Putting the “Fun” in Men’s Fashion

Who says only women can have fun when it comes to fashion? Menswear has taken a turn and two gentlemen in South Carolina are paving the way with their one of a kind, hand-crafted, feather bowties. Brackish founded in 2012 by Jeff Plotner and Ben Ross, is the creation of two best friends to elevate men’s accessories to reflect the timeless elegance and natural beauty of the South. The menswear collection includes bowties, pins, pocket squares, cuff links, cummerbunds, women’s loafers, and even some customizable pieces. Each product is a sustainable work of art, handcrafted in South Carolina by a team of 50 artisans and production assistants. Extraordinary care and craftsmanship are evident throughout the collection from each hand-selected feather to the beautiful pine box that encases them all. Brackish is redefining menswear by creating modern accessories that are becoming part of what will hopefully be, a long-standing tradition.

Deve Sanford from Upscale Living Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with the founders of Brackish and discover a little more about men’s fashion what makes them so unique.

Ben Ross

What’s your professional background?
Before Brackish I worked for 12 years in Development, Leasing, and Management of Healthcare and commercial properties.

How did Brackish Bow ties come about?
Brackish bow ties came about seven years ago this April.  Through Jeff’s vision, he recognized that the gift I gave him and my other groomsman 12 years ago could be so much more than what I was doing with it.  He approached me about partnering up and seeing where we could take my idea; that day I saw the drive and determination in his eyes and it was a no brainer for me. We knew that we had a special product with a heartfelt story at its core, but we needed a company name to match. We came up with Brackish as a nod to our hometowns; Jeff being from Saint Simons Island and me from Columbia. Jeff is the saltwater and I am the freshwater – mixed together you get Brackish.

Where does your inspiration for design come from?
I draw inspiration for our designs and products from the beauty that surrounds us all every day.  People, places, art, music, and architecture all have an influence on me.  However, I have had a love affair with the outdoors all my life.  It is where I feel most inspired and at peace.  I have found that when I slow down, watch and listen, beauty presents itself in many ways.  I have always been drawn to the woods and waterways, and during my adolescence, I started working with feathers in the form of tying flies and fletching arrows using feathers found outdoors.  Now, just as back then, I am still creating items using feathers, which are inspired by family, friend, and the beauty found around us all.

Jeff Plotner and Ben Ross, co-founders of Brackish

There is an undeniable element of fun and sophistication attributed to your brand. If you could describe your design aesthetic in 5 words, what would they be?
Family, Friends, Freedom, Feathers, and Fashion 

Is there ever a time when a bowtie is not appropriate?
Apart from the obvious; I am sure there is a time where a bowtie isn’t appropriate but I don’t know it…maybe a necktie convention. 

Describe the typical Brackish client?
I believe that there is nothing typical about Brackish clients. As no two feathers are exactly alike making our designs and products one-of-a-kind, our customers are just that as well, one-of-a-kind and unique in their own ways.  I do believe that all Brackish clients share an appreciation for the beauty of Mother Nature’s paintbrush and the incredible details, technique and artistic craftsmanship of a locally made product by hand.

Brackish Bow Ties

Dream client?
Alive – Morgan Freeman 
Passed – My Grandfather William  Izlar “Mac” McKinney

Brackish is a contemporary interpretation of classic men’s accessories. How do you strike a balance between the two?
By putting a twist on a classic men’s accessory we are displaying honor and respect for the past, as well as self-awareness that this life is ever changing as change occurs every second of every day. I used to dislike change and the uncertainty with which it came, but I have now learned to embrace it and look forward to it because that’s what living life is all about. 

The transformation I made to the traditional bow tie came from a desire to show a group of friends and family members how much I truly loved them.  Through time, items change and evolve, just as the neckwear industry has. Like the step that was taken away from the cravat and towards the bow tie, we hope that history is kind when we look back at the innovative step we took with the feather bow tie.

Brackish Bow Ties

How important is it for you to be on top of current trends?
Trends are like the weather in Carolina’s during the spring – consistently changing. It is always a good thing to monitor and be aware of the activity and public interest in your field, but I believe that monitoring trends and following them are two very different things. I didn’t follow a trend to create the first feather bow tie; I followed my heart which has been, and always will be, the guiding force behind everything we do.

Are there any types of feathers you will not use?
At Brackish we pride ourselves on complying with all rules and regulations in the feather and wildlife industry, doing everything above standards so that we never have to look over our shoulder and wonder. There are many species of exotic, migratory, endangered and protected birds whose feathers, by law, cannot be used. We follow all US Fish & Wildlife laws, as well as CITES laws, to ensure that we never utilize any feather that isn’t 100% legal and approved. So, with that in mind, I will answer that no feather which is illegal to use will ever be used at Brackish.  I will also take another step further and let you know that even in species which we are allowed to utilize their feathers, no bird will ever be harmed solely for Brackish to obtain them. We pride ourselves on utilizing feathers which are by-products of other industries and or collected through the molt.

Jeff Plotner

What’s your professional background?
Before becoming passionate about building businesses, my background was in law, finance, and sales.

The brand’s biggest challenge so far?
Staying innovative and relevant while at the same time staying true to the brand and who you are as a company.

Brackish Bow Ties

Your favorite bowtie in your collection?
It’s constantly evolving, but currently, my favorite bow tie design is one of our new spring designs, the Dandelion. Subtle greens combined with a small pop of gold makes it perfect for the season.

What do you think about women wearing Brackish? Is it a unisex brand?
We’ve never considered ourselves a men’s brand or a women’s brand. We’re passionate about constantly pushing the envelope and designing original and personal pieces that customers are drawn to, whether that’s male or female.

Something that has surprised you about the fashion industry that you couldn’t have predicted?
The great relationships that we’ve built over the years with so many people In the Industry have been a welcome surprise

Where is Brackish sold today?
Brackish is sold in department stores and specialty men’s and gift retail stores across the United States as well as in Canada, Europe, and Asia. You will also find Brackish pieces sold in several museum gift stores. Largely, the entire Brackish collection, including exclusive pieces, is sold online at www.brackishbowties.com.

How would you describe your market?
Our products are aspirational and the amount of labor that goes into each piece pushes us into the luxury market. Our customers understand the painstaking detail that goes into every Brackish product and they appreciate that.

Brackish Bow Ties
Photo courtesy of Nickie Stone.

In what city would you say men dress the best?
Charleston, SC

Favorite menswear designer?
Billy Reid

Tell us about your latest collection (Spring)?
I love our spring collection! We’ve combined natural color combinations with formal inspirations that allow for a certain degree of accessibility. We’ve hit our stride with our new pocket squares as well, they’re great on their own and we’ve recently revamped the packaging.

Future plans for Brackish?
We want to continue to create remarkable and heartfelt products for the discerning customer by championing artistic craftsmanship. This will continue to push us outside of our comfort zone and require us to expand our horizons. That’s the fun part!