Design Changemakers 2021: How Brett Mikoll and Dave Horesh are Bringing Back Wool Pennants, Flags, and Banners
The Apartment Therapy Design Changemakers Class of 2021 is made up of 24 of the most talented and dynamic people in the design world. We asked an assortment of last year’s Design Changemakers and Apartment Therapy staffers (and you!) to tell us who we needed to spotlight — see the rest of the list here.
Who: Brett Mikoll and Dave Horesh, Buffalo, New York-based designers and manufacturers of wool felt pennants, flags, and banners
Nominated by: Max Humphrey, a Portland-based interior designer
Where to follow them: Instagram
Why Mikoll and Horesh are part of the Class of 2021: “I’ve never met [Brett and Dave, but] I’ve been a patron of their online store and an Instagram stan. Actually through Apartment Therapy, I had commissioned Oxford Pennant to make a custom banner for what became the digital [Small/Cool] event last year. I like nostalgic art, my sort of personal style is Americana, and I also like to support small business, and I particularly like to support home decor products that are made here in the U.S. Oxford Pennant ticks all of those boxes. There’s so much focus on New York and LA in the design world. Oxford Pennant is based in Buffalo, and I’m noticing all the cool stuff right now is not coming from necessarily the coasts. Hopefully [they] will inspire other designers, makers, retailers to not let go of the sort of Main Street USA store.” —Max Humphrey, a Portland-based interior designer and author of the forthcoming book “Modern Americana”
Remember those vintage wool felt pennants that used to be everywhere? That’s what Brett Mikoll and Dave Horesh were looking to have made. But when they couldn’t find an American-based manufacturer, they took matters into their own hands and found local vendors in Buffalo, New York, to help with the printing, cutting, and sewing. “Our original idea was that we would take them to local street festivals and sell them,” says Horesh, co-founder of Oxford Pennant. “We would be the Buffalo pennant guys and sell them with names of neighborhoods on them, and that was the business model.” That was in 2013, right as Instagram was taking off, and soon they were flooded with requests. “Brett and I did not start this company with any sense of, we’re actually starting a business,” Horesh says. “The company still follows the same model today, just at a larger scale.”
As Oxford Pennant has grown to a staff of 26, the company has been able to take over the production themselves and is proud to be American- —and especially Buffalo- —based. “People recognize pennants, flags, and banners the way that we make them because they see them at antique stores, vintage shops, and estate sales,” Horesh says. “But it was a lost craft [after] the ’70s or ’80s, when most of the pennant manufacturing that was done in major sports leagues was outsourced to other countries. People haven’t been able to find one for 20, 30 years. They always say it feels novel and nostalgic at the same time. While it is a niche product, it’s been a part of American history. You can find World War I, Roaring ’20s, and World War II pennants. It’s been a consistent souvenir throughout American history and we are lucky enough to be carrying that torch in 2020.”
Another point of pride for Horesh and Mikoll is that the products are accessible in every way. “If you can’t afford that beautiful painting that you’ve had your eye on, I’ve got something for 25 bucks that can take the spot for now,” Mikoll says. “Whenever you see them strung from side to side in a room or around something, it looks happy and like something really exciting’s going on that you want to be a part of.”
Before launching Oxford Pennant, both had a background in screen printing. Mikoll made band T-shirts, posters, and album art, and has a design degree. After Horesh graduated from college, his first job was working in an offset print shop. “All those things just molded together into the perfect storm,” Mikoll says, “because it’s not impossible to make a pennant, flag, or anything that we make, but it takes care, an eye, and also an appreciation for the history of the product itself.”
Apartment Therapy: Can you put practically anything on a pennant or banner?
Brett Mikoll: Dave came up with a tagline that we put on every product we send out: “Celebrate everything.” Whatever it is, it can be on this pennant or banner — celebrating somebody’s wedding anniversary, their last name, their tiny little hometown no one’s ever heard of, an inside joke, whatever it might be. As long as it’s not offensive to us or anybody else, hell, yeah, we’re going to put it on a pennant or a banner. It’s a pretty unique thing to our product. There’s a lot of different ways to use these products to get certain emotions out of people.
