More than a label
Graeme McDowell's hands-on approach to his apparel brand is inspired by his Irish roots
October 25, 2016
By Greg Monteforte, PGATOUR.COM
Thanks to modern takes on vintage looks, bold colors and prints, and impeccable tailoring, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell has been one of the best-dressed players on the PGA TOUR this century.
In 2010, he won his first TOUR event, the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. For that final round, he wore a light-gray sweater over a salmon polo. In the process, he not only became a major winner, he single-handedly brought the cardigan back to the game of golf – a move for which the golf fashion world will forever be grateful.
A year later, McDowell contemplated creating his own clothing line. He fell into discussions with Karl Swan of Kartel, a heavyweight brand in Ireland but not particularly well known in the United States. Eventually, they developed the G-Mac by Kartel line.
This year, the name was rebranded to G-Mac Apparel.
Along with the name change, the brand has further strengthened its commitment to the U.S. market by consolidating its business units to the United States. Not only does this position G-Mac Apparel to better serve customers with quicker delivery times, it also allows McDowell to be more hands-on with the product design, marketing, sales, and business development since he is based in the U.S., as well.
The just-released Fall 2016 G-Mac Apparel Collection was inspired by the journey McDowell’s ancestors made from Scotland to Northern Ireland centuries ago. Rich tones of medieval tapestries are combined with bright colors of battlefield garb and cool grays of metallic armor.
Next month, McDowell will defend his latest PGA TOUR title, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He recently sat down with PGATOUR.COM to discuss his hands-on approach with his apparel brand, his move to sportier looks, and the Open Championship’s return to Royal Portrush in 2019.
PGATOUR.COM: How would you describe your on-course style?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I’ve worn different brands over my 14 years on TOUR. Prior to starting the G-Mac line, I didn’t have a clothing deal, so I built my own course look over the years. I’ve had fun with it and always go back to a more classic style. I’ve always liked tailored trousers and retro shirts in fashionable colors and nice materials that look classy.
The same can be said for the ECCO World Class shoe that I wear. It’s all leather and has a traditional stacked heel. I’m very involved with the folks at ECCO, too. They’re always working on something new, and I’m excited for what’s to come this season.
PGATOUR.COM: In 2011, you started the G-Mac clothing line with Karl Swan of Kartel. What was the vision and inspiration behind the brand?
McDOWELL: From the beginning, we prioritized superior craftsmanship, luxury and performance fabrics, bold colors and prints and a modern vintage look. We were never about just chasing trends, but rather reinterpreting classic looks and making them relevant and taking modern looks and reinterpreting them in a classic way. We’ve also used my ancestry as a point of inspiration, which has given the line authenticity and depth as well as consistency between each season.
When it comes to the inspiration behind the seasonal collections, it goes back to how I approach packing for a four- or five-week trip. I want to be able to mix and match colors and pieces to keep my looks fresh, while also keeping the luggage to a minimum. If you look at our collections, you’ll see two or three different colorways with subtle details and hits of color that allow the pieces to be interchanged. This is a great benefit for our customers who are also on the road a lot and/or want to build a flexible wardrobe.
Having a quality collar has always been important to me and the line overall. I hate when a collar starts to roll after a few washes, so we actually started with a dress shirt collar and worked back from there and also referenced some of the old classical golf shirts. We ended up with that button-down collar, which has become one of our key design elements. As a result, our shirts stay sharp and crisp after several washes. The longevity and the function of the collar are obviously important to our consumer as well.
PGATOUR.COM: The brand has recently changed its name to G-Mac Apparel. How has the brand evolved over the last 5 years and how does this new name position it for success moving forward?
McDOWELL: The brand was previously known as G-Mac by Kartel, but we recently rebranded it to G-Mac Apparel. Kartel is a well-known brand in the UK and Ireland. Outside of the UK and Ireland, no one really understands what the brand is all about, though, so we've taken the “by Kartel” out of the branding.
We are working to better position ourselves in the U.S. market. It's our biggest market and it’s where I live and spend most of my time. We've added resources, consolidated our efforts, brought in more people, and really upped our game.
G-Mac Apparel is a new, reinvented, and much more prepared company and the new branding symbolizes my increased input into things.
PGATOUR.COM: You are fairly hands-on with all aspects of the brand these days. Talk a little bit about your role with G-Mac Apparel and how you are influencing the designs.
McDOWELL: We have designers here in the U.S. now, too. This allows me to be more hands-on than ever before. I can sit down with them more often and say “Hey, have you looked at this?” I can share ideas and inspirations with them by taking pictures of clothing that catch my eye while I’m shopping or traveling.
I like to tweak the apparel and work on small style and performance details. With the McTech Trouser, we added a little grip tape to the waistband to hold the shirt in place. We also reshaped the pockets and added grip tape in the back pockets for a yardage book. It's been a lot of fun tweaking and making the pieces better. Hopefully, the market will like what they see.
