Ikat-dyed popover shirts, oversized block-printed floral patterns, textured striped shorts and textiles created by artisinal weavers in India; a Burkman Bros garment list reads like an exotic travel itinerary, a sartorial scavenger hunt of sorts headed for Sri Lanka, Greece, Hawaii and maybe even Mumbai. Much like their passports, Doug and Ben Burkman have left a stamp on modern menswear.It would be easy (albeit incorrect) to assume that the Burkman Bros seemingly meteoric ascent began when Hip Hop heavyweight Kanye West sported their trademark friendship bracelets at Coachella last year, but the Canada-born duo had been making waves in the fashion world years prior. Founded in 2008 by brothers Doug and Ben after stints as designers at Gap, Inc., the Burkman brothers set out to take their design philosophy, “If I wouldn’t wear it, I wouldn’t make it,” mainstream. Two years following their launch, the brand was named one of GQ’s “Best New Designers in America” and the label has since branched out to helm collaborations with Urban Outfitters and is stocked at some of the most notable boutiques and shops around the world.
Taking inspiration from their numerous and varied travels around the globe, the Burkman Bros collections reflect a sensible and ruggedly fashion-forward aesthetic that appeals to the modern man. The designs tell trans-locational tales of far-off journeys juxtaposed against the menswear classics they reinterpret each season. The patterns are bold enough to get your attention and, although intricate, the designs are never overworked.
Cult recently caught up with the dynamic design duo to discuss their international inspiration, Canadians, brotherly love and why fashion design is no place for regrets.
Who is the Burkman Bros (BB) customer?
The customer is a guy who is adventurous, curious, and fun. Our customer values comfort yet does not want to sacrifice his appearance in order to remain comfortable.
Describe your Spring/Summer 2012 Collection.
The Spring Summer 2012 Collection was inspired by a trip we took to Hawaii last year. The collection has the Polynesia-meet-America vibe that we felt throughout Hawaii along with many of the colors that we encountered during our Hawaiian excursions.
Name a summer essential every man should own.
A great pair of shorts
What can we expect from the Fall/Winter 2012 Collection?
The Fall/Winter 2012 Collection was inspired by a trip we took to Reykjavik. Iceland was a goldmine for inspiration: rugged, yet sort of refined. We took a great deal of inspiration from the rich earth tones we saw and based our Fall/Winter palette on it, creating many of our bespoke patterns and custom fabrics around it.
You launched a diffusion line, The Tourist, at Urban Outfitters a few months back. What inspired that collection and how does it differ from the BB main collections?
Our first collection for The Tourist was inspired by a trip we took to Greece last year. It is different from the main Burkman Bros. collection because it skews a bit younger. Also, working with Urban Outfitters gave us the opportunity to reach a different customer; with the collaboration customers could buy an entire outfit for under a hundred dollars, which is difficult to do with the main collection.
Any forthcoming collaborations we should look out for in the near future? Are there any brands/designers you’d like to collaborate with soon?
We are continuing The Tourist by Burkman Bros at Urban Outfitters for fall, which is really exciting. This collection has some really great knits and outerwear that we are really proud of.
Many tout the BB philosophy as “If I wouldn’t wear it, I wouldn’t make it.” Are there any pieces you’ve regretted designing?
No. One of the great things about fashion is that it is constantly moving forward and, most of the time, you don’t have time to look back and regret specific pieces. However, on the business side when a piece doesn’t work we try to figure out why it didn’t work; we see it as an opportunity to learn about our customer.
What’s your favorite piece from your wardrobe?
It really changes based on recent purchases. At the moment it is a pair of Junya Watanabe overalls that I pair with some Burkman Bros.
You grew up in Canada. Has that influenced the design aesthetic of BB in any way?
Canadians are friendly, laid-back, and approachable people, which we think it something that manifests in the clothes themselves. Our customer definitely fits those criteria and we find that we design from that point of view.
You’ve traveled to a number of amazing places, some of which have inspired various patterns and looks from your collections. In terms of style, which city/location has been the most inspirational?
We love Tokyo for the street-style, men there are always dressed really well and it makes for interesting people watching. India has also been an amazing source of inspiration for us; the colors and patterns that you come across with in India are always inspiring.
Ben and Doug, with you at the helm and another brother overseeing e-commerce and shipping, BB is clearly a family affair. How is working so closely with family both challenging and rewarding?
Working together comes naturally to us; we have been working together in one way or another since we were kids so we really understand each other and how we work. One of the most rewarding things about working together is the fact that it has definitely made us closer as a family. However, sometimes you spend so much time together between the hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. that it becomes difficult to hang out outside of work.
For some reason, BB didn’t register on a number of people’s radar until Kanye West wore those now-infamous bracelets at Coachella. Who came up with the idea for the bracelets?
We’ve always worn bracelets, ever since we were children. When we started Burkman Bros we would put friendship bracelets with each item, when retailers started telling us that people wanted to buy the friendship bracelets we decided to start selling them by themselves.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the fashion industry so far?
Just to remain true to your vision and don’t try to please others; do what you do best and people respond to that.