In Montauk, a beach town at the easternmost tip of Long Island, the fishermen arrived first and created a thriving commercial industry that brought with it dive bars and tackle shops. The surfers came next, discovering and riding the steady waves at Ditch Plains Beach.
And in 2010, a 23-year-old named Jesse Joeckel returned to his tight-knit Montauk community after a stint in San Diego studying graphic design and freelancing for various clothing brands. He decided to create a brand that embodied everything he loved about Montauk and its rich seaside history and named the label Whalebone.
Joeckel had quickly grown tired of working for other brands, and his grandfather had recently passed away, so he named his new endeavor in honor of him: a Montauk fisherman who lived off the land, carved duck decoys, and raised a beloved family dog named Whalebone. Joeckel bought a screen printing press and taught himself how to print his own T-shirts with designs he dreamed up, selling them out of a shop off of the beaten path and right on the water, not too far from where all the surfers and fishermen were.
It took a few years, but Whalebone cultivated a devoted following, embraced its beachy, small-town roots, and slowly transformed into the lifestyle brand that it is today.
“In the early days, it was kind of a no-plan plan,” Joeckel says. “The mentality was that I was just going to use my creativity and build a life for myself where I could stay in Montauk and travel when I could.”
Around 2015, Joeckel was approached by Eddie Berrang, a business development executive who had been following Whalebone’s growth. Berrang asked him if he had considered adding a media branch alongside its line of apparel. Joeckel was skeptical at first, but Berrang was full of bold ideas and Joeckel felt ready to try some new things. The first was launching a print magazine.
“People were saying, ‘Print’s dead and everything is digital!’” Joeckel says. “But we decided to do a print magazine and we love it. It was all part of us just constantly evolving.”
A print magazine made sense given the Whalebone aesthetic of embracing all things analog. Whalebone loves physical objects—print magazines, vinyl records, framed photographs—and Joeckel sold the magazine in an analog way: rather than spread the word strictly on social media, the team bought a van and traveled the country, talking to people about Whalebone in person.
“What we started to learn as we expanded outward is that there’s these like-minded groups all over the country,” Joeckel says. “We tried to find the Montauk-like communities in every city. It’s fun visiting places and meeting these people. And that was part of building our subscriber base with the magazine.”
The team also began experimenting with adding special components tied to each magazine issue. Their “Hot Sauce Issue” also came with a bottle of limited-production Whalebone hot sauce created in partnership with Señor Lechuga Hot Sauce. Their “Travel Issue” came with a map with coordinates to find actual buried treasure they had buried all over the world in sealed coffee cans. For their latest issue, “The Breakfast Issue,” the team is opening up an actual diner in New York City.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Joeckel says, explaining how the live events are planned. “We have a great team of people who just kind of figure it out. What are we putting on the menu? Who’s making the food? We’re trying to keep it fresh and keep people interested by doing fun and creative things.”
In addition to their flagship store in Montauk, they also operate The Boneyard, a shop and café with a great backyard overlooking the ocean, a radio station called “Whalebone Radio,” and a daily newsletter called “Afternoon Delight.”
“We’re delivering a lot of goodness into your inboxes,” Joeckel says. “It’s a good way to follow along with what we’re doing. And it’s a fun read—we like to spread good news instead of all the bad news going on these days.”
Up next: A collaboration with Bandit around the New York City Marathon at Whalebone on Bleeker, their outpost in the West Village.
“That location is forever evolving,” Joeckel says. “We love creating ideas and working with people to make things happen.”