Long before U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Southampton Mayor Mark Epley began hanging iconic images of the East End around their necks, Water Mill orthopedic surgeon and tie enthusiast John Brennan had an idea.
“He came home one day and said, ‘I think I should go into the tie business,'” said his wife, Christine Brennan.
That was the day Hampton Handmade Ties was hatched.
Ms. Brennan, a physical therapist, thought her husband was crazy when he suggested the venture, but before long she was cataloguing and photographing local landmarks, and considering which of them would best translate onto colorful neckwear.
Now on the cusp of their second season selling $75 ties through local merchants, the Brennans are pleased to report a first-year profit.
“A few of our designs sold out reasonably quickly,” Dr. Brennan said as he examined a pile of sample ties with this season’s new designs. “It went beyond our wildest expectations.”
Dr. Brennan said he always liked interesting ties and he found more inspiration at local functions and cocktail parties, where he saw person after person wearing ties featuring landmarks from beachfront communities.
“It’s the only way in a suit you can express some color and personality, unless you wear a wacky suit,” he said. “It really struck us there was a niche here.”
Dr. Brennan was often complimented on the interesting ties he wore and Ms. Brennan knew it, but at first she didn’t support his idea for a business. It was only after Dr. Brennan met a couple to discuss a possible surgery that Ms. Brennan green-lighted Hampton Handmade Ties.
“The wife came in and said, ‘I like his tie. He can do the surgery,'” Ms. Brennan remembered, explaining the moment her husband got the patient and she became certain about the business. “I believe in signs,” she said.
Because the couple worked only in the evenings and on weekends planning and designing products—while also working day jobs and caring for their two young children, Liam and Aiden—the idea took a few years to take shape, Dr. Brennan said. Now, everything is in place and, with their second summer just weeks away, the business appears to be running smoothly.
The new season’s designs are a secret for now, but Hampton Handmade Ties feature local imagery in patterns clearly inspired by Hermes and Vineyard Vines, which came before them. Instead of images of sea life, equine tack or icons of the New England coast, the Brennans’ ties use East End iconography and titles: lifeguard chairs at “Coopers Beach,” the roadside “Long Island Duck” in Flanders, and the sold-out “windmills” pattern.
“Sunrise Highway” adds a humorous slant to the Hamptons traffic problem with cars and snails across the tie, something every local and summer visitor can relate to. Each of the original four designs is available in five colors and sold at East End shops.
The Brennans had a difficult time getting stores to stock their product initially, but Dr. Brennan said local merchants are now coming to him. Retailers are spread throughout the East End and include A Little of What You Fancy, the company’s flagship store in East Hampton, Noel’s in Hampton Bays, Blue & Cream in Southampton, The Men’s Shop at Gosman’s Dock in Montauk, The Whalebone in Noyac, Gone Local in Amagansett, Impulse for Men in Westhampton Beach and A Mano in Bridgehampton. The couple is still looking for a venue to accept their wares in the Village of Sag Harbor and also considering how to represent the former whaling community on a tie.
Dr. and Ms. Brennan work together to conceptualize and produce their designs, but Hampton Handmade Ties is a more advanced operation than the company name might suggest.
“A lot of people think we’re here sewing,” Dr. Brennan said, explaining that the actual product is made outside the country.
Ms. Brennan comes up with the idea for most ties and Dr. Brennan designs the colors and layouts. After Ms. Brennan photographs an image or landmark, that picture is e-mailed to an artist who makes it tie friendly and, upon approval, the plan is sent electronically for printing in an overseas factory. The completed silk and lamb’s wool ties are eventually mailed to the Brennans as samples and they choose which ones will see a full run.
Neither of the Brennans plans to quit their day job, but both are enjoying their new business and the extra income it provides.
“This has proved to be a great diversion,” Dr. Brennan said, explaining that the business no longer takes a lot of time. Vineyard Vines and Hampton Handmade Ties started in much the same way, but today Vineyard Vines is a national clothing company, selling much more than ties online and in 600 stores across the country. The Brennans have no plans to grow to the relative stratospheric proportions of Vineyard Vines and instead choose to maintain their focus on ties and their chosen professions, though the company does have a website—www.HamptonHandmade.com.
The tiny business has been promoting its product, looking to the North Fork and other regional communities for venues and images as well as considering new colors and designs for currently represented towns and villages.
“The ideas are kind of endless,” Dr. Brennan said, but noted, “We want to pace ourselves.”