Emmie Howard loves a well-dressed man.
There’s just something special about a man in a bow tie and a seersucker suit, she said.
Howard has taken her love of the preppy aesthetic and made a living creating patterned ties and collegiate–style clothing to outfit Southern gentlemen through her company, Southern Proper.
“Women, especially in the South, influence what a guy wears,” Howard said. “We wanted to influence what a guy looked like and make sure we’re with a guy who looks his best.”
Howard, the “chief executive belle” at Chamblee-based Southern Proper, launched the company in 2006. She felt there was a need for a preppy brand that catered to Southern men.
Howard said she liked the bright colors and preppy patterns of Vineyard Vines, but felt guys going to SEC football games just couldn’t relate to the brand’s New England vibe.
“We didn’t summer in Nantucket,” she said. “We knew there was a niche in the market for something Southern-inspired.”
Howard said the company started with printed ties and bow ties featuring pastel colors with prints like hunting dogs, lanterns and state flags. Each year, the company has added new articles of clothing into their repertoire.
A tie with a cotton boll motif is Southern Proper’s No. 1 seller, she said.
Cotton is particularly meaningful for Howard, who grew up on a cotton farm in rural Tennessee. “It’s been my family’s livelihood,” Howard said.
After graduating from Brenau University in 2001, Howard went to work for Newell Rubbermaid. She used her experience in product development from the corporate world to start her own company. She now lives in Brookhaven with her husband, who wears a Southern Proper tie to work every day, she said.
Howard said her family couldn’t understand why she would leave a good job for the uncertainty of starting a business. But she hasn’t looked back since.
“It’s been very fulfilling in so many ways,” Howard said. “This has been a great way for me to express truly what I’m interested and passionate about – fun, preppy clothes.”
Southern Proper is sold online and in about 300 men’s specialty stores throughout the Southeast.
Madeline Brumby, store manager for Southern Traditions in Buckhead, said the Southern Proper bow ties are among the store’s top-selling items. Brumby attributes much of the recent popularity of bow ties to Southern Proper. “Any kind of college thing – formals, semi formals – they’re all looking for bow ties and cumberbund sets,” Brumby said. “[Southern Proper] really set the stage for that trend.”