MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As undergrads at the University of Minnesota, Brad Wellman and Matt Brunnette were the go-to style guys for their friends.

Connected by a shared sense of style, each also has a family connection to handmade goods. Matt’s mom is a quilter, and Brad’s dad is a woodworker.

And whether it’s in their genes, or was learned by osmosis, the talents were passed on.

“It’s learning from an early age how to work with your hands, and like create something from scratch, and visualize something,” Brad said.

After college, Matt and Brad both got jobs well outside of the fashion industry, but continued to talk about how they could turn their interest in style into something more.

Talk turned into plans and, on a whim, those plans turned into action.

“That first night, bought a ton of fabric in New York, registered the company and just decided to kind of kick-start it right then. It was very spur-of-the-moment,” Matt said.

And that’s the advice the guys have for others starting their own business — just do something.

“Kind of follow on to that is telling people about it. So you hold yourself accountable to it, and you’ve got people around you that then are like, ‘Hey, what about Mill City Fineries? I know you said you started it a month ago, where’s a product? Where’s your stuff?'” Matt said.

And that’s the story of how a business starts, at least in this case.

Mill City Fineries now sells neckties, pocket squares and bowties, which they hand-sew in as little as 35 minutes.

Finding the raw materials, though, is a process that never stops.

“We travel a lot. We try to make a point to get out of the country, to get out of the state and look for interesting fabrics,” Matt said.

They’ve gone to London, Vienna, Amsterdam and Shanghai. Every mile the guys travel brings them a few more yards of material.

They’ve even created special pieces from heirloom fabrics for clients.

“[We’ve] made a couple bow ties out of a shirt,” Brad said. “We’ve taken people’s neckties and modified them a bit.”

And their ties and pocket squares aren’t just selling here in Minnesota. They need a passport.

“This is one of the weddings we’re doing. They’re in Norway, actually, so they sent us this fabric from Norway as well,” Matt said.

Business without borders in the Internet era isn’t unique, with social media and their website extending their reach internationally.

But Brad and Matt say that face-to-face sales — at pop-up events like “Northern Grade” and the Norsemen Distillery — are just as important.

“Finding your personality, and expressing it through style and … just being confident and just kind of owning, you know, who you are,” Brad said.

They’ll open a showroom in their workspace sometime this summer, sharing their Near-North Minneapolis warehouse with Marked Leather, William Rogue & Company and Great Lakes Collection.

Mike Augustyniak

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