There are those who heed the advice “Don’t quit your day job.” And then there are Shep and Ian Murray.
Fifteen years ago, they decided to take off their ties so they could make them. And not just any ties, but whimsical ones in bright colors with whales and ducks, inspired by the Martha’s Vineyard of their childhood. Thus, Vineyard Vines was born.
Today, the ties are joined by shirts, shorts and women’s apparel and the burgeoning company, headquartered in Stamford, is casting an eye overseas. Recently, we caught up with the Murrays, Greenwich residents, on the Vineyard via email – ah, if only it had been in person – to learn what’s up for fall and to ask if they are among the savviest businessmen ever or just two wild and crazy guys.
Your business is 55 percent men, with your bold, marine-themed ties and sports shirts being the bedrock. Describe the Vineyard Vines guy.
“Our customer is a fun-loving guy who would rather be sitting in a beach chair than a desk chair. But we’ve always said, for a guy that has to wear a tie to work every day, we think our designs show a glimpse of his personality.”
What’s new for the Vineyard Vines man this fall?
“This fall, our collection was inspired by Maine. We couldn’t get enough of the coastal views and the classic boating communities that make this place so special. One of our favorite items is our men’s Hull Stripe Sweater that was inspired to look like the hull of a Hinckley Picnic Boat. But we also love our 5-Pocket Cords and Maine Gingham Tucker Shirt. And of course, the Overdyed Shep Shirt – perfect for a chilly fall night.”
Your bottoms – colorfully patterned shorts and pants – are also tiptop. But you don’t do tailored stuff. Why not?
“When we first started out, we wanted to make ties so we didn’t have to wear them anymore. We do make some tailored items, like a blue blazer, but it’s not our core business. Who knows what the future will bring, but for now we’ll stick to a more laid-back look.”
Recently, you brought in a new women’s designer, Meg Velleca, and new vice president of merchandising, Renee Heim. How are you ramping up offerings for women?
“Our women’s business has seen tremendous growth in the past couple of years. We feel like we finally understand just who our women’s customer is and have started to make things for her lifestyle. We’ve expanded our offering of dresses, as well as great basic items like T-shirts, shorts and pants.”
You have 35 full-line and outlet stores, including the shop in your hometown of Greenwich and a new shop-in-shop at the Bloomingdale’s Manhattan flagship. Tell us more about your retail and wholesale businesses.
“Our retail business is growing exponentially. This fall we plan to open three more stores and another three locations during the holiday season. Our wholesale business remains strong and has been a cornerstone of our business since 1998. We are committed to building our relationships with our department store partners, including Bloomingdale’s and supporting the loyal specialty shops that have helped grow our brand….”
Fifteen years (and more than $100 million worth of volume) ago, you two quit your day jobs in PR and advertising and maxed out a bunch of credit cards to follow a dream. Was that guts? Sheer madness? Or did you just know it would work?
“We started a tie company at the height of ‘business-casual’ in the ’90s and for every one person that understood why we quit our jobs to follow our dream, there were 10 more that called us crazy. We knew there had to be people out there like us, who would rather be out on the water than in the office. Turns out, there were.
It all started with Martha’s Vineyard, of course, where you love to spend time. What is it about the Vineyard you find so inspiring?
“As kids, we grew up spending our summers out on the Vineyard with our family. It’s all about having fun and bringing together friends and family for a day out on the boat, at the beach, on the bike path….We could go on and on. It’s where people go to enjoy a piece of the Good Life.”
How do you spend your days (and nights) there?
“We spend our days with good friends and family, which usually includes heading out for a fishing trip, sailing or driving out on the beach. The Vineyard is a special place for us and we couldn’t be happier to share those same memories, and make new ones, with our own families now.”
What are your plans for the future?
“The future is full of endless opportunities and in the coming years, we hope to expand our retail footprint domestically and start shipping internationally. We also hope to explore new partnership opportunities and continue building product -brand extensions that capitalize on our lifestyle, such as sunglasses, footwear and possibly even hotels and restaurants.”
For more, visit vineyardvines.com.