Katherine and Mac McMillan founded the men’s accessory brand Pierrepont Hicks — which we feature regularly, and proudly, on Gilt —in 2009, and by late 2010 the duo had earned enough clout in the menswear scene to launch Northern Grade, a Minneapolis pop-up market featuring a killer array of all-American brands like J.W. Hulme, Red Wing, Baldwin Denim, Cause and Effect leather goods, and Pierrepont Hicks (plus lots of well-dressed dudes with beards and tattoos). The show was a huge hit, and they’ve since taken it on the road, hitting several cities over the past couple years, with San Francisco happening this Saturday. We’re thrilled to be partnering with the McMillans on the event, and even more thrilled to be offering a curated selection of Northern Grade brands like Jack Robie, Field Notes, Sanborn Canoe, Locally Grown, and, of course, Pierrepont Hicks. Shop the sale at 12 p.m. ET, May 31, and read my Q&A with founders Katherine and Mac McMillan for a little background on the brand.
How would you describe Northern Grade to the uninitiated?
Katherine: It’s a gathering for our niche in the menswear world to get together and sell these products that are made in the U.S.A.
Mac: It started out with local brands in Minnesota and the upper Midwest, then we had friends from the West Coast and East Coast, and when they got word of it they were kinda like “Hey can I come?” The idea started kind of local, regional, and kind of turned into this national thing
Katherine: We’ve done L.A., Minneapolis, St. Paul, Chicago, and Nashville, and we’ll add San Francisco, Richmond, and maybe Detroit this year. So it’ll be eight or nine cities.
Is there this community of NG-Heads who follow you from town to town? I bet the parking lot scene is off the hook.
Katherine: Yeah, with balloons full of nitrous.
Mac: Grilled cheeses everywhere.
Katherine: Beach balls….
Mac: Seriously, there are people that travel to these events from far-away, it happened in Nashville this past weekend. There’s this great couple from Columbus, Ohio, that seems to travel to every one of our shows. And we have a lot of buyers now, too. It has almost turned into these quasi tradeshows.
Wow, that is so cool.
Katherine: Isn’t it so cool, Tyler? It’s so cool.
I can’t tell if you are making fun of me or yourself or both of us, so I’m going to go ahead and choose to be deeply offended by that.
Mac: Seriously, there’s also this whole camaraderie thing going on between brands because we’ve all kind of experienced the same kind of issues and challenges.
Katherine: There’s bromances blooming all over the place at Northern Grade.
You guys have your ear to the ground in this particular sphere of the menswear world. What are some trends you see emerging?
Katherine: I actually think that preppy is coming back in a totally different way — but not the classic preppy. It’s guys wearing really bright colors. There’s also a surfwear generation coming out, again with bright colors.
Mac: When we first started, everyone kept mentioning the hairdos and the urban lumberjacks, and that’s not what NG is about now… It’s evolving and it will continue to evolve.
One consistent fact is that everything for sale is made in America.
And you’ve got your own line, Pierrepont Hicks. Tell me a little about how PH started out.
Katherine: We designed a few ties after a wonderful trip to Scotland where we saw people wearing very beautiful wool ties, which at the time were very difficult to find here in the States. Now we’ve evolved into an accessories brand for an outdoor lifestyle.
We’re excited to be hosting a Northern Grade sale on Gilt the day before the San Francisco event. Give our readers the lowdown on some of the brands we’ll be featuring.
Mac: It’s a diverse collection of smaller brands that the vast majority of your readers don’t know about.
Katherine: Locally Grown is a wonderful brand. Their T-shirts are so soft, I have like 10 of them.
Mac: Sanborn Canoe is my favorite thing ever. They hand paint paddles, and they’re two guys whose grandfather grew up canoeing the boundary waters of Minnesota, and I consider them true artists. You’ve got Alial Fital making unique polo shirts, you’ve got Jack Robie, who makes great casual button downs, Todd Shelton, who’s a really talented designer based out of NJ. You’ve got Leatherworks, which is a classic mom and pop operation out of Minnesota.
And what should people heading to Northern Grade San Fran expect?
Mac: It’s an opportunity to meet the people behind the brands. It’s a festive time, there’s going to be music, there are going to be drinks — it is really a festive, no-pressure type of event that really doesn’t exist anywhere else.
And if you’re in the Bay Area be sure to stop by the pop-up, which happens June 1 from 11am – 7 pm at 111 Minna Gallery; more info at www.northerngrade.com.