A lot of notable new brands hail from big cities. They’re either a Brooklyn-based upstart or LA darling, both on the brink of making it mainstream. But elsewhere in the US, brands aplenty are responsible for some of the country's most exciting new menswear. And they're doing it with less capital and smaller target audiences.
Take New England, a region famous for its blue blazers and all-American aesthetic. Here, however, a new crop of exciting talents is rejecting the status quo and designing for a different kind of guy. The rest of the country would be wise to take notice.
"Being a one-man brand, it really is just an extension of my personality and the culture I was raised in," says Mike McLachlan, the designer behind Manresa.
McLachlan works out of Norwalk, Connecticut, a city along New England’s lower coast. There, plenty of people wear Nantucket Reds and step-and-repeat ties, but he relies on his working-class upbringing for inspiration, as well as his Scottish heritage. That means he makes tartan flannels, waterproof anoraks, deck shorts, durable hoodies and bulky beanies, not preppy polos or boat shoes.
"Aside from maybe a handful of wealthy towns who are mostly made up of Wall Street New Yorkers with lots of money and very little style, New England was GORP before GORP was GORP," McLachlan says, referring to the technical hiking style popular in recent years. "Take a ride through rural New Hampshire and you won’t see many step-and-repeat ties."
McLachlan wants Manresa to represent “being born and raised in New England as a regular working-class kid in the ’90s,” he says. His designs echo what he wore then, to ride or fix his bike and help his dad around the house. These things have “stayed with me to this day,” he says, “which is why you see the outerwear and workwear at play in the line.”
Hailing from Burlington, Vermont, is Slow Process, a small-scale clothing brand specializing in classic menswear fashioned from rare fabrics. Every garment is cut and sewn by Sam Zollman, who founded the label in 2018.
At first, Zollman would thrift for jackets and shirts he could repair, customize and sell. Later on, he expanded into denim jackets, overshirts and soft sweatshirts before landing on something of a signature: vintage fabrics, like a particular type of 19th-century wool blanket, which he now applies to well-known patterns, such as a varsity jacket.
In the summer, old tablecloths become baseball jerseys. And when the temperature drops, French terry turns into stylish mocknecks.
"I have a huge amount of respect for the textiles I come across," Zollman says, "especially the vintage and antique ones — their age, the time and energy that went into making them, the fact that they've endured for this long."
Once Zollman settles on a particular fabric, it can take him days — sometimes weeks — to finish even a single garment.
"It would feel disrespectful to rush through the process of building the piece and not honor the legacy of making something to last," he says. "And at the end of the day, I'm the one sewing almost everything. It's my reputation on the line."
Tony Parrotti, one half of Tony Shirtmakers, operates a studio in Damariscotta, Maine, a town with hot summers and cold winters — extremes that inform his handmade shirts and jackets.
A graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York City, Parrotti taught himself how to sew shirts by replicating ones he already owned. Now, he offers a mix of luxurious ready-made and made-to-order designs, each with prices to match. They aren’t delicate, though.
"We make garments that are intended to be worn and well-loved — pieces you will hang by the door and reach for again and again," Parrotti says. "We don't want you to be afraid to wear your clothes and get them muddy or wet or sweat in them. [These are] all things that happen when you live an active lifestyle in rural New England."
On social media, Parrotti and his partner, Laura Fraser, paint a pretty picture — a quiet, chaos-free studio with open doors and lots of indirect sunlight. But they aren’t isolated.
"There is an amazing network of makers and craftsmen in Maine that we are so happy to have become a part of," Parrotti says. "There is this legacy of creating things yourself, by hand — whether out of necessity or keen interest — that really resonates with us."