It was almost two years ago when I discovered a new brand of men’s neck ties. I had just moved to Charleston and was attending a pop-up shop for my now-friend, Erik from J. Stark. I literally only knew a few people at this point, and didn’t know what to expect from the event. To my surprise, I walked up the stairs to the second story of a packed hair salon on King Street and was blown away by the amount of people, but more importantly, the product! Erik showcased some incredible leather goods and I was (and still am) very impressed, but in addition, Jess Nicoles, Founder and Designer of Spit Shine Man Goods, had some amazing neck ties on display. I don’t recall if Jess and I exchanged a conversation that night, but one thing was for sure, Spit Shine was locked in my head. The brand, the product, the colors, the whole thing. Fast forward several months later, I ran into Jess at a local coffee shop where we did exchange a conversation; a very pleasant one. Over the last year or so, I’ve come to cherish and admire Jess as a wonderful friend and craftsman. I’m very grateful and excited to be able to share with you her story and her work.
In today’s world, there are a ton of startups, new companies, new products, new stories, etc., but when you can find an unbelievable product that’s equal to the maker’s heart, you’ve got something special.
Ladies and Gentleman, get to know Jess Nicoles from Spit Shine!
Kirk: Jess, thanks for taking time to chat about Spit Shine! We're very excited to learn more about what you do, but first, tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up!
Jess: Ooh, thanks! So, about where I grew up. It's a relatively small town in southeastern Washington called Walla Walla. I was born to a young single mother who, gratefully, still lived with her parents. At the time I came along, my mom and grandma were both working in the daytime, but my grandpa ran his wedding and portrait photography business from our home, so I spent all of my formative years being ridden around town on the back of his bicycle, following him on high school senior portrait shoots, and whiling away afternoon hours in a coffee group full of Air Force veterans and other photographers. He's actually the reason Spit Shine is called what it is. The man is literally my touchstone for a properly dressed male. He'd come downstairs before a big night out, smelling thickly of cologne. Snakeskin boots, suede blazer, maybe even a bolo tie. He'd scoop me up and threaten to polish my shoes and the dirt on my cheeks with a good spit-shining. We all remember the saliva-covered thumb of doom with which our elders would threaten to clean us if we didn't take care of the mess on our own, right? And that's how the name came about – associating a fancy occasion (and looking good for it) with a good spit-shining.
Kirk: You made a big move down to Charleston, tell us about that and what you love about both the Northwest and the Southeast cultures.
Jess: I have to say, I eagerly toe the line of true Northwestern girl living happily in a decidedly un-Northwestern part of the world. And I think that shows in my work. I love the textures and smells of the Northwest. The crisp air, the scent of campfire everywhere you go; The fact that every guy out there seems to have the faintest hint of pine smell to him; The dark denim, the vintage flannel, the satisfyingly musty-smelling wool. But those things all hearken to the cold of the geography. Whereas here, it's an almost-endless summer (she says, as her faucets currently drip for fear of bursting pipes). I don't know if I'll ever be able to leave this coastal town, with its beach access and its amazing culinary scene. But even more, there's the simple, but earth-shattering fact that local restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and makers really and truly build each other up here. The place is brimming with other people just trying to make it, but taking a moment to high five you on your similar journey. So I keep the aesthetic of my origin point showing through in my work, but I hunker down in this place (Charleston) and happily call it home.
Kirk: Obviously you have a great skill. Where did you learn to sew and craft?
Jess: My grandma taught me to sew. She attempted the very same thing with her two daughters, but it never took. For me, on the other hand, it took little more that the sound of that needle *thunking* into some outlandish piece of fabric I'd chosen to be totally hooked on the hobby. Some days I’d even feign illness so I could stay home and sew. She taught me to knit, embroider, cross-stitch, and machine sew. The others I can still muster after some rusty practice, but once needle-and-thread sewing got into my blood, it never left.
Kirk: What attracted you or interested you into making ties, specifically for men?
Jess: The first time I ever considered making a tie, I was browsing the student art shop at SCAD and found a rack full of handmade neckties. There was one wood grain tie that I absolutely adored and considered buying for my then-boyfriend. But I hesitated, and it got scooped up by a far shrewder shopper. So I said to myself, "I'll just make one on my own." And I did. And it was terrible. But nothing spurs me on better than failure, so I kept at it. I'd dissect ties bought cheaply from some discount store or other, make patterns, examine folds, and try desperately to recreate those sharp lines and crisp angles. I became obsessed with the geometry of the thing. Eventually, the techniques came together and my ties started looking less like shaggy, wooly messes, and more like something a sharply-dressed man would want to put on. And in the end, it makes sense. I'm so in love with the look of a properly dressed fella, that even my own style skews naturally more tomboyish.
Kirk: I'm a big fan of your collection of men’s neckties and bowties...What do you think makes them unique or what aspect of them do you want to stand out?
Jess: Oh thanks! There's a lot of outside influence making my ties what they are. As mentioned before, my Northwestern proclivity for more rugged textiles--flannels, rich wools, tweeds, even denim--plays a huge role in differentiating my work. I also think that looking at something in a "what would get my blood pumping" sense has its own unique influence. In my head I make a thing and I envision it as part of a finished product--the shirt, the pants, the shoes, the jacket. And I have the luxury of getting to think not about how good I would look in the thing I've created, but instead how good a certain handsome man might look. As a woman who is constantly taken by, and grateful for a city full of well-dressed men, it's really quite something to be making pieces that augment that lifestyle.
What makes them stand out, I think, are the colors chosen, the textures of the fabrics, and the smaller details. For example, all of my bow ties are button adjustable. Instead of hook and eye closures or bar slides, I hand-sew three buttons onto every single bow tie. It gives them this sense of charm, and imbues them with just a little more personality and character. It gives me such a rush of pleasure and gratitude when someone picks something of mine up and loves in not just for how it looks, but also how it feels, and the story it tells.
Kirk: What is one thing you love about men's style trends right now?
Jess: To be honest, a slew of things ran through my head: clothes that fit, cuffed pant legs, "lumbersexual," facial hair, mixing patterns...
But if I had to pick one thing and have that one thing be the thing I love most about men's style trends right now, I'd say it’s one good pair of (American made) jeans. I love the obsession with finding that one good pair of jeans, and then wearing them until it looks like you paid extra to have them look so perfectly worn. And never, never washing them. That's devotion to craft, right there.
Kirk: Since you are a Charlestonian now, tell us about what local spots you like to frequent.
Jess: You will, without fail, see me at Bin 152 at least twice a week. I survive on musty-smelling wines and cavey cheeses. I'm also 100% in love with Saint Alban. It has made a day-Sherry-drinker of me (and an eater of salads) and I'll never look back. And I could eat Pad Kra Pow at Xiao Bao Biscuit seven days a week. Well, six. Since they're closed Sundays.
On the retail side of things, I could spend days and pay checks at Arsenal Designed and Curiosity for all things lovely and old and house-bettering. JP at Sneaker on King Street literally never forgets my shoe size and always has something I want (not to mention he supports local makers).
Kirk: I’ve loved every second of this interview! We’ll end it with the most important question of all…What's on the horizon for Spit Shine Man Goods? Can we expect new product down the road?
Jess: Yes! Always expect new products. For now, I definitely plan on bulking up my neckwear selection – bandanas, scarves, etc. And I plan to just sharpen up the current line with richer textiles. But thanks to my obsession with denim, I have a fire burning in me to start work on crafting the perfect denim shirt. Male and female. And maybe one day, WAY down the road, I'll set my sights on jeans. But for now, I'll keep it all above the belt.