This trip around maker-land, we’re visiting with Otis James, a leader in the burgeoning Nashville indie apparel scene. Otis James Nashville makes handmade neckties and is growing its handmade cap business, as well. As we learned, Otis is at the forefront of a groundswell of cap wearing, as men bag the baseball hat and move to the more stylish cap. Otis started his brand in 2010, after an apprenticeship with a tailor in 2009. Nowadays, customers all over the world flock to get his ties, caps and scarves. Thanks, Otis for sharing, and we hope you enjoy his fascinating story.
Tell us the story of how you got started.
I moved to Nashville on a whim in winter 2009. I had just finished a 4,000 mile bike trip, and I made up my mind to learn how to make clothing. I’m partially self-taught, but I did apprentice with a tailor, and I spent a while working in a tuxedo shop. At the shop, a co-worker asked me to make some custom ties, and then I got a wedding gig, making ties for groomsmen. That wedding got written up in a bridal magazine.
In 2010, I formed a business and started making my own ties to sell. [Nashville retailer] Imogene and Willie agreed to carry my products, and I was off to the races.
What is your role?
I am the Everyman. Primarily, I run business and design, plus I make all hats – every single one.
What was your first job?
Ever? I was a bag boy at a grocery store in Knoxville.
What are 3 words to describe your brand?
Made with care.
What do you do when you are not working?
I don’t know what that means usually, but lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with my new dog, hiking and walking in green spaces. I love trees and natural water.
When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
What was your big break?
My big break was winning the design category in the 2011 Garden and Gun Made in South awards. After that, I got picked up in GQ and Southern Living. I also got an international break when I got some coverage in London-based Monocle Magazine.
What is your best selling product?
Neckties sell the best. I do such small runs its hard to say which specific one. Usually my ties run for a few months at most.
What is your favorite product? Why?
My success with ties is allowing me to jump deeper into hats. I love caps and have worn one since I was 13. There’s a big cap trend ongoing. Many men are opting for a traditional cap over the same old baseball hat. I like that, and it fits my style.
Stretch your left arm out as far as you can. What are you touching?
At any given time, I’m touching an iron, a sewing machine or a computer screen.
Other than your own, what are your favorite brands in your sector?
Emil Erwin – Emil’s a friend and also won a Garden & Gun Made in the South award. He does mainly leather bags, and is a real stickler for quality. We used to share a space and got out of our back yards together. He’s an inspiration. We have similar ideals.
If you could try any job for a day what would you try?
A travel photographer. I’d love to be a National Geographic guy or working with David Attenborough.
What have been the hardest parts of getting to where you are now?
A lot of hard parts! Personally, organization, because I suck at it. Being at the helm and being your own boss. It can be tough to evaluate your own drive and dedication everyday. Some days are super easy, and others… its like ‘fuck it all.’ But what I do is rewarding and that keeps me motivated.
If someone were to make a movie of your life, who would you hope would play you?