Gregor McCluskey | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Gregor McCluskey


BraeVal, an upscale outdoors clothing designer and producer, was started in 2002 by Gregor McCluskey, who grew up in Connecticut’s Farmington Valley. McCluskey opened his showroom on Bantam Road (Route 202) in Litchfield in 2011. The site also includes his office, which he shares with his 4-year-old prize-winning Red Setter, Laddie, and from which he manages BraeVal’s 300 accounts nationally.

The business adapts classical Scottish outdoor fashions for the American consumer. McCluskey takes inspiration from his Scottish heritage that includes his great uncle Big Jock McCluskey, a legendary outdoorsman and trader who migrated to the U.S. in the 1800s, seeking wide-open spaces for hunting and fishing. Gregor McCluskey had decided on another name for his clothing business but switched to BraeVal after traveling to Scotland for his 106-year-old grandmother’s funeral and taking the name from his family’s home in Scotland.

The Mistake:

Overwork. You can love something too much.

I like to work. I did a lot of it during my time in the corporate world and I was acknowledged for working hard.

As entrepreneurs, we have to rely on ourselves. I fell in love with this business and I was working at it seven days a week. My energy had peaked yet somehow that didn’t register right away. My customers were living the BraeVal lifestyle, but I wasn’t.

I finally realized that I was getting away from my heritage, which includes being outdoors. I made it a point to rejuvenate myself by getting a dog, going to Scotland, and getting back to the outdoors.

In order to make this business succeed, I have to stay inspired, and that means being in the outdoors.

Success is not like microwaving popcorn.

The Lesson:

You have to know when to take time away to reconnect with your heritage and the things you live for. Business is risky. It’s scary. It can become an obsession. You can’t succeed at it unless you realize it’s not everything.

I’m one of those people that likes a challenge, and I’ve found it. The challenge is keeping a balance between inspiration and work. The business is inspiring in itself so that helps somewhat. I’m very fortunate in that respect.

Being in the top-end of the clothing market, there’s actually less competition so I don’t stay up nights worrying about competition. But there is a high failure rate in the apparel business, so I have to stay sharp.

Success is not like microwaving popcorn. It doesn’t happen right away. It takes seven to 11 times longer to make our shirts. You’d think that would make me more patient, but it doesn’t always stick with me.

If you love what you’re doing and you’re pacing yourself properly, you can weather a lot of adversity. It was tough back in 2009. It was a bad time for the economy. The consumers were demanding more from us. I don’t think I could have weathered that storm if I hadn’t been in a business that is so closely tied to my heritage. When it’s your family you find reasons to keep on fighting when others would give up.

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