8th Anniversary || An Interview with Ben and Jeff

April 29, 2020

It was April of 2012 when our co-founders, Ben and Jeff, partnered together to launch what is today, Brackish. Ben created the first batch of turkey feather bow ties as a heartfelt gift for his groomsmen - one they couldn’t find on a shelf at the time. Jeff, one of those groomsmen, saw the genius behind what Ben had crafted and knew there was nothing else like it on the market. Ben has the creative brains, Jeff the business brains, and within seconds of pitching the idea eight years ago - Brackish was born.
To celebrate and commemorate - we’re taking a trip down memory lane with Ben and Jeff themselves. They’re giving you an inside look at our timeline from the past eight years including the lightbulb moments and milestone achievements - none of which would have been possible without the support from you, our Brackish community.



Q: Ben - walk us through your thought process when you crafted the very first bow tie. What was it for? What was the lightbulb moment? Did you have any push back?

A: The first bow tie I ever designed all happened by chance while I was searching for a gift to give my groomsmen that showed how much they meant to me. I knew that I wanted the gift to be incorporated into the wedding itself while also giving a nod to mother nature and the impact that growing up outdoors had on my life. After designing an early version of the Plum Thicket Pin that we now offer, I didn’t think it was enough. So, I happened to have a turkey feather in my hand and a bow tie in the other one day and that was the lightbulb moment that hit me like a wave. 



Q: Jeff - When Ben gifted you the bow tie as your groomsman gift, what was your initial thought? 

A: I thought it was a unique and very special idea in terms of a groomsman gift. It was different, but made sense coming from Ben given his love of the outdoors and how great and thoughtful he is as a friend. Talk about a great addition to an amazing celebration of Ben and Mary Ann!



Q: Ben - Why did you choose turkey feathers for the first design? 

A: Without turkey feathers, Brackish would have never happened. These feathers gave me the spark that is the fire of Brackish today. I noticed that the natural shape, confirmation and tapering that a turkey feather presents fits a bow tie perfectly which is what bore my idea.  The Original will always hold an extremely special place in my heart,  not only for what it has done, but also for what it represents - a gift from the heart to the most special people in my life.



Q: Jeff - What led you to pitch a business idea to Ben after the wedding? 

A: I was very passionate about starting a business and had run into a few roadblocks while trying to go the traditional route. I just couldn’t find that passion for what I was doing so I started thinking in terms of “different” and “remarkable.” Truth be told, I couldn’t come up with anything better than what Ben had already thought of - a turkey feather bow tie. 

 

Q: Ben - When Jeff pitched a business idea to you, what were your thoughts?

A: During his initial pitch Jeff came to me and said “I think you have something special here that we can turn into a full time business.” During that conversation I saw the drive, determination and vision that Jeff had and I never had a second thought or a moment of doubt. Partnering with my best friend to start a business sounded like a dream - I was immediately in!

 

Q: Jeff - What was the first step you took after Ben said yes?

A: Our first step was generating some type of demand in a way that was inexpensive - we started this business with no capital investment outside of our own sweat equity. Once there is a demand from customers, the other parts of the business that are required to deliver on that demand take on a unique sense of urgency.



Q: Ben - After the first design, how did the design process go? Did you have any roadblocks?

A: We've had roadblocks, but we've overcome all of them. In the early stages of Brackish I was still working another full time job while making bow ties at night and on the weekends to fill orders as Jeff was selling. Demand quickly outgrew what I was able to produce which is when our team began to expand. Product ideas and designs however flood my mind all the time - I think this is because I have been tying flies and fletching arrows since I was ten years old. I’ve always loved working with feathers so that part came pretty easily. For the business as a whole, Jeff and I were building a company with a product that had never been seen before. There was no blueprint or playbook that we were following - we literally had to figure out every single detail for ourselves, which we still do! 



Q: Jeff - What was the first milestone moment for Brackish? How did this help to scale the business?

A: For me it was our first “flash sale” on a third party website. These type of promotions were all the rage back in 2012 and we took part in an effort to test the market. The response was overwhelmingly positive and required a lot of sleepless nights to deliver on that demand but it gave us the cash infusion we needed to enable a small product based outfit to grow.

