Mike Ford and Johnny Tran

thread is an experience. It can be personal and intimate as well as raw and raunchy; it just depends on the day. – Johnny Tran

Back in 2007, before the Global Financial crisis hit and while Bush was still in office and the iPhone was still an infant, a couple of crazy kids decided to open a clothing store in the “up and coming” South Wedge neighborhood. Located in the space previously occupied by Glover’s Barber Shop, thread was the love child of Mike Ford and Sandy Brazis. “We were both at a point in our lives where we wanted something different and we decided to open thread”, said Mike Ford. “I wanted control over the vendors we stocked, the displays we did, what music we played, etc… The South Wedge seemed like the best fit for the shop. When I was in college at RIT I used to come hang out in the Wedge at Lux, Godivas and Analog Shock. The neighborhood had a cool vibe and seemed like the right place for thread.” Sandy eventually stepped away from the business. Mike’s current business partner is Johnny Tran, who remembers scouting for a location for thread. “I immediately fell in love with the space. I knew that Mike and Sandy would be able to manifest something really special and genuine, so after seeing the space I knew that they had discovered the foundation of something truly amazing,” says Johnny.

While running a business in the city can be a struggle, it also provides inspiration. “Getting people into the shop can be a challenge. When we have traffic we do well, but when the weather is bad people tend to go to indoor shopping centers or shop online,” explains Mike. “The South Wedge … has a unique voice,” says Johnny. “It’s a challenge to maintain a sense of self when you’re surrounded by so many different perspectives. It’s so easy to lose your vision as an artist. In the Wedge it’s especially easy to lose your way because you’re surrounded by so much creative energy. thread strives to carry local designers when possible. “We carry Attain, JBRD, Holly Hue, Grimes and Riot Amerika. We also carry accessories from Interstellar Love Craft, Knotty Owl, locol, Made by Rachel and Second Seed. We love supporting local designers when their designs mesh well with our aesthetic,” says Mike.

One of the defining features of thread has to be their window displays; always creative, beautiful and entertaining. “Courtney, Johnny and I do the windows, though we frequently get assistance from local artist Nancy Topolski. One of us will get an idea and pitch it, then we will all collaborate, or one of us will take the reins and do it all themselves; it depends on the idea,” explains Mike. “The inspiration comes from anything and everything. When it’s your vision and your statement it becomes cathartic experience. I’m really grateful to be able to do what I do,” says Johnny.

Both Mike and Johnny maintain other jobs while running thread. Mike works the night shift at Pictometry, managing a team of people that work with geospatial aerial imagery. He also has his own line of accessories, clothing and candles under the moniker of “locol.” Johnny splits his time between thread and his sister’s boutique for little girls in Victor. “It’s been a challenge giving up certain amounts of control but it has changed my perspective as a business owner. I love working with my sister and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. She’s helped me be a better business owner.”

While neither Mike nor Johnny lives in the Wedge they each have their favorite things about the neighborhood. Mike likes the crispy tofu buns and fresh prince cocktails from Bonzai, the house wares at Abode, sitting outside with a cocktail from Cheshire or around the fire pit at Lux with hot cider. Johnny loves the folks in the South Wedge and taking a nap in the art room of thread.

Neither is originally from Rochester either. Mike hails from Oswego, settling in Rochester after attending RIT and earning his BFA in Professional Photographic Illustration. Johnny’s family (mother, father and six children) escaped the war and was relocated to LeRoy to an old convent. He was born the next year, followed by his sister two years later. He studied Menswear Design at FIT in NYC, Advertising and Communication at UB and earned his MFA in Graphic Design at RIT. “After RIT I taught Graphic Design at Roberts Wesleyan and then was asked to brand thread. That’s where I really fell in love with design. This was when I really started to define myself as an artist. I created thread’s identity campaign and the rest is thread history.”

I couldn’t end the interview without asking the question I most wanted to know. How do you know Teddy Coffey? “Our employee Courtney use to babysit Teddy when he was younger. He has come down to the shop a few times to visit and ended up modeling some clothing. Courtney was really excited for him to be on “So You Think You Can Dance” and if you’ve stopped into the shop at all over the past few months chances are she has shown you a video clip of him from the show,” Mike explains. “He came into thread dancing,” remembers Johnny. “Courtney played some Janet Jackson and he danced like he knew he could dance! A year later, I’m designing pins for Teddy, inspired by the Janet Jackson ‘Control’ album. Courtney’s been able to see him live several times. But only because I covered her shift.”

To read the unedited version of this interview here.