QED Style may be a small brand, but it is big on style. Founded by former mini tour player, Mike McRae, QED has one of the most unique and fashionable collections that you will find on the fairways this fall. With its distinctive Western style polos, handmade belts and go-anywhere trousers, QED has created a cult following in golf fashion circles.
I first met Mike McRae when he sat on a panel that I hosted at the PGA Fashion Show last year. Mike may be a soft-spoken guy, but his passion, dedication and pride in creating functional and stylish golf apparel runs deep. I had the chance to catch up with Mike again last week. We talked about his showcase pieces for fall, how he ditched mini tour life for the golf apparel game and why he is pushing the envelope by bringing denim to the fairways.
If QED wasn’t on your radar before, it will likely be on your must-try list after reading this interview with Mike. Enjoy!
GolfThreads: What was the inspiration behind QED?
Mike McRae: Like anything, or any passion, it comes from personal experience. I’ve lived and breathed golf since I was 8 years old, and when I turned professional, it was even more all encompassing. It was all golf all of the time, and apparel was part of that. I got tired of the same look. I was proud to be a golfer, but we would joke on the mini tours about having our golf clothes and our normal clothes. So the initial concept was to bridge the gap between what I liked to wear off the course with what I wanted to wear on it.
GT: How do you feel that QED reflects your personal style?
MM: These are stylish looks that I really enjoyed growing up. Being born and raised in Utah, I’ve always favored that Park City mountain lifestyle. When I was growing up, my Dad photographed old cowboys. There was a really good sense of style with that American western mystique. It was a style that had not been used in golf, but it is something that anyone can relate to. We went with that type of look to give QED a unique style.
Not to mention, some style icons have definitely been an inspiration to me. I always go back to Ralph Lauren and his classic sense of American style. We’re just trying to put more of a unique Western vibe on it.
GT: When did you know that you wanted to make a career out of designing golf apparel rather playing the game professionally?
MM: It was such a crazy left hand turn. I am still bewildered that it happened. I was playing on the Canadian Tour in 2011 and playing quite well. I had just missed one of the later stages in Q School that winter. I was bummed because I thought that I could have gone pretty far that year. My dad convinced me to put the clubs away for the winter and to work with him as a photographer’s assistant.
One of my dad’s clients owns an apparel company out in Utah, and the idea for QED started with a lunch discussion with him about golf apparel. By the third day of the job, he was tired of us talking about it. He said, “Let’s do it.” He was going to China a couple months later, and he convinced me to go with him. I didn’t have a concept of a business at that time, but I went with him to learn the ins and outs of the production process. He helped me to get on my feet.
I was still competing as a professional when we created our first shirt. When I experienced success with that, I thought, “Hey, we might have something here,” so I slowly put my clubs away and focused more on apparel.
GT: What were the biggest challenges you have faced in starting QED?
MM: We’re in an industry of giants, so obviously brand recognition is pretty tough. Men are loyal customers. Once they have a brand that they like, they typically stick with it. Fortunately, once we get guys to try QED, we maintain them as customers. That’s been really encouraging.
GT: Denim and golf have always had a tenuous relationship. For fall, you have a denim print polo in three different washes that was the talk of the PGA Fashion Show. How has this polo been received by buyers?
MM: There’s a list of about ten concepts that I dream of doing, and this new denim polo is one of them. I’m not trying to go redneck or Canadian tuxedo, but there’s no doubt that there’s an enormous sense of style and fashion with denim. It’s very American. It’s such an iconic part of men’s style, and no one has done it in golf. I get the clash and I get the sensitivity to denim with a lot of the private clubs, but I also get excited to push the envelope and see what the reactions are.
I have a couple of vintage denim jackets that I thought were a really cool design concept. We just needed a knit fabric that we could get into a golf shirt and we found a really good one. We started with a dark wash to see what the reaction would be, and it just lit it up. From there, we decided to introduce the black wash and then the faded light blue wash. It’s been by far the best selling piece this fall. We have had to significantly increase our orders from our manufacturers, and we will be adding further washes for next spring. We’re really pleased with the response.