AT: Why is it important to you that Oxford Pennant is American-made?
Dave Horesh: How much can you control your idea from start to finish? On top of obviously employing people in our hometown and keeping the pipeline open with American manufacturing, it really helps creatively to do it all in-house and have full control over the pipeline. Having an identifiably American product, it has to be made in America. Otherwise, there’s no story, there’s no charm, there’s nothing to it if you don’t pay homage to the history of it.
BM: Buffalo is a really big part of that story, too. Buffalo is a community that is obsessed with itself. It’s a city that’s on the up and up, but it’s not a city that gets international attention. Having the opportunity to grow a business in Buffalo, maybe we can inspire a new creative class of people to think about the city. We’re not going to turn it into a design city. But we can definitely be a beacon of creativity in a city that’s otherwise known for Buffalo wings, sports teams, and snow. The American-made component of it is important. But above all else, I think Buffalo-made is probably an even bigger beacon for us to follow.
AT: What were your design inspirations growing up? What is your inspiration now?
DH: I’ve always been fascinated by the design of advertisement in sports and fascinated with team jerseys and colors. I go to my folks’ place in Rochester and I look back at my old notebooks and see illustrations where I was trying to draw the Oakland Athletics logo. From a creative standpoint, I always am drawn to old advertisements. Even when I was in high school, my bedroom was just papered with Absolut Vodka ads because I liked looking at the creative.
BM: Growing up, it had to be album artwork. I remember any CD that I would get, I would study the sleeve. Not only the front, but the back, the inside, the fold-out, if there were any of those little Easter eggs you had to find.
AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2020, and why?
BM: Right when the lockdowns started, not knowing if we were going to have a business at the end of it, we came up with our camp flag that says, “Together we will see it through,” which was inspired by a World War I poster in Buffalo. We put it at a discounted price, and made sure if people couldn’t buy it, we provided some printable versions that they could color with their kids and put in their window. We just wanted to, pardon the pun, plant our flag of what the times are going to mean for us. It took on a life that I could’ve never imagined. I just went for a walk in my neighborhood and there’s probably five or six in people’s windows still. All around the world, people were sending me photos. It was so cool to see something that we were talking about get to that level.
AT: What three words would you use to describe your work or style?
DH: Let’s go, Buffalo.
AT: Is there a specific piece or design of yours that you think is particularly indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do?
DH: The most Oxford Pennant thing is actually a thing we don’t make, which is a pennant inside of a frame, specifically because of the reverence that framing a pennant gives to the product and how we feel as a company. We’re always trying to honor its history, even though it’s 2021 and we have to give it a contemporary spin. If we can do them half as well as the pennant companies that were around in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s made them, then we’re going to be around for a really long time.
BM: This product was Dave’s idea. My favorite thing and what symbolizes the character of the company is a simple black and white pennant that says, “This place sucks.” There’s no design to it. It’s just type. It’s tongue-in-cheek. It’s kind of funny. Very stupid. But if you don’t take yourself, or your business, or your work, or whatever too seriously, it’s the perfect piece to put next to the most beautiful room in your house. In my opinion, that’s the perfect note to hit and it shows off of our personality without being too flashy. It hits those right notes of trying to be self-aware, but also at the same time having a ton of fun with what we do.
AT: How do you think the past year will impact the design world moving forward?
BM: I think creativity will and should flourish on the other side of this because it’s going to take a lot of creative problem-solving on all levels to make life feel like life again, or the new version of whatever it is.
DH: Design is going to be the first thing that we look to to tell us that everything is okay, whether that’s in retail, grocery stores, or people’s homes. I don’t know exactly how that manifests. But ultimately people are going to look at the design of certain things to either feel comfort again or to feel a sense of community again. It’s going to be really important for designers to understand that they have a pretty unique responsibility.
Interview has been edited and condensed.