I first met male supermodel Garrett Neff about nine years ago when I was the fashion director of Details Magazine, I had shot with many models before, but watching Garrett work was an enlightening experience. He was calm and mellow off the set, but once he walks in front of the camera you understand why Neff is one of the most sought after models working today; he can’t take a bad shot. Recently, Neff has branched out from the modeling business and launched a new swimwear line Katama, which he showed during New York Fashion Week Men’s. I spoke to Neff about his new project.
Q: Explain where the name of the brand came from?
A: Katama is the area of Martha’s Vineyard that surrounds Katama Bay. This is where I spent a lot of family summers growing up, where I learned how to sail, fish, go crabbing and dig for clams, and where I acquired a love for the outdoors. The word “Katama” itself comes from the Native American language and means “a good place for fishing.”
Q: What was the reason for starting a swim line?
A: After working in fashion for so many years as a model, I have worn absolutely everything. I spent a lot of time shooting swimwear and body wear, so I was very familiar with the swim market.
Q: What makes Katama different from other swim brands?
A: Our styles are inspired by the outdoors men of my youth. I would look at photos of my father, uncles, grandfather—fishermen, tennis enthusiasts, Navy seals—and see them in these amazing pieces of swimwear/active wear that just didn’t exist anymore. So I channeled that envy and filled that style gap to create trim and technical trunks with a retro touch.
A: Currently, Katama is being sold at Jeffrey New York, Montauk Beach House at Poolside Collective and on our own site, KATAMASwim.com. And stay tuned, there are lots of interesting wholesale accounts are knocking at the door.
Q: What are the brands and who are the people who inspired you to get into the business?
A: Ralph Lauren, Philip Lim, Milan Vukmirovic.
Q: Are there plans to expand Katama into other classifications?
A: The focus now is on men’s swimwear—we’re a young brand and intimate operation—but I know plenty of women who can’t get enough of our shorter styles, the Braden in particular.
Q: Have you ever experienced a bias with people not taking you seriously because you were a model?
A: Not firsthand. But I also never took myself too seriously to take offense. As I said before, I’ve spent an immeasurable amount of time shooting swimwear. So I have a very strong understanding of the market and the styles and the fabrics, what works and what doesn’t. I’m well acquainted with the behind-the-scenes of this business and I’m so deeply involved in the entire process—budgeting, designing, production – so that it would be hard to deny the seriousness of my passion. Modeling is a unique experience which people very rarely get to experience and it has certainly influenced the way I approach this business. But I also have this life outside of modeling, I have my university degree and I have this skill set and experience that I’m qualified to channel into Katama.