Neckwear Notes: Catching up with MMG’s Dave Klaus

by Harry Sheff

I met with MMG’s VP of sales Dave Klaus this morning to talk about the neckwear business and see some new trends. MMG makes ties under Rooster, Daniel de Fasson, Steve Harvey, James Campbell and other brands, as well as doing a big private label business for department stores.

“Niche categories seem to be driving the business,” Klaus said. “The stuff in the middle (between $20 and $60 retail) gets passed by, while opening price and the high end are doing great. Maybe it’s because there’s so much duplication in the middle; you don’t know what brand a tie is until you turn it over and look at the label.”

In general, he adds, color has sold very well. He mentions greens, oranges, yellows and silvers.

We look at the Rooster brand’s holiday launch (seen in the photo above), which he calls “Repp and Satin.” Rooster has been an MMG brand for a few years now. Macy’s carries it in about 40 doors for $59.50 retail.

I wore a vintage Rooster tie I wore to my meeting with Klaus to show him. Mine is a cotton square-bottom in 1 and 7/8 inches wide. I’ve always thought that MMG (now owned by Great China Empire) should hire someone to do a small, made in America niche business under the Rooster label and raid the brand’s archives. If they emulated what Chris Olberding did with Gitman Vintage, the contemporary market in the U.S. and Japan would go nuts. With the success of seasonal ties and square-bottom cotton ties from brands like The Hill-Side and others, it could be an easy hit. But neither Klaus nor I think MMG is ever going to do it.

That said, MMG is one of the more innovative large neckwear manufacturers. They aren’t averse to non-silk constructions and casual neckwear. “We’re working on more and more natural fibers and blends,” Klaus told me. “We have a denim and chambray collection in the works, showing in two widths with some square bottoms. It started with our James Campbell line that had contrasting denim tails.”

I asked Klaus if he thought there was a place for neckwear outside of tailored clothing in the mass market. “Yeah, I think so,” he affirmed, pointing to MMG’s Think Khaki line. It’s usually done as a private label line, branded as seen in the photo above with the store’s name on the back. It’s a line that MMG created specifically for the guy who isn’t wearing a suit with his ties, and the “Think Khaki” makes it pretty clear how you’re supposed to wear it — even if there isn’t a salesman around to explain it. These ties retail for around $30.

Given the amount of duplication in the mid-market for neckwear, how does a company manage to stand out? In MMG’s case, they do a lot of experimenting and calculated risk-taking. “I think that’s what’s missing in the business,” Klaus said. “Taking that leap from ‘safe’ to fashion. A lot of brands try to do too many things at once: new patterns and new colors, for example.” As he says this, he shows me some of MMG’s Color Blocking trend pieces, both in bold colors and more sedate black and white tones.

Another trend story we look at is one they call Tribal. “It’s translating a women’s trend to menswear,” Klaus explains. “Every meeting we’ve had lately, at least one woman has been wearing some kind of tribal print, so they get it.” These ties are narrow, but not too skinny—about three inches.

I applaud these experiments, wherever they come from. It’s clear that in order to grow and sustain the neckwear business, retailers and vendors must move beyond simple shiny silk with stripes for suits. The fact that MMG (which does most of its business with mid- and mass-market retailers like Macy’s, Belk and JCPenney) is finding interest in casual neckwear is proof of that potential.

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