Take one look at Schuyler Brown and you almost immediately sense the heart of this casual sophisticate, charming rebel and business maverick. After all, he’s literally wearing it on his sleeve, as are a lot of Palm Springs men and women.

As the creator of Seaplane shirts, Brown has stitched together a brand that celebrates the bold colors, accessible fit and lightweight fabrics that appeal to customers who want a resort aesthetic for daily life. When he brought his collection to Greater Palm Springs Pride four years ago from his native Chapel Hill, N.C., the response reaffirmed he was on the right career path. And his participation last year in Palm Springs Modernism Week confirmed that Seaplane had indeed arrived.

“It was exhilarating,” says Brown, 45. “I’ve never sold more shirts faster than Modernism. Maybe I’ll be back in February.”

During a November visit to the desert city for this year’s Pride, Brown took a break from the Seaplane vendor’s booth to talk about travel, finding his niche as primarily an online business, and the next product line. Here’s an edited excerpt of the interview.

What was the first garment you designed and made?

In 2002, I was doing some experimenting with reworked vintage pieces. I was living in San Francisco. At the time vintage hadn’t really been picked over, still a lot of stuff to be had. I’ve been collecting clothes my whole life because I really like color and pattern and fit, and stuff like that, and expressing fun and joy through clothing. We started taking these vintage pieces and cutting them up, me and my friend Chrissy, in the basement of a house we had in Bernal Heights. I had a bunch of trims, took fur, cut apart old coats, did lots of fun stuff with glitzy materials and contrast, making dresses out of shirts and skirts, and funk-ing them up. That was fun. It allowed us a lot of creative expression for very few dollars, which is what you’ve got to do when you start to design anything.

Did you have any design or apparel industry experience before launching Seaplane?

No, never. I studied French and political science and creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Then I had a job a year abroad in France, convinced a director at Renault to hire me because my other passion is cars. Off I went to Paris after college, lived there for six years until I went to graduate school at Berkeley.

I never had any official training in design at all, neither graphic design or cars. It was more product concept and brand that I did, which is why I did Seaplane. I wanted to create this brand that would be about joy and fun, an outgoing personality that seeks to meet folks and connect with folks over all ranges of topics. We find that if you share an aesthetic appreciation with somebody, you’re likely going to have a whole lot of things you’ll share, points in common.

Tell me about the origin of the name Seaplane.

I love travel. If you’ve not had a chance to do it, you should go exploring islands in a floatplane because you can go places that nobody can go to and land if the water is calm, and pull right up on the beach. You can do this in all kinds of beautiful places, and I want to make clothing that is great for travel, and also great for bringing the joy of travel into your life every day. You can layer my stuff and really get a lot of the color and sun and happiness and good memories of travel in the dead of winter at the office. That’s why people like them, because they’re expressive and fun and engaging.

Why did you decide to produce only shirts in the beginning?

If you want to do something well you really have to just make one thing better than anyone else. That’s what your customer expects of you. She doesn’t want you to do everything. She wants you to do one thing really well, and in my old business, I morphed to production. My shirts were the best thing that I did. A shirt is a forgiving piece that will fit a lot of different people.

I developed sizing on the road by looking at all of these clients, so now I have seven sizes. People are amazed. They come in saying, “Your shirt will never fit me.” And then bang it’s right on them, because of the experience we had building the brand on the road.

Are you doing a lot of stuff for women?

I didn’t initially. I started the company as a men’s line. I know much more about what men like than what ladies like. I sell a huge number of my men’s button-down shirts to women. There was a call for a beach piece, a beautiful piece that you can lay over a bathing suit or slim trousers, and it looks terrific. So I did the tunic. It’s funny because the yogi guys buy the tunic.

So it’s unisex?

Everything I do is unisex. The whole concept, the fun of what I’m doing is taking prints that might have been too daring on guys a couple of years go — now they’re mainstream or getting there. Maybe we’re in the vanguard a little bit.

Are there plans to offer other items?

Yeah, we’re going to change a vowel. Right next to Seaplane shirts, we’re going to have Seaplane shorts.

What’s the timeline for the shorts?

