Everywhere I have turned recently, I have seen a different article on Criquet, a polo shirt company started by two boys from New York City who went to Ken’s alma mater, The Buckley School. As someone tied to both polo shirts (Ken’s preferred clothing choice) and Buckley (not only did Ken attend the school, I taught there for many years, and Cruzzie is now in Kindergarten there), I was instantly intrigued. And boy oh boy, are these shirts a winner! In addition to design, the shirts are distinguished by their hard collars with collar stays, four buttons, bright colors, and 100% cotton. Ken describes the shirts as “niiiiiice” and the “perfect shirt.”
Through Ken, I was able to interview the founders of Criquet, Billy and Hobson, so take a look below!
So many Buckley Boys end up (a) living in NYC and (b) working in finance [boring to both!]. How did you end up in Austin and how did you go about starting the company?
Billy: I moved to Austin in the Spring of 2007 after a couple of years in San Diego, and 5 years in SF. I had visited Austin a couple of times… it seemed to have everything that I was looking for… progressive vibe, good music, awesome people, and creative culture. It was a fast growing city that seemed to appreciate good design, and seemed like a great place to continue my architecture career.
The idea for Criquet really started to take shape in the 2008. Hob and I had been talking about doing something together, and we kept coming to the realization that there wasn’t a clothing brand that appealed to guys like us… classically styled but more progressive minded. Criquet allowed us to utilize our complimentary skill sets and backgrounds, mine in design and Hob’s in e-commerce.
At the time Hob was living with his wife in Berkeley. As the the idea for the brand became more clear and started to take shape, combined with their desire to move closer to the east coast before the birth of their first boy, they decided to make the move to Austin as well. We could not have picked a better home base for the brand. Austin encourages and supports the entrepreneurial spirit. It’s a small city, compared to NYC, but it has its own, unique global brand and lifestyle.
Billy: First and foremost, our product design is unique. I believe that Criquet is the only company that features removable collar stays in our polo/golf shirts, which help keep your collars crisp. Additionally, we make the majority of our shirts with 100% organic cotton, which is better for the environment, and produce as much of our product here in America as we can. What I believe truly separates our brand from our competitors, however, is a certain level of accessibility to the story behind the brand. There truly is a personal connection between Hob, myself, and the product we offer. We speak to our customers in a very authentic, honest voice which resonates in a more impactful way. While we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we take what we do very seriously.
What is your best seller? Your own personal favorite item?
Our best selling shirt is our Navy Players Shirt… we call it You’re My Boy Blue. My favorites change over time, but my current favorite Players Shirt is the White Wide Stripe. For button downs, I have been getting a lot of mileage out of our American Made Red Gingham… looks great with shorts or jeans and is a timeless staple for the wardrobe.
I know that you have a brick and mortar store in addition to your online website — which one do you feel is the most successful / does it attract the same customers / same inventory, same story?
Billy: We call the brick and mortar The Criquet Clubhouse. Its part showroom, part retail, part office, part event space. It’s been a great conduit for meeting our customers and for them to get a sneak peak behind the brand. Of course this includes our local Austin customers, but interestingly, we have a lot out-of-town visitors from all over the country who include The Clubhouse in their Austin travel itinerary. Great shirts and free beer are always a good draw!
We will probably always be an e-commerce driven business, however we have noticed that the in-person experience enhances the warm and fuzzy feelings that our customers have for Criquet… they feel like part of the family and this is a great thing.
You define your brand as: “Classic prep style with adventurous Northwest cool shines through in the design and clever details.” As a (proud) Oregonian, can you elaborate more on the adventurous aspect of the clothing?
Billy: I was so glad to hear you were an Oregonian! I went to the U of O, and could not have been happier to spend 6 years of my life in Eugene. While I was in Oregon, Hob was in Chapel Hill, NC, and one of the best things about the Criquet style is that it works well in both locations and all points in between. I think the adventurous aspect of the brand shines through in some of the detailing, such as The Bendle Sleeve, which is an added layer of fabric at the bottom of the shirt to help protect the shirt from bottle-opening tears, or the spirit behind the brand, which encourages travel and adventure all while wearing the perfect shirt. Whether its the ultimate soul golfing getaway, or just living life on global time, Criquet has your back.
How do you define your own personal style? Do you only wear Criquet Shirts products?
Billy: That is a good question… for me personally, I would say that it’s a blend of classic east coast prep, meets west coast casual, with a heavy sprinkling of laid-back Austin. Whether your style is a blend like mine, or less of a hybrid, our shirts will work for everyone. I wear Criquet 365 days a year. I have almost no need to wear a shirt or sweater other than our own, and with some exciting new products coming out in Fall ’15, we will have even more options to sport.
Do you have a team that designs the clothing or do you do the design as well?
Billy: For the first 3 years, I spearheaded the design and production process with a lot of help with Hobson. Being just the two of us, we were booth intimately involved in all aspects of the business. Over the last year and a half, as the company has grown, we have been lucky to add new teammates. Jennifer Wei joined us around a year ago, as our head of design and has done an incredible job of updating The Players Shirt, our most well-know shirt, as well as adding new products to the offering, such as our collection of sweaters and button-downs. Its still very much a team process, however. Everyone in the office has an opinion that matters and is considered and we believe that a collaborative process ultimately grows the best ideas.
What have been the most exciting and rewarding parts of your company so far? The difficulties? Where do you see the company in 5 years?
Billy: I think that anytime you can grow a business with one off your oldest friends, it’s pretty cool. Hob and I met when we were 5, so we are more like brothers than friends. We believe that the soul, authenticity and voice behind the brand comes from our friendship and shared experiences and we are really proud that this has resonated with our rapidly growing customer base. Aside from the obvious challenges of starting and growing a business, such as creating a brand and product that people like, we have had to adapt to our evolving roles within the business, which can be difficult but always exciting and rewarding. In 5 years, we believe that Criquet will be a nationally recognized brand that offers a full complement of clothing for the classically styled, forward thinking gentleman… a man who doesn’t chase trends, but sets them… The Criquet Man.
My husband is short and petit… do you have shirts that are slim-fit? What shirt do you recommend for him?
Billy: Ahh yes… Kenny. Even back in the Buckley days, he was a man of style. Our shirts are designed to be pretty true-to-fit, so for the guys who like a slimmer cut, they may feel a little loose. That being said, Kenny will be happy to hear that we are developing a slim-fit line of shirts, set for release in Spring ’16. These are designed with the same attention to detail and style as our Players Shirt, but will give those guys who appreciate a more modern cut, the Criquet shirt that they have been waiting for.
As former Buckley Boys, do you feel that your elementary school had a big impact on both of you and the company? If so, how? (did you like the school?)
Billy: Obviously, without Buckley, Criquet probably would not have been born… its where Hob and I met! My first memory of Hob was when he got a spontaneous nose bleed in the middle of reading Pinocchio… we were 5. It was Beginner’s class (kindergarten) and we wore polo shirts everyday that year. The following year, the uniform changed to jacket and tie, but Buckley was undoubtedly responsible for a lot of the style that developed over the years, and ultimately inspired the brand.
We both loved the Buckley experience and are lucky to have maintained many of our friendships from those days. In 2013 the school asked us to create a custom shirt for the centennial and we are proud to say that many Buckley Boys have become loyal customers and brand advocates. There would be no Criquet without Buckley.
Thank you, Billy and Hobson! We are now big fans of your company and can’t wait to see what is next!