In Austin — a trendy city in one of the friendliest states in the U.S. to start a new business — two sons of the Northeast are trying to export a preppy sensibility around the United States.
Menswear startup Criquet Shirts was founded by Hobson Brown and Billy Nachman. The two native New Yorkers came of age together at the height of the 1980s prep-school fashion that included the likes of L.L. Bean sweaters, Docksiders and (of course) polo shirts. That era largely informs their approach to designing Criquet's wide and colorful array of leisure shirts and sweaters.
Criquet is taking advantage of a men's apparel market that's seen explosive growth in recent years. Research from IBISWorld shows online menswear grew at an average rate of more than 17 percent over a 5 year period, generating annual revenue of $20 billion.
Although Criquet has one brick-and-mortar location in Austin, its primary source of revenue and growth is online, which currently accounts for 80 percent of its total sales. Additionally, Criquet maintains retail locations at approximately 150 private stores, including pro-shops and country clubs in Palm Beach and Jackson Hole.
"We're well positioned for future growth, and we want to do it right," Brown told CNBC in a recent interview.
Criquet's apparel is designed to "be worn with jeans and cowboy boots, dress slacks, or even shorts," Brown added. "They're great for work, play, and relaxing…for your own '19th Hole,' he said, using a slang term that refers to a bar or restaurant near a golf course.
That 19th Hole is "a mythical place where, after a hard day's work, you go to relax and recharge. And that's deeply personal, so it means a lot of things for different people," Nachman said.
"In Austin, it could be golf, or it could be sitting around a fire pit with a cooler of beer, fishing on Lake Travis, or pub-crawling on 6th Street. It's not 'work hard, play hard.' It's 'work hard, then hit the 19th Hole…wherever that 19thHole is, for you. "
Meanwhile, Criquet has one advantage most other apparel newcomers don't: A boldface name who serves as a pitch man, of sorts.
To help promote their line of men's shirts, Hobson and Nachman signed a deal with Hollywood actor and native Texan Luke Wilson, who studied at the University of Texas. "This was kismet, for all of us," Brown told CNBC in a recent interview.
"We saw Luke wearing one of our shirts on a late-night talk-show. After the show, we reached out to him through a mutual friend, and sent him a few shirts. Not long after, he visited our store in downtown Austin, one thing led to another, and now he's not only the face of our brand, he's a partner, too."
According to Nachman, Wilson was an ideal choice to promote Criquet Shirts. "Luke is the everyman with an edge. He's a Texan who just happens to live and work in Hollywood. He's laid-back and likable, and really personifies our Texas lifestyle brand."
The East coast, particularly New York, is considered a fashion mecca, yet Criquet's founders decided to launch their venture in the growing metropolis of Austin, Texas – a city that enjoys a growing reputation as business and technology-friendly.
A 2016 American Business Journal study ranked Austin as the #1 city in the U.S. to start a small business. Aside from the fact that Texas is currently one of the top states in the nation for business, Austin's cultural cachet has skyrocketed with the boom in startups and attractions like the annual South by Southwest entertainment festival.
"Austin has a laid-back vibe and a real appreciation for the work-life balance," Brown said. "And that's an attitude that we want to capture with our shirts. It's a uniquely Texas brand."
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