Around the time of the late '90s dot-com boom, ad agency owner and fishing hobbyist Ron Cesark bought the domain name MontaukTackle.com. It lay dormant for years, but after 9/11 happened and the Great Recession hit, he shut his agency's doors in 2007 and joined forces with his wife, who had more than 20 years in the garment industry, determined to create an American-made clothing line.
Today Montauk Tackle is a full line of lightweight, moisture-wicking, antimicrobial, SPF 50 sportswear, branded with a logo of two fishing hooks and the number 27 for Montauk Highway. Cesark, 55, grew his business by learning about fabrics, testing the market with small batches of items, then knocking on doors and heading to trade shows across the country. He now offers 600 individual items. Performance shirts made in Manhattan's garment district sell for $59 to $120, each one relying on some 25 different people to bring it to market -- from the embroiderer to the UPS delivery person. "If you can make it here, you should," he said.
How much extra does it cost to keep this work in the United States?
I think it's almost triple the amount . . . But we're able to make a smaller amount of product and test and see what works. I'm keeping it here because I really believe it's the right thing to do. And I think there are people who live and work here, who go out of their way to buy American, who also understand. But it also means quality control, because I can actually go and put my own eyes and hands on it anytime I want to. And that really is what makes us different. People are willing to pay for the quality.
How did you first market your line?
I started to advertise in all the major fishing magazines.
Who were your first models?
How did you find your niche?
When I fished down in Florida sometimes -- down there it's all about sun protection. Up in the Northeast everyone still kind of wears their cotton. But when you're down in the Keys and you're on the flats and it's like 95 degrees and that sun is baking on you all day long, you really start to pay attention to the types of shirts that you wear.
What's your vision for your brand?
I still envision having that high-end, best-of-the-best restaurant, cigar bar, excursions, trips and boats, with a destination flagship store in Montauk.
What's your advice on getting your product into stores?
Getting into the retailers is all about knocking on doors and also getting involved in other trade shows.
How did you first launch your label?
I first made T-shirts because I had to keep my trademark alive. And that's what kind of forced me to start the online business . . . then I started to really research the performance area by traveling to trade shows, like Outdoor Retailer, in Salt Lake City, which is probably the most important trade show for the outdoor business. So I was able to go out there and started learning about fabrics. And I found some jobbers [to buy leftover fabric from] . . . So I was able to buy 20 yards of something and start designing and playing and making stuff, and that's kind of how we developed into our style. And then we started looking at colors and different fabric knits, and then we started talking to different mills.
I would think it would be pretty hot to wear a long-sleeve shirt in the summer. How is your shirt different?
Fishing is kind of demanding -- you're moving and you're casting -- so the shirt kind of flows with you. And the knit itself has enough airiness to it that it allows the wind to kind of breeze through it so you can feel it.
What's the most frustrating thing about launching a label?
Trying to get a retailer to take on an unknown brand when everybody just really wants a me-too brand. It is so hard. You could call 100 times a day. But when you show up, 90 percent of the people will take the time and be very, very nice. Things happen when you show up. You have to show up.