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Big Ideas

Inspiration in Tiny Spaces and Far-Flung Places

Doug and Ben Burkman, founders of casual-cool menswear label Burkman Bros, talk about the importance of very small workspaces and big travel plans.


“Once we decided this was the moment, this was the moment,” Doug Burkman says of launching Burkman Bros, the menswear line he shares with his brother Ben. Ben calls the brand “a mix of classic preppy sports ware infused with an eyedropper of the exotic.” With items from their first collection available in Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, not to mention exclusive retailers in Japan, the UK, and the brothers’ native Canada it’s more than clear that Doug and Ben’s get-on-the-ball attitude has paid off.

Having spent several years designing for Gap, the two always said that they’d eventually start their own brand. While such big launches are often easier said than done, the easy part – “the saying” – didn’t come without consequence for the Burkmans. Ben says, “Talking to people about it forces you to take action.”

The accountability that their talk created led them to tackle the most difficult aspects of getting things off the ground, such as sourcing overseas manufacturing teams, pinpointing retailers, and generating press for their brand.These days, the Burkmans work out of one floor of a New York penthouse suite. The space, large enough for living, but small by business headquarter standards forces the brothers to be organized and efficient. As Doug puts it: “Our office is the size of a bedroom. Things can’t get out of hand.”  Many would find such a small space prohibitive, but the Burkmans use it to their advantage; without the luxury of space to clutter, only the most essential items live in their space.

An office is an office. I get more creative being in the markets and streets of Asia.

While the office is where business side of things – “the appointments, the PR work, the day-to-day phone calls – “go down, Ben and Doug both maintain that their most creative work happens overseas. For ten years the brothers have regularly traveled to places like Thailand, India, Korea, China, Tibet, and Myanmar. Doug says, “An office is an office. I get more creative being in the markets and streets of Asia.” Whether they’re taking in typefaces that will later inspire labels or lungi patterns that will re-appear, in preppified form, on a pair of shorts, the Burkmans are “put on a high” by Asia’s busy urban environments.

“We find coolness in things people over there would never see as inspiration,” Ben explains. For example, for the linings in an upcoming collection, the pair have silk screened images of each brother decked out in old school Indian regalia, drawing from the font, graphics, and layout of an ad they discovered in an Indian fabric market.

The brothers believe strongly in steadfast adherence to personal vision, and they are constantly thinking about the next steps required to move things forward. As we talked, they discussed their plans to eventually to open their own store, develop a women’s line, and launch another brand, possibly one with lower price points. If their appetite for action works anything like it did for the company’s launch, we’re in luck that they’ve voiced their plans. Now they have to do it; they’re accountable.

Comments (1)
  • UnwrittenLaw19

    If you like this new brand you’ll love this one http://www.cafepress.com/toadb… Its got really cool and unique look. I highly recommend you check em out. They got t-shirts, sweaters, whatever your looking for while still having great style.

  • comicbookandmoviereviews

    Be Geek – Do Geek – Think Geek – http://www.comicbookandmoviere

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