Live from NEMOA: Vineyard Vines Founders Living the Good Life

Boston—What began as a necktie business—sold out of backpacks to people in bars, on boats, and on the beach—has turned into Vineyard Vines, a “good life” apparel brand that reached $60 million in sales in less than 10 years.

Brothers Shep and Ian Murray, who launched Vineyard Vines in 1998 with little or no business acumen, told their story to attendees Thursday morning at the NEMOA conference.

Before starting the company, “we used to talk a lot about how much we hated our jobs,” Shep Murray said. “Then we said, ‘why don’t we make ties?’ The whole idea was to bring the good life to work with you.”

To the Murray brothers, who grew up in Greenwich, CT, and summered on Martha’s Vineyard, the good life is the ocean, boats, whales, and fishing. These images became the focal points of their ties.

So each brother quit his respective job in New York (within 15 minutes of the other), and they started looking for manufacturers. “We didn’t know anything, but we had a passion,” Ian Murray said.

“We realized that the tie does make a big difference and refreshes your look,” he added. “We wanted to breathe new life into the tie business.”

Vineyard Vines, best known for nautical, preppy apparel and men’s ties, today includes stores, a Website and a catalog. The company does an excellent job of creating an integrated and interesting brand experience across all its channels.
For instance, the catalogs incorporate photographs of real-life sailors and friends wearing Vineyard Vines products, as well as their stories about sailing adventures “With the catalog, we decided to shoot our friends and not try to pass them off as models,” Ian Murray explained.

Brand authenticity has been a buzz-phrase at NEMOA this week and Ian Murray said Vineyard Vines is a perfect example. “We wear the products we make and it shows the authenticity of the brand.”

What’s more, he noted, “we’re becoming a real business, and we’re building a team who will handle the operations end while we focus on the creative side and the morale of the company. It’s all about this lifestyle.”

Added Shep Murray: “We don’t try to be perfect, and I think that’s what makes us different.”

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