We had a fitting session this morning with my friend Meredith’s patternmaker who is amazing. I say that shirts are forgiving, bottoms are not. So we’re going to have the best quality patternmaking that I have ever experienced on this new piece. I’m really excited about it.

Are they also going to be very vibrant prints?

I’m going to do vibrant prints. I’m going to do solids that work with my vibrant prints. I always do prints with prints, that works, too, for me. We’ve got to figure out how to source it correctly, so that’s really where we’re at. I want to use this real beautiful soft nylon, super easy that dries like in a flash. The idea of these shorts is pool-to-dinner.

How important is it to set fashion trends as well as closely follow existing trends?

I don’t know anything about trends. I don’t read fashion magazines. I don’t have any input from what’s going on. I really don’t watch TV or anything like that. I do the prints that appeal to me. This is a business, I think, about taste, you know? It’s weird, it’s maybe too forward in certain cases. I like to mix; one element of an outfit can be very outrageous, with some of your more classical pieces behind it, and the whole thing can look super modern and fresh.

Describe the Seaplane customer.

I thought that most of the stuff I’m doing requires a certain cojones level. People tend to be more mature; they’ve founded a business, they’re confident. They’re professionals, all with keen interest and an eye for design. You don’t like my shirt if you’re just looking for something plain, that’s not what I’ve got. I’ve got some plain-scape colors with pearl essence (laughs).

The customer tends to be 30 plus and a lot skew older, and bigger guys. I do a lot of business in my bigger sizes. I’m doing something for real people.

What was kind of cool, last year we went to the Bonnaroo rock festival in Tennessee. That was kind of fun. We rolled an RV in there and a bunch of guys helped me, a Marine and submariner. We really ripped it, it was so much fun. What I discovered is there’s actually kids 18 to 22 or younger who are like, “These shirts are dope.” And I was like, “What?” And they were 18. That’s pretty cool. I guess that does make me feel like I am on trend or leading the trend. Terrific. If the young kids love you, that’s really exciting.

What’s on your travel bucket list?

I’m excited to go spend some time in India, not least because I’m in the cotton business. I think it would be really really fun.

What was the last gift you gave someone?

I try not give anybody anything (laughs). No, let me think, the things I give people, I love to collect fun little artist/tchotchke kind of things. I also am really into dish wear. In North Carolina, we’ve got really great pottery and stuff. I gave my mom a beautiful service piece last week. I like pretty things.

What were you like in high school?

Well first I was a terrible geek. I had no idea what I wanted to do in my life. It took me a long time to figure out what my artistic capabilities were. And I was kind of fat and out of shape. My parents were divorcing, and it was a mess. It was such a mess. Of course I didn’t realize the degree to which my environment was hard on me and my sister.

Then I went out; my parents sent me on a bike trip to France. Me and like 12 people, Americans and Canadians, rode all over the place, from Luxemburg to Paris to Nice and back to Paris. And it was amazing. I discovered how good it is to feel good and use your muscles and eat whatever the hell you want.

How old were you?

Fifteen. Then I came back and I did all of these musicals. I played some good parts in these musicals. I used to like to sing. Then I ended up being the editor of the paper at the end of high school. It was definitely a transformation, but boy did I still have a big long road ahead of me.

Which color is represented in your designs more than any other?

Pink. It’s definitely a line for people of all creeds and colors. And I love to see how we can really work with people’s palettes. Pink is very present. Pink is a color of joy, it’s a color of difference, it’s a color of protest in many ways, and it makes people happy. My greatest joy is getting people to reach outside their normal confidence level, where you’ve got this straight guy who’s worn a black shirt his whole life, who all of the sudden realizes how beautiful he is in pink. That’s exciting.


Editor’s Note

Seaplane Shirts tend to run a little large and do not shrink. For me, I had to go down a size for the shirts. Short sleeve Shirts are $75. Long sleeve shirts are $14 more. Discounts happen with additional purchases. I was quite impressed with Seaplane. I bought three shirts. Make sure to visit their website: seaplaneshirts.com or visit their Facebook page or Twitter. If you plan on being in Palm Springs soon, Seaplane is planning on holding a slumber party at its Palm Springs store on April 22, 2018. See the Facebook page for more details.