More than twenty years ago, stars above the dense Manhattan sky aligned for Billy Nachman [above, left] and Hobson Brown [your other left], founders of Criquet Shirts. The two met before they could even hit double-digits while enrolled in an elite all-boys school. It was at that school where the boys donned their first stuffy collared shirts.
After bouncing around the country in the name of higher education and career choices, both men have made Austin home. They’ve put their money where their mouth is and stopped dreaming about starting a business. They just did it.
My friend Paul and I sat down with the Criquet duo at Takoba on a Friday afternoon over sips of Mezcarrita and bites of ceviche. We learned firsthand how two grown-up Hotchkiss kids turned a preppy closet staple into a too-cool-for-hipsters yet too-awesome-for-Tiger brand and called it Criquet Shirts. They’re Country Club tested. Famer’s Market approved.
TARA: A good majority of women, and I suppose men as well, dream of starting their own clothing line. How did you two gentlemen decide to start making shirts?
BILLY: We always wanted to recreate a great cotton shirt that replicated the four-button style that our grandfathers wore. Fortunately my dad and stepmother were very involved in the apparel industry while I grew up, so it’s something I found myself being comfortable with. I’ve always had a strong appreciation for design, so that helped too.
HOBSON: We knew we’d go into business together one day. [Laughs.] It was really about giving men a good shirt without slapping a huge animal logo on the chest.
PAUL: So you’d say the shirts are kind of ‘thrift store cool’?
B: [Laughs.] No because now you don’t have to smell like a stranger from 30 years ago. We want our stuff to be timeless. Our brand’s motto is, “built to be inherited”.
H: [Agrees.] They’re more vintage-inspired than thrift store anything. We like to say that we identify best with Ty Webb from Caddyshack, a true “soul golfer” by our standards.
T: What did you do prior to diving into Criquet?
B: After graduating from the University of Oregon I became an architect for a firm in California. I hopped between San Francisco and San Diego working on residential projects and a Ralph Lauren Polo store.
H: I’ve mainly worked in e-commerce and digital marketing/advertising on the west coast. College for me was at UNC.
B: And the books!
H: I also co-authored a couple of books called The Upper Class Novels.
T: So I’m sitting with an architect and an author turned fashion designers. Nice.
P: You guys are both wearing Criquet, as you should. Where can we buy them?
B: We’re e-commerce by design; we really wanted to take the hassle out of shopping. We don’t want to dodge strollers at the mall on a Saturday afternoon so why would other guys? We have cool, simple, timeless products and make it easy on customers. We even do free shipping and free returns. When we first started, we packed and shipped everything ourselves, and included hand written thank you notes in the orders.
T: Good move. Free shipping and returns is smart because it’s convenient for the shopper and writing notes by hand creates a loyalty you don’t always develop with a brand when shopping online.
H: Yeah, I wish we could do it with every order now, but it’s not always the case anymore. Ever since Playboy things have kind of changed.
T: You’ve had some great press on Valet and the Golf Channel, but what’s this Playboy feature all about?
B: The magazine featured our Player shirt and ever since then we’ve been selling to states we hadn’t built a big presence in, like Nebraska. We’ve brought on an awesome fulfillment company called Beehive to help us handle the volume.
P: Where do most of the sales come from?
H: We’re growing to more and more states but our biggest customer base comes from Texas, the southeast, San Francisco, and LA. Now we’re available on Adrian Grenier’s site that’s built around sustainable consumption, SHFT.com. It’s the only polo shirt available for purchase on the site.
P: That’s incredible. How else do you market the brand? I can’t believe I’m just now discovering Criquet. This is definitely something I’d wear.
H: We’ve operated mostly through word of mouth sales and a little bit of PR. The video series we created has been a hit. We loosely call our fans [who’ve discovered us by way of word of mouth] our “Players Club” and they help us spread the word.
B: We’ve considered a traveling Criquet bus idea, or just buy a long golf cart, the drink cart kind, and have our Caddy drive around Austin in it. We’ve tossed around the idea to run a contest where you win a Life Caddy for the day. We’d make Hobby do that.
P: Those short videos are really funny. I like the satire.
H: Yeah, we’re working on getting ahold of Chevy Chase for the next one.
T: I bet Paul would volunteer to wear the Caddy outfit for you out at the bars.
P: I would.
H: Oh yeah? Well good for us, Billy’s the mayor of Rainey Street. He knows everyone over there since he moonlights at Bar Ilegal.
P: If you change your mind, let me know. What’s the future looking like for the brand?
H: We want to be a lifestyle brand for the “soul golfer”. On our site and blog today, you can see that we cross-pollinate into other things like food and products for green living. We would like to bring in other brands onto our site that are growing and have an environmental slant. We want to bring those brands to our audience and vice versa. J. Crew and Bonobos.com do a great job at this. We can see ourselves down the road as the organic version of J. Crew.
T: Austin’s a great place for you to grow since we have the allure of Austin City Limits and South by Southwest. Have you participated in those festivals?
B: We did get involved in South by Southwest’s StyleX one year, and we really enjoyed that. There were a bunch of bands doing a runway show and a band we really liked chose to wear Criquet. And we’ve also got a partnership with ACL Live at Moody Theater now. Their ushers and staff wear our Player shirts with an ACL patch on them.
T: That’s great exposure for the brand, especially considering the amount of out of towners that come through ACL Live- located in the W Hotel. When did you realize that your idea to create and market an organic polo shirt was going to work?
B: I always had confidence in it, but there was one big moment for me. I decided to go out to Lustre Pearl for just one night during South by Southwest this year. It was a long day and I was pretty tired. I looked over to a guy in the crowd who was wearing one of our shirts and thought to myself, “cool… he’s probably from Austin”. Turned out he was in town from Nashville and was a big fan of ours. His whole office wears our shirts. That really validated it for me.
T: Tonight you’re having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people, whoever you want. Who gets in?
B: Bob Marley, George Clooney, architect Rudolph Schindler, Chip Kelly, and Phil Knight.
H: I’d have an all-star crop of chefs come out and make them cook. Alice Waters for appetizers, and the chefs my wife worked with in Berkeley.
T: You both have been successful in your previous careers and now with Criquet. Is there anything else you’d like to add to your resume?
H: Since my wife’s a pastry chef, I’d see us opening a place where she can use her talents, like a restaurant or a bakery.
B: GM of the Knicks! [Laughs.] I love design and I’ll continue participating in design forever. I like working with residential [architecture] clients and I’m passionate about urban planning.
T: Finally, describe Austin in three words.
B: Too much fun.
H: Too f’*n hot.
Photography: Darrin Cherry
Who’s wearing Criquet http://www.criquetshirts.com/whos-wearing-criquet/
Adrien Grenier’s SHFT.COM http://www.shft.com/shopping/the-players-shirt-by-criquet
Hey, Takoba, thanks for having us. http://www.takobarestaurant.com/