A year ago, Graeme McDowell won the OHL Classic in Mayakoba in a playoff for his first TOUR win in two years. Thanks to a rain delay, the tournament was played over a five-day span. Here's what he wore each day, from Thursday's first round (far left) to the Monday finish of the final round and playoff (far right).
PGATOUR.COM: The Fall 2016 Collection is starting to arrive in pro shops. You mentioned the McTech Trouser as being one of your favorites. What are a few of your other favorite pieces from the collection?
McDOWELL: The Colt and the McHatch are my favorite shirts. I’m definitely moving more towards performance pieces and the McHatch is one of our sportiest shirts. It has mesh color-blocked panel inserts and a nice breathable fabric.
The Colt is a solid colored shirt with a high-performance fabric and a tailored collar. Both shirts, along with our McTech trousers, are a bit different from what I’m used to wearing, and something I didn't see myself wearing a couple of years ago, but I’m enjoying the evolution.
I'm also a massive fan of knitwear, and I want our knitwear to be strong. But with the weather being better here than in the UK and Ireland, the U.S. market doesn't need a lot of knits, so we are evolving and including more athletic layering pieces, which I like.
I’m also big on having a lifestyle element to the brand. To reflect my off-course style, we have a couple of jackets in the line for fall and winter, and we are working on some casual v-neck T-shirts. We want to create a product that people will feel comfortable playing golf in, and even wear with a pair of jeans as well.
PGATOUR.COM: Many of the colors, prints, and fabrics in the Fall 2016 Collection were inspired by your ancestors’ journey from Scotland to Northern Ireland centuries ago. How important was it to you to incorporate this sense of history and family into your apparel?
McDOWELL: I enjoy the depth, honesty, and authenticity that we have. The genealogy aspect has really strengthened that. We pulled some fun elements and colors from my family crest into the line. We've used a lot of Irish themes and Irish stories, and that's going to continue.
I think the marketplace enjoys products with this depth and authenticity and that is something that we’ve worked on for the last year. I never wanted to toss my name on a label and hope for the best. I wanted the story to be real, and I wanted this range to be based on my style. I like to think that people can see and feel that. I have a motto with the team -- we don't produce any shirts that I wouldn't want to wear on the golf course. It’s as simple as that.
PGATOUR.COM: What's your vision for the G-Mac Apparel brand moving forward?
McDOWELL: From a success point of view, I think leveraging the brand in the U.S. market is important. We're going to continue to stay on the cutting edge of fashion. We have some really cool silhouettes and new looks coming through.
I'm really passionate about staying on the cutting edge in regards to our fit, too. We don't see ourselves as having the more generous U.S. fit, and we don't see ourselves as having a slim European cut, either. We find ourselves somewhere in the middle. We want to give a smaller guy more of a cut look with the small and medium sizes, but we also want to offer a roomier fit in the large and extra-large sizes.
The performance fabrics are something we're going to continue with in our trousers, shorts, and our more athletic shirts. We are starting to incorporate more breathability with mesh [panels] into some of our shirts, but at the same time, we are maintaining those vintage looks that I like. We're not super athletic, but we're also not super traditional, either. We want to be able to jump in and out of both of those windows and create a nice style for people that they haven't seen before.
These performance fabrics are also easier to care for. They are wrinkle-free and easy to wash and dry. As much as I like a nice pair of wool trousers, it is easier to pack technical trousers for a few weeks on the road, plus our customers don’t have to worry about having them dry cleaned.
PGATOUR.COM: In 2019, the Open Championship returns to Northern Ireland and Royal Portrush. What does it mean to you to have the opportunity to compete for the Claret Jug in your home country and on that course?
McDOWELL: Portrush is a special place and it's always going to be home for me, even though I reside in the States these days.
Looking at 2019, it means a lot from a political and financial point of views for the country. Between Ryder Cups and major championships, people are very passionate about the achievements of Irish golfers over the last 10 or 15 years. Padraig Harrington won his three major championships and then I helped to open the floodgates for the Northern Irish boys. It was only a matter of time until Rory [McIlroy] won several majors, and then we had Darren [Clarke] closing out an amazing career with his Open Championship.
It's been a very proud 10 years for Ireland and the icing on the cake is having the R&A recognize that Portrush is still more than capable to host another major championship. We took the Irish Open there a few years back and busted all the European attendance records. It was a massive success. I think the R&A stood up and realized that we had the infrastructure in place and that we could hold a very successful Open Championship there.
I'm really passionate about it, and I'm proud that I've had a little part in bringing it back. Of course, it goes without saying that I want to be playing there. I'd love to compete there, and it would be special to win an Open Championship in my hometown.