GT: Prints have been trending in menswear and are beginning to work their way onto the fairways. You have a couple of unique prints in your fall collection — the Cottonwood with a floral pattern and the Kamas with a plaid pattern. Talk a little bit about those polos.
MM: We’ve had the Kamas for about a year and a half now. That shirt really put us on the map as far as having an aggressive Western style print. The nice thing about that Kamas plaid is that it’s easy to merchandise, especially with the rest of the color spectrum in the line. It’s a unique way to tie in a color story for a golf shop. The Kamas will never go anywhere. We’ll just tie it into our seasonal fashion colors. For this fall, we’re doing a lot of tomato reds, golds, browns, whites and navys. Every season, we choose our seasonal color spectrum, and that dictates what the plaids are going to look like.
The Cottonwood was based on demand. We needed another type of print that was a departure from the Western style. The floral print on the Cottonwood is great. It’s done very well. It has been well received, and we will open it up to more color variations next spring. We’re also working on a really cool paisley for spring. Again, we’re using some iconic prints that are timeless.
GT: The Willard is a reversible jacket for fall that caught my eye at the PGA Fashion Show. What can players expect from a style and playability standpoint with the Willard?
MM: We haven’t had any outerwear, so as a young company we’re listening to feedback and filling in the holes as we go. One of the main pieces of feedback that we’ve received is that buyers wanted an outerwear piece from QED. We wanted to create a piece that people would not only wear, but that they would enjoy wearing. If we could give it a lifestyle appeal, that would be even better. I thought the perfect solution would be a reversible jacket.
The nylon outer shell is waterproof, and we tried to spice it up a little bit with contrast stitching and tortoise shell buttons. The other side is a synthetic flannel wool that we turned into a really fun plaid. I have a couple of flannel jackets that provided the inspiration for that side.
GT: Your line of belts may be the most unique range of belts in the game of golf. Each one is handmade and truly one of a kind. Talk a little bit about your belts.
MM: Yeah, thanks. My dad makes all of them. We try to do things that are unique to the golf market. We try to be funky and different, and hopefully people will like it.
These belts are nicely done. They have an artistic feel to them that enhances the boutique nature of the brand. No two belts are the same. They all have some tiny imperfections that make them cool. They’re definitely not made thousands at a time out of a cast. My dad puts a lot of time into them. We do a lot of unique things for every club that we are in. For example, we open up with Kapalua this winter, and we are putting actual butterflies into the buckle.
GT: PGA Tour player Scott Gardiner and Web.com Tour player Andy Pope are two of your brand ambassadors. What makes their personal styles mesh so well with QED? What can QED customers learn from how they wear your brand?
MM: They do a good job of showing people that there are more options out there than what you typically see on TV. They help people open their eyes to different possibilities and different options. The clothes naturally drape really well. I think it’s easy for someone to look good in our stuff because it is such a clean look. We’ve done very well as a boutique brand, and when guys on Tour choose something other than the beaten path, it opens some eyes.
I also feel like I know what it’s like to be in their shoes, and as a company, I feel like we’re on the mini tours, as well. We are trying to make it to the big stage, just like they are. It’s kind of a joint partnership. We are helping each other to move on to bigger and better things. There is a grittiness to the relationship.
GT: What is on the horizon for QED?
MM: Continuing to grow and continuing to say here we are. We have some fun new designs that will be coming out in 2016. We’re going to introduce a women’s piece this spring that’s already received quite a bit of attention. It’s going to be one outfit – a golf dress in the black denim fabric with some western flare and some white embroidery. I think it’s outstanding. We are going to stay a men’s line, but we wanted to offer a piece to outfit women, who are doing a lot of the shopping for guys.
GT: Where can people find QED apparel?
MM: Well, first would be on our website, QEDStyle.com. We’re quickly starting to grow our list of clubs. You can find us anywhere in the country. We’ll continue to grow in golf shops and golf resorts. We have some online retailers that are picking us up now, too. It shouldn’t be too hard to find QED.