Text: Ian David Monroe
You don’t get ranked on Forbes’s Most Successful Male Models list with a pretty face alone; it takes strong social networking and a business acumen, too. Just ask Garrett Neff—the male model, who you've probably seen in VMAN, is putting his skills to go the test with his new swimwear brand, KATAMA. It's a collection perfect for walking the streets of New York at sunrise, and diving into the bay of Martha's Vineyard at sunset. Or, you know, lounging around the pool at the top of SoHo's The James Hotel, which is exactly where KATAMA debuted at this year's inagural New York Fashion Week: Men's.
We caught up with Garrett to find out more about what it takes to start a brand, his love of the Northeast, and "keep[ing] it tight":
GN Some of my fondest memories are from childhood summers in the Northeast while wearing swim trunks and experiencing a life outdoors, around nature and in the water. I think after spending many years in New York City, and lots of time on airplanes and in transit, I've grown to appreciate my upbringing and those moments of summer that much more. The photos my mom took of our family when I was young on family vacations are so rich with life, inviting and inspiring, the interest in designing the line and starting the brand sort of burst out of me. I chose to start designing swimwear for the guys in these photos, the generations of men in my family who live this lifestyle that's a part of me, which I'm nostalgic for. I've worn a lot of body wear and swimwear over the past 10 years as a model. I'm designing to tell my story but also offering something fresh and new.
How did you settle on KATAMA as a name?
GN KATAMA, as a name, encompasses the full story for me. Because Katama Bay on Martha's Vineyard is where I learned to crab fish, dig for clams, canoe, and sail around in our old Sunfish. It's where our family would gather for months every summer, and where I'd see all the generations of men in my family and take in their sense of style. It’s where the photos were taken by my mother that I've been seeing my whole life. It's a Native American, Algonquin word which loosely translates to "a good place for fishing", which is amazing on its own but because mother's father, Jack, comes from a tribe out of the Northeast, we have Native American ancestry too. Jack was also a WWII vet, and the Katama Bay served as a military base during WWII. There are so many reasons for the name—it had to be KATAMA.
Where and how does the KATAMA man vacation?
GN The KATAMA man is a traveler; he knows the luxuries but appreciates the simple pleasures from the outdoors. However, he also knows the importance of the correct equipment and investing in the things that need to last. He's active and sporty but not flashy. There's a sense of humor, which you can see in some of the design elements like prints and embroideries but respect for history, which you can see in the original yet classic feel in the fit.
What was the catalyst for going from in front of the camera in the clothes to behind the scenes making them?
GN I've been part of other designers' stories for so many years as a model, I was ready to tell my own story and it happened very naturally. I think being a designer has always been in me, and because of my intimate knowledge in the industry I've gravitated to this place where I am now.
What are some things or words of advice that your friends in the industry have said that stuck with you?
GN Philip Lim said, "keep it tight, keep it right." He's very wise. I still don't know exactly what he meant by it but I have my theories and I implement them. I say it in my head a lot though, in sort of a Yoda-like voice. Milan Vukmirovic has taught me a lot too, just about designing what I want to wear. From observing and spending time with him over the years, learning from all his roles as editor, photographer, designer, and fashion mogul, I see how important it is to oversee every single part of every detail, and then to just do and experiment and take the time to make it right for your taste. Everything I've designed makes perfect sense to me and is a part of me. And just like Milan, I like to work with my friends, the people I trust to do their best.