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For one father and son,
designing custom blue jeans is in their DNA
 

By A. N. Devers
 

Asbury Park, a New Jersey beach town on the rebound after falling into decades of disrepair, is known for its quirky charm, its historic Victorian architecture and its close ties to American rock ’n roll. Bruce Springsteen might have brought the town some renown, but a new crop of artists are responsible for the city’s current glory days, and that includes father-and-son team Vladimir and Joey Pisch, who opened Sweet Joey’s in 2011. Featuring vintage T-shirts, leather jackets, jeans, work boots and things that remind customers of America’s heritage and history of craftsmanship, the shop, run by Joey, has a sweet surprise in back: a converted tailor’s studio where dad Vlado, as he’s known, makes custom jeans. (He sometimes fits clients several times until the pair is perfect.)

Vlado’s denim label, Vlad, is recognizable by a distinctive V-shaped yellow-embroidered design sewn onto the back pocket. The label has been so successful that it’s spun off into other staples including denim skirts and workman’s aprons.

While the Sweet Joey’s store cultivates an Americana vibe, Vlado’s talent and skill hails from his homeland. “I was a teenager growing up in communist Czechoslovakia in the 1970s,” he says, “and Western jeans were extremely expensive—about one month of income for the average worker—so I had to make my own.”

The Pisch family fled the Soviet country in 1986, and Vlado started making jeans right after arriving in the U.S., but he gave up when he saw how inexpensive factory-made pairs were on store shelves. “The next time I made jeans again was in November 2010, for my son. I had saved fabric from 1986—it was out of nostalgia to show him my long unused skills. His reaction was outstanding, so I made him another pair with corduroy lining for cold weather.”

The rest is an American Dream realized. When father and son opened Sweet Joey’s, orders for Vlado’s jeans came in so fast that he was able to quit his day job. He now works full time with his son, who not only wears the business hat in the family but is also a musician in the band Grand K. “We play rock ’n roll with punk and new wave overtones,” he says.

Vlado has become a local fixture of Asbury Park’s fast-changing downtown. His enthusiasm for storytelling, joking around, and showing off to friends and customers his newest denim creations—as well as his recently fixed-up vintage motor scooters—ensures a constant hum of energy surrounding the shop. He’s a character, but he’s not the only showman—Joey, who has played drums in a Lily Allen music video, has a way with people, too.

A recent customer asked him, “How is it that you find all these cool things?” His immediate reply was, “I’m Sweet Joey!”

The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.

A. N. Devers has written for The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Slate, Departures, Time Out and The Rumpus, among other publications. She is the founder and editor of www.writershouses.com, a website that provides a searchable index of writers’ houses around the world.


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