers or our customers on the retail side. Maybe through a positive interaction or by creating clothing that they really like and think is cool, we can shift somebody’s thinking on Christianity. We can only hope.”
What we make is who we are.
Our focus on lasting construction and attention to detail comes from a desire to make purposeful garments that become a part of your life.
Who we are is rooted in our faith.
Our faith dictates our values. We aim to run our business with integrity and serve our customers with humility.
We see everyone we work with as a like-minded community connected by a desire for something better.
3sixteen the last shall be first.
Using Their Platform to Share Their Faith
In addition to selling to wholesale buyers who place orders for stores around the country and around the world, the company also sells direct to consumers through their website. They have a very close relationship with their customers and are very vocal and visible within their online community. As a result, they deal with dozens of emails every day from customers asking about their products or trying to track down items that are sold out.
There was an email from a customer who was looking for a particular jacket. The customer added, “I, as an atheist, am concerned about the religious implication of your brand. Are you a pro-Christianity company?” Andrew emailed him back and explained that they are Christians, but they are not making clothing just for Christians. They don’t believe you can have a Christian pair of jeans. In the end, they were able to have an honest conversation with the customer about their faith, and it didn’t dissuade him from trying to track down his size for the jacket.
All their products are made in factories in the US, but their denim is custom woven to their exact specifications in Okayama, Japan, by Kuroki Mills. While the construction quality may be found in many brands, the denim is what distinguishes their jeans from the rest.
“I believe that it was a blessing from God that we were able to build the relationship with Kuroki Mills, in spite of thousands of miles and a huge language barrier.” Johan added, “It really is amazing, and I am truly thankful. We have been working with Kuroki Mills for over 5 years, and the things they are willing to do for us as a small American company are pretty rare.”
“Developing a custom fabric with them, especially five years ago when we were exponentially smaller than we are now, was really a huge coup for our business, and it really helped set us apart. I always feel that was God’s hand at work in our company, and God showed favor to us by allowing that relationship to grow.”
Honoring God With Excellence
Johan and Andrew also want to be a good example to young Christians. They would like them to know that there are many ways to do ministry and many ways to evangelize. Johan believes, “If there are young people out there who are amazing photographers, or artists, or musicians, or are really good at basketball or tennis, we want them to know that through those gifts and talents that God has given them, and by being truly excellent, they can create a platform for themselves and earn the right to be heard.” That is what 3sixteen aims to do on a daily basis.
Johan reflects on a quote by Martin Luther: "The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship. ‘That has always been my belief about this business. We want to glorify God by being really excellent at what we do’.”
By: Lisa Huetteman
Lisa Huetteman is Co-founder of Black Diamond Associates, Executive Coach, Speaker and Author of the book: The Value of Core Values: Five Keys to Success through Values-Centered Leadership.Read More Articles by Lisa Huetteman