A massive leather sofa practically swallows Mark Bollman when he finally collapses after a endless day of preparing his store, Ball and Buck, to open. He’s been furiously hammering and hauling goods to finish the Newbury Street shop for a party the following evening, and he seems grateful to stop and talk for a few minutes.
“This is my paradise,” he says of the worn sofa. He rubs a bruised shin that was banged up by a 1920s barbershop chair he was struggling to bring into the store. The chair won the battle.
The Babson College grad last week opened the second Ball and Buck (yes, he finally finished those marathon work days), a 2,000-square-foot space that resembles a well-curated hunting lodge. The store is masculine and filled with vintage artifacts, old glass shop cases, bric-a-brac, a 1975 Indian motorcycle in the window, and a bit of taxidermy. The American-made clothes are more modern than their surroundings but offer a hearty nod back to this heritage.
The 144B Newbury St. Ball and Buck easily dwarfs the 350-square-foot North End store that Bollman opened in 2010.
It’s not only the new location that marks a big step forward for the 24-year-old Bollman. He’s ambitiously planning to grow Ball and Buck into a full line of clothing. What began as a store selling Ball and Buck T-shirts along with heritage, American-made brands from other companies will soon be a brand with a full line of original button-down shirts, jeans, sweaters, chinos, jackets, plus collaborative items with other brands, such as Red Wing shoes.
“Right now the mix of product is 20 percent Ball and Buck, 80 percent other brands,” Bollman says with a slight accent that reveals his Georgia roots. “By the end of the year, it will be 20 percent other brands, 80 percent Ball and Buck, and Ball and Buck collaborations.”
He’s even collaborating with audio companies to create a special turntable and speakers. All the music in the store will come courtesy of vinyl records.
When Bollman opened the North End store in 2010, he assumed that the space would primarily serve as offices for the online business, with a small selling floor. What he quickly found was an audience that wanted to shop in a brick and mortar store for clothes he calls “the rugged side of preppy.”
The store, which also sells brands such as Alden, Danner, and Tellason, began when Bollman participated in a summer venture program while he was still a student in 2009. The first product he created was a tee with a contrasting pocket. Shortly after, the store went online.
“A lot of people were choosing tech and chasing the Internet,” he says of the summer program. “But I think there’s something cool about being able to hold something in your hand that you made. For me, that’s one of the major parts of why I did this.”
Bollman has no experience as a fashion designer, but he sketches the clothes, which then go to a pattern maker, and then to a manufacturer in Tennessee, Vermont, Massachusetts, or one of the many companies he contracts with. He draws inspiration from hunting trips with his grandfather — which influenced the details of the Oxford shirts that Ball and Buck recently introduced — as well as from his time in Massachusetts.
He established the brand rapidly, and quickly signed establish brands to collaborate on products. His vision for the shop is a place where men can find items that are available nowhere else. Ties are created specifically for the store by Otis James, and belts made in Boston are bucked with horse hoof picks that were once used to remove stones from horseshoes.
“It’s ultra-limited, and we like that,” he says.
In a nod to his outdoorsy personality, he also sells camping gear and even snowshoes. As soon as he can obtain the proper permits he plans to open a barbershop in the back of the store complete with sinks from the 1920s and a vintage barber’s chair that was salvaged from a shop that was going out of business.
The barbershop will offer old-fashion shaves, trims, and hot towel facials administered by a master barber. The goal is to create an atmosphere where men will come to shop and then perhaps stick around and linger on that mammoth leather couch parked in the back of the store.
Bollman is aware that most of his clientele will not be pheasant hunting or skeet shooting while wearing his clothes, but he is still determined to make items that can hold up to the great outdoors.
“You don’t have to wear it in the field, but at least you know it works there if you do,” he says. “I think the philosophy of outdoors and fashion is a really cool crossroad to build on.”Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.