By Ellen Spitaleri
The Ship John logo says it all: Made in the USA and Stuff That Holds Up. The shop, located at 4310 SE Division St., focuses on American-made brands that are crafted from sturdy fabrics or leather and are made to last. Many of the items for sale are made in-house.
“The talent that exists within our staff blows my mind on a daily basis. We’re lucky to have found such hard working and fun individuals to spend our working days with,” said Mike Elias, owner of Ship John.
The shop opened in its current location in June 2021 and Elias said he and his staff love the change of pace the location offers. They were previously located at 1804 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., where they had been for three years. The Division St. site features “great neighbors and a great location to make and showcase our goods,” he said.
Elias noted that he grew up in a small, commercial fishing town in South Jersey on a tributary to the Delaware Bay, where the Ship John Shoal Lighthouse resides.
“My younger days were spent on the bay fishing and working on oyster boats. The lighthouse, being out in the middle of the bay, was a point of navigation throughout my childhood and still is today. The name is an ode to my home waters,” he said.
One of the most popular items at Ship John is the Wills Jacket, a waxed work jacket made in the shop. “The Wills was my attempt at improving the work jackets I kept wearing while working as a stone mason,” Elias said.
He had been making bags out of a heavy waxed twill from a mill in Bridgeton, NJ, where he went to high school, when it occurred to him to make a jacket from the fabric.
“They’ve been producing waxed materials for over 100 years with their proprietary blend of Martexin waxes. While there have been waxed jackets for ages, this heavy twill material had never been used for a garment,” Elias said.
He cut a few jackets apart, made a new pattern with the stylistic and fit changes he wanted and started sewing. “Eight or so hours later I had a jacket put together and it actually worked. It was one of the beefiest jackets I’d ever put on.”
He added, “From there I shared a few photos on the interwebs, showed it to some friends and the rest was history.” Over the years, with the help of Steven Heard, his partner and pattern maker, the jacket pattern has been fine-tuned.
The Wills Jacket V2 has a mid-weight and sturdy lining that separates the body from the heavy waxed twill. The heavy-duty double zipper lets wearers open up the waist if they’re sitting on the bike or on a log around the fire. The 24-oz. waxed twill fabric protects the wearer from the elements and holds up for years and years. This is a customer favorite jacket, so check the website for availability.
The Holcomb Jeans are also best sellers. They are made from black/charcoal Japanese selvedge denim and feature a standard five-pocket set up, solid brass hardware and Ship John’s new label design of a SJ hang tag secured with a small brass button.
“In addition to our own goods, we carry things from and collaborate with other American-made brands like Wesco, Langlitz, Good Art HLYWD, Dehen 1920, Sullivan Glove, Erling knives, Huron Brass works, Stormy Kromer and more,” Elias said.
He noted that although the clothing at Ship John is generally made for men, “most everything can be relatively gender neutral. I believe that if you like the way it fits your body and your style, then it’s made for you.”
The shop also offers a full line of leather goods, many made in-house. That includes belts, wallets, card holders, music accessories and more. Also on offer are trucker hats, knives, hatchets, axes and brass items.
Ship John’s customer base ranges from “pipe fitters to carpenters to folks who just like the style of the things we produce. “From Oregon to Switzerland, Japan and beyond, we’ve sent things to folks from all walks of life,” Elias said.
Customers can come into the retail shop and see the staff working on items or they can shop online. The shop is open 11 am-6 pm Monday-Saturday; closed on Sunday.
What is the best part about owning Ship John? “Knowing that we stand behind everything that leaves our shop,” Elias said.
4310 SE Division St.
Ship John exterior photo by Mike Elias