Having been spotlighted in all the key magazines (GQ, Details, etc.) and on all the key sites (men.style.com, Valet), Burkman Brothers is a young company that continues its rapid ascent in the world of menswear. Under the management of mastermind brothers and former Gap thinktanks Doug and Ben Burkman, their utilitarian workwear aesthetic mingles with some old school preppiness and brilliantly coalesces with the influence of Asian fabrics. This Eastern-materials-meets-Western-styles look offers shoppers some of the most sought after weaves in the biz. Super soft oxford cloths and gorgeous plaids are what we might most easily recognize in the siblings’ line, but we’re also talking hoodies, chambray shirts, awesome shorts, and some serious pants. The Canadian natives — and their accents are authentic — debuted their effortlessly timeless 34-piece collection this past Spring and their new collection will hit fashion megastores like Barney’s in the coming weeks. We were thrilled to speak with Doug and Ben about the design process, their collection, and the future of the company.
Prepidemic Magazine: What’s the basic style of Burkman Bros.?
Burkman Brothers: Burkman Brothers is kind of a reflection of our lifestyle and our experience in the world. I like to say that Burkman Bros is kind of like American classic casual sportswear but it has influences of overseas travels to Asia. We take eyedropper bits of those travels — whether its fabric, detail, or trim, or what have you — and we put it into our collection but in a way that is understandable and not hokey.
PM: We’ve read about the brand and how you guys do a lot of traveling. What do you guys find interesting from a style point of view about the classic American Prepster and this Asian and Indian style as well?
BB:A lot of the preppy fabrics that are classic to American style—like seersuckers, madrases, and oxfords—originated in colonial India. And it’s interesting to see the East and West dichotomy and how they are reflected in the classic American sportswear. We have these amazing, amazing madras shirts which are very classic American but are all done on the looms in India so they have this very authentic feeling about them.
PM: So when you are talking about infusing these Eastern and Western styles, is this coming from a more materials standpoint or a design standpoint?
BB: I wouldn’t say the Eastern look so much — we have a sports jacket with a band collar, or a mandarin collar — it may be a styling detail, it may be a fabric, it may be a graphic, it may be something that’s kind of done in a very understandable way because we don’t want to overplay this whole thing. It’s about being tasteful and smart about it.
PM: What do you guys look for when you’re searching out fabrics for a collection?
BB: I guess we start off by looking at clothes that locals wear when we travel to places like India. All those fabrics have amazing detail work on them, whether it’s a check, plaid, stripe, they have amazing texture. From there we translate those things into what’s wearable in the US.
PM: Do you guys think there are any staples to your collection?
BB: We’ve been lining our garments – shirts, shorts depending on the seasonality – we have this amazing lightweight oxford that’s super soft. And in our first collection we lined our shorts with this fabric. And in the Fall, which is coming to stores in a week or two, we lined this amazing shirting group of lightweight flannel plaids with the oxford. So that’s kind of an ongoing statement with the oxford fabric as well as the idea of lined garments in general.
PM: Do you guys have different styles and different design tendencies?
BB: Our styles are quite similar and complementary. We both have unique ideas but the ideas more often than not with each other’s ideas. We tend to think along the same terms. We have similar but slightly different style but it all works and it’s very complementary.
PM: Any sibling rivalry?
BB: Like any siblings, we have our moments. But for the vast majority of working together, it’s amazing and I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else.
PM: You guy were at Gap together before. Were you both at Uniqlo?
BB: Just I [Doug] was there.
PM: Could you talk to us about these experiences?
BB: My experience at Uniqlo was really just on a freelance consulting basis. To speak to the Gap thing, I was there for about seven years and everything that we learned on the job has really helped us to get started with our own collection. And that applies to all aspects. Even though we were in design, we were constantly surrounded by other departments whether it’s production, marketing, or PR. All this experience really rubs off on you and it was the best training I could imagine.
Furthermore, while we worked there, we did a ton of overseas travel, and that kind of sparked our personal and professional interest with Asia, and it enabled us to develop the connections that we needed in order to start our own collection from the production and factories standpoint.
PM: When you’re talking about connections you mean you met with who?
BB: Sourcing, fabric mills, factories, sampling rooms, those kinds of things.
PM: That seems pretty important to the company. It seems like the standards company these days is getting there stuff manufactured at these huge warehouses relationships with these factories from all around.
BB: We’re working with some niche and boutique factories that specialize in higher end products, so probably quite different than what the Gaps and the Uniqlos will use because their volumes are so huge that they’re probably using mass factories, but we’re working with quite small ones which really try to focus on details, the quality, and the execution of the product.