 

Q: Ben - Talk us through the naming process. Where do the names come from? How do you choose what name to give what design?

A: I absolutely love naming the products. Each name comes from people, places, experiences and things that have impacted my life and Jeff’s.  Anything and everything is on the table for names - I think that it is one of my favorite things that I get to do.  Sometimes the design evokes a memory that I attribute to a place or individual and that will be named as such. Other times, I have a name in mind and I design a specific piece for that name.



Q: Jeff - Adding women’s accessories into the Brackish mix was huge. How long did this process take?

A: It was an idea for a few years, mainly because we received feedback from our loyal customers. It took a long time to bring to fruition because we wanted to focus on the details that set our brand apart from the rest of the crowd - it’s important to us that we achieve this every time we go into development mode. 



Q: How has Brackish changed over the years? What remains the same?

A: Ben - I wouldn’t say changed - I’d go with evolved.  At its core, Brackish is, and will always be, about family, friends and a deep love and respect for nature.  We are constantly looking for ways to better our brand, better or products and better our customer experience. With that in mind, Brackish has constantly evolved. What remains the same today is our team effort. Brackish began as just Jeff and I and has since grown into a much larger group of individuals who all play a very important role in the operation and success of the business. 

A: Jeff - In my opinion, if you’re not changing and innovating on a regular basis, you’re moving backwards. Our product and process is light years ahead of where it was when we started, and our breadth of expertise as it pertains to artistic craftsmanship is something that has evolved over the years. I’d say, and I think Ben would agree, that our friendship has gotten stronger over the years as well. What hasn’t changed is why this all started - as a gift from the heart, not a capital driven business idea. Our core values have changed very little by design as well. 



Q: Ben - What qualities of Jeff have been crucial to the growth of Brackish?

A: Steadfastness, leadership, vision and drive. Jeff has an incredible eye for identifying talent and he is responsible for assembling our incredible team - one that I am humbled and honored to work with every day.  For me, there is no off switch. I eat, sleep and live Brackish and Jeff provides amazing encouragement; always pushing me to get as creative and outlandish as possible with my product designs.


Q: Jeff - Likewise, what qualities of Ben have been crucial to the growth of Brackish

A: Genuine, heartfelt, thoughtfulness. Ben does his best to bring meaning into almost everything we do and that makes a difference. I’d also say the most important quality is trust. 

 

Q: Jeff - During this current unprecedented time, how have our core values allowed Brackish to take on COVID-19?

A: Staying true to our core values has made navigating this time much easier. We’re committed, accountable and know that every contribution that every person on our team makes on a daily basis means something. This allows us to dig in, roll up our sleeves as a team, and take pride in knowing that we’re all working together. (Our Response)



Q: What is your favorite Brackish memory throughout the years?

A: Ben - My favorite memory is an ongoing one that I add to each year. Our very first show was the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, which we still attend. Every year my wife, Mary Ann, and I join Jeff and his wife, Courtney, for dinner over that weekend from which the fondest memories are formed. In the early years of Brackish neither Jeff nor I had children, but now Mary Ann and I take our boys over to Jeff’s house and our kids all run around together prior to the four of us leaving for dinner. I always look back on these evenings with such great memories of conversations, and look forward to memories that will be made the next year. Also, getting a call one Friday afternoon with news of being invited to the White House was pretty kick ass too!

A: Jeff -  It’s hard to share just one memory, but it always involves the people here. From the times Ben and I have discussed various aspects of the business and celebrated the big wins, to the pride the entire Brackish team takes in their day to day routine - these are the things that have allowed for eight years of sustained growth and innovation.  

 

Q: What are your top five must-have Brackish products? 

A: Ben

  1. Original - the tie that started it all 
  2. My second favorite design is one that hasn’t been released yet - stay tuned!
  3. The entire women’s collection definitely takes my top five list - I love every design.
  4. The Burr Pin - this design is so unique and totally came about because of the encouragement of Jeff.
  5. The Edisto - This design means so much to me. It took me a long time to create this piece and there’s meaning behind every single feather. 

A: Jeff

  1. Original
  2. Grey Bobwhite
  3. Burr Pin
  4. Carew Pocket Square
  5. Parades





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