Craft Culture: Hand-sewn garments at Mill City Fineries

Mill City Fineries // Photo by Tj Turner

Wellman and Brunnette have paid similar attention to their brand’s story, insisting on making everything by hand right in Minnesota. That local connection is implicit in both the company’s logo, which features a grinning fish all done up in a bow tie, and in its slim, sliding-drawer cardboard packaging, which resembles an antique fishing lure box. Additionally, when Mill City Fineries displays its merchandise at events and in retail locations like Minneapolis’ Atmosfere and Brightwater Clothing & Gear, they use vintage wood tackle boxes. Fishing, Wellman says, “is an iconic Minnesota thing. We don’t have to say where we’re from. This shows it.”

The slogan inscribed on every package, “Your lucky lure,” extends the theme. “Our ties can be a statement piece, or a conversation piece,” Wellman says. “You can take simple colors like charcoal or stripes and dress them up, or you can just as easily wear one with a chambray shirt.” That versatility has led Mill City Fineries to develop custom neckwear for the barbacks and waitstaff at the Hotel Ivy’s restaurants, Constantine and Monello, and has made them a popular option for wedding parties.

“We do a ton of weddings in the summer,” Wellman says. “We source custom fabrics based on what the bride and groom want.” Custom orders like these can get tricky because a couple might want to see 30 samples and then request 12 bow ties or neckties in a fabric or pattern they only have enough of to produce five. “There might be a way we can get more of that fabric and make a full batch,” he says, but in the end, “every piece is numbered and there aren’t 5,000 others just like it.” This is precisely what makes them fun, Wellman says. “They’re so personal.”

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Ties from Mill City Fineries // Photo by Tj Turner

Someone looking to put together a more distinctive look, however, needn’t wait for their wedding day. “Dressing up,” he says, “comes down to presenting yourself as professional and approachable.” That could mean wearing a suit in a casual environment, or it could mean grabbing a V-neck sweater when others might opt for a hoodie. “And since no one person’s style is the same as another’s, you can really express who you are based on how you dress.”

The pocket square, for example, provides fail-safe flair. Primarily used as an accent, he says, “they’re put in your jacket pocket to make it look like your pocket isn’t naked.” Wellman believes a pocket square shouldn’t match a bow tie or necktie; rather, they should complement each other somehow, either in color or pattern. “I prefer things to be more minimalistic,” he says, “but maybe that’s a Midwest thing—this emphasis on subtlety rather than being in your face.”

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Matt Brunnette (left) and Brad Wellman at work in their production space // Photo by Tj Turner

Wellman and Brunnette often turn to brands like J.Crew and Brooklyn’s The Hill-Side for inspiration, and they wonder if turning their attention to Mill City Fineries full-time would allow them to one day branch out into dress shirts or see their products displayed at Barneys, Bloomingdale’s, or even on the red carpet; working with clothing subscription services like Trunk Club and Bespoke Post has, at the very least, made these goals seem possible.

For now, though, Wellman and Brunnette work on Mill City Fineries’ offerings during their nights and weekends, sharing their office space with other local brands like Great Lakes Clothing Co., Marked, and Buddy’s Small Batch Nut Butter, and pursuing each new opportunity with excitement.

“This is like our baby,” says Wellman. “We love doing it. We have full control over what happens and what we choose to do.”

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Brendan Kennealy About Brendan Kennealy

Brendan Kennealy is a writing and PR professional who lives and works in St. Paul. Find him on Twitter here: @extrapalemale.

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