VIDEO: Vet’s Necktie Business Grabs Defense Secretary’s Attention
By Katie Lange // November 29, 2015
used GI Bill to get a business degree
ABOVE VIDEO: It’s not every day a military vet gets to say the defense secretary is wearing his design, but that’s the case for an Army vet whose business is a big success. (Department of Defense video)
It’s not every day a military veteran gets to say, “Hey, the secretary of defense is wearing my tie!”
But that’s the case for one Army vet who has turned his startup company into a successful business.
Diego Echeverri, 34, spent five years in the Army with the 10th Mountain Division.
After he got out in 2006, he used the GI Bill to get a business degree, which he used in the Washington, D.C., political circuit for a few years before taking the plunge into something he really enjoyed – making neckties.
“I never thought that I’d get into menswear – never,” Echeverri said.
“But I was that friend in my group that my guy friends would always ask for advice on what to wear and that kind of thing. So it seemed like a natural fit.”
With the help of a friend and investor, Echeverri’s company, Bull and Moose Inc., was born. It’s been up and running for two years now, and it’s only getting bigger. Bull and Moose has already sold about 20,000 ties, scarves and pocket squares in three-dozen designs, many of which are made with surplus military fabrics.
“Something I realized early on in the military is how much it fluences menswear, from the bomber jacket to the blazer, combat boots, khakis, pea coats and trench coats. Even the necktie itself comes from the military,” Echeverri said.
His most popular item? The camouflage necktie.
“I had no idea how well it would be received, but it was on GQ.com. … It’s something everyone can appreciate,” Echeverri said of the hunters, veterans, hipsters and urban audiences that wear it. Even movie stars like Bradley Cooper and Mark Wahlberg, who have starred in recent military-based films, have one.
But Echeverri’s biggest success so far was being asked to design a tie for Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
“I got a phone call out of the blue, and I thought it was a joke,” he said.
It wasn’t. Carter and his wife helped pick out the colors and the pattern, which is based around the number 25, since Carter is the 25th secretary of defense. The tie is Carter’s official gift to diplomats, leaders and heads of state, such as the King of Jordan.
“It has been the highlight of the company and our best achievement by far,” Echeverri said. “The huge sales are tough to compare to something like getting recognized by a member of the cabinet. … It’s pretty awesome.”
Military Experience Credited for Success
Bull and Moose, which is run out of Echeverri’s home in Alexandria, Virginia, is getting so big that he said he’ll have to start hiring workers soon. He credited his time in the Army with much of his ability to succeed.
The Brooks Brothers factory in Queens, New York City, manufactures several of Bull and Moose’s ties.
“The stick-to-itiveness that you learn all the way from basic training to deployments and seeing stuff through – that was probably the most valuable lesson in terms of becoming an entrepreneur,” he said.
His advice for vets looking to start their own businesses? Find mentors who have experience in what you’re looking to do, and take advantage of the GI Bill.
“Getting an education, going to school and learning about business – that was the most important thing I did post-military,” he said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been prepared to start one.”
The fact that he is a veteran has helped, too – and it’ll help others, he said.
“We’ve been through the vicissitudes of life in the military – the ups and downs and difficulties of everything from losing friends to difficulties of training,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that business is a natural fit, so learning about supply chains, marketing, finance and spreadsheets – those are all things that are absolutely necessary if you want to have a successful company.”
While it’s not easy, Echeverri said it’s worth it.
“There’s nothing like going out to an event and seeing someone in your product,” he said. “You question yourself so often when you have a business, but when you see someone out wearing your stuff, it gives you justification for the sacrifice.”
Bull and Moose supports veterans’ nonprofits and charities. Echeverri said many of his customers are former military members who support him because he is a veteran.
“If it weren’t for the men and women currently fighting overseas and at home, we wouldn’t have the freedoms to start companies and be successful,” he said. “I certainly attribute a lot of my company’s success to my military experience.”