Feathered Bow Ties Fill Special Niche in Men’s Fashion
When Ben Ross told his fiancée he wanted to give his groomsmen gifts made from richly colored Eastern turkey feathers, she had misgivings – plenty of them. But her worries fell by the wayside when the handsomely designed bow ties turned out to be a big hit. Now, almost 10 years later, Ross and his partner, Jeff Plotner, own a production facility in Charleston, South Carolina, that manufactures a much sought-after line of handcrafted feathered bow ties, cummerbunds, and lapel pins. Brackish (cleverly named for the area’s combination of freshwater lakes and coastal waters) markets its one-of-a-kind accessories through more than 100 retail locations to discerning customers around the world. And now, Epic Mens has added the Brackish brand to our offering of select men’s furnishings as well. Having read about Brackish bow ties in Charleston Magazine and the Post & Courier, we were already familiar with the brand’s impressive rise to fame when we finally caught up with Ross. However, the former property manager-turned-entrepreneur helped us fill in the missing pieces by elaborating further on the brand’s humble, but inspired, beginnings.
In one way or another, Ross has been working with feathers almost all his life. He began at the tender age of 8 or 9, using feathers to tie flies for fishing and to fletch arrows for hunting and archery. As his skills grew, so did his respect for the outdoors. It’s apparent from the brand’s desire to “repurpose the beauty of nature” that both partners feel a deep reverence for the plants and wildlife found in the southern state they call home.
Most of the line’s bow ties are made from turkey feathers, although quail, peacock, rooster, pheasant and guinea fowl (the most popular) feathers also are used. All of the feathers are sustainably sourced, either from naturally molting birds or from local farmers raising free-range birds. Even the wild plum thorns used in the line’s lapel pins are collected with painstaking care so as not to damage the thickets and groves growing naturally throughout the South Carolina midlands. With a nod to author Shel Silverstein’s story “The Giving Tree,” Ross explains that he forages far afield to avoid taking too many from any one area. Using simple hand tools, he goes to great lengths not to stress either trees or high-nesting birds by removing only a few well-established, lower branches from each strand. And he does so only in the colder seasons when the birds are not typically nesting. The added care means Ross often walks away covered in scratches, cuts and puncture wounds, but it’s a labor of love that’s worth the extra effort.
Sourcing materials, however, is just the first step in a process that requires equal amounts of skill and artistry. Every feather is hand-selected, clipped, and sorted by size and color before being pieced together on high-quality grosgrain cloth and silk linen backing. No dyes are used and none are needed. From the rich, earthy shades of black, olive and copper found in the “Original” bow tie design Ross created for his own wedding back in 2007 to the brilliant and iridescent shades of blue, green, and orange found in the styles pictured below – the feathers’ finely delineated hues stand on their own.
Flintlock (peacock and guinea fowl), Lotus (pheasant) and Roosevelt (chukar partridge and pheasant) Brackish bow ties. Available at Epic Mens.
A four-panel cummerbund requires upwards of 300 feathers and 15 hours to assemble. In contrast, about 24 feathers and four to five hours of labor go into each bow tie. At last count, there were 35 different available bow tie patterns to choose from, but even so, no two ties are exactly alike because no two feathers are exactly alike. Once completed, each adjustable wrap-around bow tie is carefully laid on a burlap lining in a keepsake pine box with the Brackish logo branded on top. If stored properly and handled only by the center knot, a Brackish bow tie will last a lifetime. And if your feathers do get ruffled (no pun intended), all it takes is a quick spritz of an alcohol-based hair spray to smooth everything out again.The company has come a long way from the days when both Ross and Plotner worked out of their homes, designing and crafting bow ties on whatever tabletop or counter space was available. Ross supplied the hands-on skills and Plotner the marketing insight, and together, they formed a partnership that works. Today, Brackish employs 50 artisans and production assistants in its 2,000 square-foot facility. Recognized internationally, Brackish feathered bow ties have been featured in several major publications and have even found their way onto the red carpet as part of actor and Charleston resident Bill Murray’s signature Oscar look. The brand’s eclectic appeal continues to spread quickly. Customers are returning again and again, intent on finding a truly unique gift or creating a memorable, one-of-a-kind look for a special wedding, graduation, or black tie affair. Any man who loves the outdoors – and particularly the natural beauty and distinctive spirit of the South – will feel right at home wearing a Brackish feathered bow tie. When asked about the company’s success by Charleston Magazine, Plotner’s answer was “People appreciate original and remarkable products.” And he was right, people do.