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Charleston company fashions feathers into upscale bow-tie business
They were an instant hit as friends, fathers and sons asked Ross to make them as presents for them as well. That was in 2007. Two years later, Ross' best friend, Jeff Plotner, one of his groomsmen, approached him, saying, “I thought the idea for your
They were an instant hit as friends, fathers and sons asked Ross to make them as presents for them as well. That was in 2007. Two years later, Ross’ best friend, Jeff Plotner, one of his groomsmen, approached him, saying, “I thought the idea for your wedding was a special one. How would you like to go into business together making bow ties. They dove in and came up with the brand name Brackish, a nod to the blend of their hometown surroundings. Ross grew up around the freshwater rivers and lakes of the Midlands near Columbia. The coastal saltwater of Georgia was Plotner’s home. Even the gift box incorporates the Brackish theme. The note card-size wooden carrying case is made of pine while the bow tie rests on a piece of burlap cloth cut from an oyster bag. Starting out, Ross, a property manager, fashioned bow ties in his house in Columbia and brought them to Charleston for Plotner to distribute and sell. Plotner, who moved to Charleston after college for work in finance and sales, started making them, too, out of his condominium. One day a friend stopped by his Charleston home and saw feathers and boxes littering his residence. “You can’t live like this,” the friend said. He offered Plotner a room above a garage at a house in West Ashley he didn’t use that often as a workspace. That was in 2012. There, the business started to take shape with four people producing bow ties, taking orders, distributing them and finding clients. “People see the product, and it will sell itself,” Plotner said. Ross added, “It was definitely out of the box. Forming feathers Making the bow ties requires a special talent. It takes one of the 30 artisans at the 2,000-square-foot shop, now off Wallace School Road since May 2013, about four or five hours to form feathers into a bow tie. The talent required to make these products is very, very high,” Plotner said. “The workers have taken production to a very different level from where it was in the beginning, and we always strive to improve on it. ”. The turkey feathers, bought from a dozen free-range farms across the country, come in large bags. Then they must be clipped and painstakingly separated by size and colors before being pieced together on a piece of backboard cloth and tied with another specially cut strip of material to form the knot. Bow ties incorporate as few as eight feathers and as many as 100. And it’s not just turkey feathers anymore. Today, Brackish makes bow ties and pins out of quail, peacock, guinea, rooster and pheasant feathers. Thomas McElwee started as one of Brackish’s first employees. Among his tasks is to separate the feathers by size and subtle hues. He lays them out separately in recycled box tops — golds, browns, reds and other colors. “It’s definitely unlike anything I’ve ever done,” McElwee said. “It has its frustrations like any job, but we can bring up a problem and find ways to improve things. Production manager Lorna Wang came onboard when the company started as well. “I get to work for a boss, and I feel like I’m working for myself,” the former small business owner said. “To start from the beginning and be a part of a company that is growing so quickly, it’s unique and it’s awesome. Feathering their nest The handmade items sell for between $149 and $249. Plotner wouldn’t pinpoint the number of bow ties sold so far except to say, “It’s in the thousands. ” Locally, the products can be found in Gwynn’s of Mount Pleasant, Grady Ervin & Co. , the Preservation Society of Charleston, Charleston Angler, Charleston Tuxedo and The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, according to the company website. Nationally, Vermont-based Orvis does “a significant amount of business with us,” Plotner said. They mainly carry Brackish products in the second half of the year leading up to the holidays, according to Plotner. “They usually sell out by early December,” he said. “That’s quite nice for us,” Plotner added. With no two pieces being alike, the bow ties have caught the eye of stars as well. Actor and Charleston resident Bill Murray wore one of the bow ties to the Oscars and another to George Clooney’s wedding. Plotner and Ross say the business has grown nicely, but they are ready to expand when the time comes. “We’ll use every inch of this space we can, but if we need to grow, we will,” Plotner said.
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