Having honed their design skills working on the men’s design team at Gap, Inc., brothers Doug and Ben Burkman decided to launch their own line in the Spring of 2009. With a collection consisting widely of plaid flannel shirts, striped tanks and woven beach bracelets, it comes of no surprise when Doug tells me, “I read online there was somebody that said Burkman Bros is like Ralph Lauren, but they took a hit of acid and threw a backpack on and went globetrotting around the world.” And while they actually embrace this kind of vibe in style, it is one that is, in fact, authentic. The brothers are avid travelers and take inspiration from the places they visit, integrating prints and fabric treatments from around the world into each season’s pieces.
Though frequent voyagers whose recent adventures include the likes of Sri Lanka and Myanmar, last week was their first trip to the city of Atlanta thanks to their participation in the second round of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Fashion Incubator program. As one of ten growing brands selected for the two-year enterprise, the young designers will be given mentoring in order to grow and sustain their business and networking opportunities such as the Atlanta showcase, which provided us the opportunity to speak about their brand, and what distinguishes them from other menswear brands, like, say, the Gap. According to the brothers, “The number one thing that sets us apart from every other designer is that we design and develop all the print patterns in our collection, so everything is original. All the fabrics are bespoke, original, made only for us,” explains Ben. “I always like to give the analogy of when I go to a menswear shop and I’ll see designer A and B, and they might have the same plaid because they’re buying it from the same fabric mill.”
So that plaid flannel shirt really isn’t just another plaid flannel shirt. It is an original, globally-inspired, classic menswear staple infused with a refined ruggedness that allows you to wear it to dinner in New York City, or while hiking the countryside in Burma. Moreover, it is what Doug and Ben actually want to be wearing. “Doug and I wanted to create a brand that we would wear ourselves…It is designed for us with our friends in mind. And the fortunate thing is that a wider audience has bought into that and likes what we do.” And people do like it. In addition to their own line and an unofficial celebrity endorsement from Kanye West who was seen wearing the brother’s bracelets at Coachella this year, they also collaborated with Urban Outfitters to create “The Tourist” collection complete with fish print popover shirts and rope sandals. They are currently working on a new collaboration of which details are still mum, but the duo did speak to the guidance of the CFDA program on such ventures: “Our mentors have been so helpful over the past few weeks in discussing all the finer points of negotiations, packages, legal, what you ask for…asking questions that we, as designers, may not ask,” explained Ben.
With the success they have already seen and the future successes sure to come thanks to their new connection with the CFDA, I asked if they had any advice for other aspiring, young designers seeking to make their place in the fashion community today. Their answers came easy. “Stay true to your vision,” replied Ben. “If you believe in what you are doing and what you have to offer the world, then people will be receptive to that honesty and integrity and originality,” added Doug.