A couple of weeks ago, while walking around the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, I noticed a man sampling gouda in a red beanie, black Blundstones, and a slightly unusual-looking army-green parka. It had quilted seams, a fleece-lined collar, and giant front pockets. I recognized it immediately — it was the Co-op Coat.
The Co-op Coat is actually the Iron-Tuff Ice Parka by RefrigiWear, an aptly named cold-weather company that has been manufacturing refrigeration apparel since 1954. And since about 1991, the year the Park Slope Food Co-op built a walk-in freezer, it’s been the jacket they’ve kept on hand — on pegs that line the steps down to the basement — for member-workers to wear while they restocked produce and stacked shipments of dairy. Receiving coordinator and buyer Eddie Rosenthal — who himself wears a RefrigiWear parka every day in the dairy coolers and sometimes at his desk when he forgets to take it off — calls the coat “iconic,” and says that it is has come to be symbolic of the co-op, more than any other item or piece of apparel. They’re Park Slope Food Co-op ubiquitous in other words — as familiar to the 17,000-or-so members that traipse through the space weekly as paging to ask for the key to the CBD case.
In the past couple of months, though, members have begun spotting them outside of the co-op walls. Liza Corsillo, a Strategist writer and co-op member, saw the coat recently at the Lower East Side gallery the Hole. One receiving coordinator spotted the coat on a clog-wearing mom during school pickup in Brooklyn, and Rosenthal recently noticed a co-op member wearing the coat while shopping for groceries — not stocking them. A friend let me know she recently saw someone with a buzz cut and nose piercing wearing it at Birdy’s, a dive bar in Bushwick.
RefrigiWear chief revenue officer Ryan Silberman is not surprised to hear that the coats are gaining traction as streetwear, even though the company’s clientele remains primarily food-industry professionals. “Lately there has been so much popularity around heritage, made-in-the-USA brands,” he says, referring to other workwear companies that have, in recent years, gained clientele more interested in fashion over function. And, he says, the company’s coats have been gaining traction in Italy over the last couple of decades — thanks to the Carhartt WIP-esque independent luxury brand by the same name. The hashtag “#refrigiwear” on Instagram reveals nearly 10,000 pictures of sports anchors and lifestyle influencers posing in slightly more refined versions of RefrigiWear coats from the Italian line.
Artist Aaron Rodriguez wasn’t aware of the co-op association when he purchased the coat last winter at a Connecticut thrift store — though a couple of his co-op member friends quickly pointed out what it was when he wore it out. “I remember seeing it on him in the fall and thinking, Wow, that’s a very cool coat. Then I saw the Saint Bernard logo and realized it was the Co-op Coat,” said fashion editor (and co-op member) Alexandra Guvriel, one of Rodriguez’s friends. In addition to its utilitarian function, Rodriguez likes the coat for it’s slightly “fancy” aesthetic. “I like the faux-leather accents on the pockets, and the little dog logo with gold stitching,” he says. “It’s unique, and shows that you don’t need to spend a thousand dollars on a Canadian Goose that everyone else already owns.”
It’s easy to imagine RefrigiWear continuing to gain traction among the Greenmarket-shopping, Greenlight Bookstore tote–carrying, Brooklyn-private-school-pickup crowd. But, at least for now, it remains by and large a fixture of the co-op. The idea of the parka being worn casually around Brooklyn made Rosenthal chuckle. If he saw one in the wild, he said, he would assume it was a member taking a coffee break. He says he is uninterested in getting one for himself — not because he doesn’t like it, but because, “I don’t want to draw attention to myself on the street as being a staff person. It’s just too much exposure.”
The Co-op Coat that started it all.