We can all agree that Ty Webb is the man, right? The same way Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are constantly held up as men’s style icons, Chevy Chase’s character in Caddyshack has the same stature in the fictional realm. From sinking trick putts to smoking J’s with Carl Spackler to hooking up with Lacy Underall in a house full of uncashed checks, Webb lives up to the old adage, “men want to be him and women want to be with him.”
So it makes sense that Webb also serves as a source of style inspiration. For Criquet founders Billy Nachman and Hobson Brown it isn’t just Webb but other golf legends of the 1970s and 80s such as Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros as well as their own fathers and grandfathers who provided the source material for their most popular product, the Players Shirt. Nachman and Brown grew up together in New York City, attended the same prep school in Connecticut, and eventually both settled in Austin. They had both always been drawn to the classic golf shirt with a four-button placket (the part of the shirt that the buttons are sewn onto) and a stiff collar that they’d seen in their dads’ closets growing up but had been unable to find any new versions that lived up to the same standards. So they decided to create it themselves.
The Players Shirt was the first garment that Criquet launched with in 2011 and it quickly picked up a loyal following among southern frat guys and northeast preps. While the shirts are inspired by golf, they aren’t made of performance materials that feel out of place anywhere other than the course. Instead they are crafted entirely from organic cotton (creating products sustainably and responsibly is core to Nachman and Brown’s business plans) and look sharp whether you’re hitting balls, working at the office, or having drinks.
Criquet has since expanded into a broader range of shirts (the chamois J.R. Ewing-inspired button down is a particular standout) and is doing millions of dollars in sales but still maintains a relaxed vibe. It’s office/store/clubhouse is a great place to visit in Austin if you want to grab a beer, drain some putts or, oh yeah, buy some shirts. We spoke with Nachman and Brown to find out how they came up with their original shirt, why vintage men’s styles have such an appeal, and what the future holds.
What made you guys want to start Criquet?
Billy: Hob and I grew up together and we had always been thinking of ways to work together. We felt like there wasn’t a brand speaking to gentlemen like ourselves. We were 33-34 years old, more classically styled in the way we dress but more progressively minded in the way we spend our dollars. So we felt like there was an opportunity there. We had always loved this classic 4-button placket golf shirt that was popular back in the late 70s, early 80s with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Seve Ballesteros. We took that shirt and found ways to improve upon it and used that as the launching product for the brand. We launched at the beginning of 2011. We didn’t quit our day jobs and just wanted to see what the appetite was. We quickly sold out of our first run of shirts and realized that we were on to something and have been slowly growing since.
What were your day jobs?
Hobson: I had been working at various e-commerce and advertising companies while moonlighting in young adult fiction. I wrote a series of novels loosely based on my boarding school experiences that were marketed at teenage girls called The Upper Class novels, but mainly I was working in e-commerce.
Billy: My background was in architecture.
How did you end up in Austin?
Hobson: Billy was here doing some architecture work. When we were discussing the idea of working together I was living in San Francisco at the time. It just felt like Austin was the better place to launch a business like this. It’s got a really supportive startup community. We also felt like this lifestyle brand didn’t really exist in Texas. I think our brand appeals to a lot of southern guys and I would throw Texas into the southern mix as well.
Billy: Austin is a unique place because it’s a relatively small city but it’s got a global brand. It’s attracting people from all over the country. While our clothes seem to work for the gentleman here in Texas and the southeast, they also appeal to that transplant person as well.
With the Players Shirt, what were the characteristics that you loved so much? And how did you try to improve on it?
Billy: I would say the hard collar and the four button placket and the chest pocket. When we were rethinking it and trying to improve upon it, we introduced removable collar stays. The shirts from the 70s and 80s were typically some sort of polyester blend. So for Disco Fever on a Saturday night, they worked. But for our guy that wasn’t the shirt we wanted to make. We committed right off the bat to make them out of 100% organic cotton which speaks to that progressive minded part of the business.
Hobson: They’re also super soft and comfortable. That was something we wanted to improve on as well. A lot of those old shirts were either super baggy, like potato sacks, or really slim cut. Our shirt is for the formally athletic guys. It’s somewhere in the middle. Although we’re actually coming out with a slim fit line this spring to appeal to the guy that wants that.
Billy: In general the shirt for us is really versatile not just in the places you can wear it but in how you wear it. It definitely works as a golf shirt. It works as a business casual shirt. It works as a Saturday night bar shirt. It also appeals to guys with different stylish sensibilities. So you can be a bit more preppy and wear the shirt, but you can also have, and I hate to use the term, but a hipster vibe because it has that vintage styling.
There seems to be a movement toward the menswear of our dads. Where do you think that comes from?
Billy: There does tend to be an appreciation of classic styles. A lot of them never went out of style. They stand the test of time. What we hope is that if someone buys one of our shirts, they feel as comfortable wearing it in 5-10 years as they do now. It’s great to have people coming back every year and purchasing new shirts, but you don’t want people to feel like they have to from a stylistic standpoint.
Hobson: For a lot of guys, there is that emotional connection. One thing we hear from customers is I found the brand and it reminded me of the shirt that my dad used to wear.
How would you describe the Criquet guy?
Hobson: Our brand is in the discovery mode right now. Not every single guy at the club, or at the tailgate, is going to show up in a Criquet shirt. Our customers appreciate that. They’re the early adopters and they like being that guy that has found the new cool thing. It’s also an understated style. You can wear it under a blazer. You can wear it with a pair of shorts. You have a lot of different options.
Billy: Our guy takes what he does seriously but doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s an independent thinker, smart, good sense of humor.
How does your background and the places you’ve lived shape the point of view of the brand?
Hobson: When we think about the ultimate future of company, we look at a company like Patagonia as being a really good steward for the environment who stands for a lot of great things. Ultimately what we’d like to create is a brand like Patagonia, totally different style and lifestyle, but still known for doing things the right way. For us, that means choosing more sustainable fabrics, doing all of our button downs in a factory in Texas. We’re not being overly preachy about it but that’s part of the company. Down the road hopefully it’s something that we’ll become known for as we get more and more well known.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned over the years?
Hobson: One thing I’ve learned is not to be afraid to ask for help when you need it. If you’re doing something interesting there’s a lot of people out there that are excited about helping out whether it’s advice or an introduction or even an investment. We did an incubator program in our second year of business and part of that process was inviting people into your business and letting them look under hood. We’re not NASA. We don’t have any trade secrets to hide. But people get so protective of their business that they don’t want to share. Then you’re kind of limiting yourself. When you have success as a business there are these things that come up, but you’ve got to put yourself out there for them to happen.
Billy: I would say that from the beginning we’ve been true to our voice and who we are. We have a belief in that and we’ve gotten validation from our customers that they get our message and they get our humor and they get the Criquet lifestyle.
What does future looks like for the brand?
Hobson: From an exposure standpoint, it’s about getting out there more whether it’s in pop-ups or partnering with other brands. We’re looking into doing our first catalog. Just trying to spread the good word.
Billy: The pop-up concept is interesting. We’re definitely planning on doing a few of those in select markets around the country this year to test the waters a little bit with the potential of having a more permanent brick and mortar situation. A huge part of our growth over the next 12 months is getting into more of the country’s best retail locations.
Hobson: Part of brand is this image of dressing for 19th hole. It doesn’t have to be a bar. It can be anywhere you’re meeting with friends and having a good time and sharing ideas and telling jokes. We want to take that on the road and become more known for that.