It’s the day after the Buffalo Bills blasted the New England Patriots in a home playoff game, and the city is pummeled by 1 ½ feet of fast-falling snow.
After giving their employees a snow day, Dave Horesh and Brett Mikoll get to work, but not the office.
The owners of Oxford Pennant, which makes pennants, banners, colorful wool felt flags and more, throw shovels in a beefy Toyota Tundra equipped with a 5.7L V8 engine and a red v-plow emblazoned with the words ‘too cold for them, just good for us. It has flashing lights and booming subwoofers that blast Buffalo’s “Super Freak” Rick James beat so hard people can feel the vibes.
Meet the Oxford Pennant Touchdown Plow, a vehicle deliberately designed as a backdrop for selfies and social media. It was originally conceived as a collaboration with the Buffalo Bills, but that day Horesh and Mikoll used it to help them dig up the Buffalonians who were facing the snowstorm. “It was honestly a blast,” Horesh said.
Buffalonians love their city – its history, its sense of community and its recent resurgence. But there’s also a sense of inferiority and defensiveness that builds up like a snowball every time they encounter strangers who almost always know the city for two things: dramatic snowstorms and a football team. who has lost four consecutive Super Bowls. (Never mind the accomplishment of being the only NFL team to make it to the big game four times in a row.)
But Horesh and Mikoll managed to overturn Buffalo’s reputation. Through promotions such as the Touchdown Plow and contests in which the grand prize was a winter trip to Buffalo, Oxford Pennant made Buffalo’s harsh climate cool, fun and something to celebrate.
The company is also proud of the Buffalo Bills. For the past two seasons, he’s had a partnership where they’ve designed a different pennant for each game. At the end of a winning game, players hold them for pictures, which are then published on social networks. With the team thriving and beloved quarterback Josh Allen at the helm, their timing couldn’t have been better.
Buffalo’s personality is woven into the Oxford Pennant brand – so much so that each hand-stitched tag on a pennant, banner and stocking stuffer doesn’t say “Made in the USA”, but rather “Made in Buffalo”.
“I think Buffalo is our secret weapon,” Horesh said. “Buffalo is an integral part of our brand identity because I see Buffalo as a fun-loving, hard-working, community-focused place.”
The side of the four-story brick building that houses its production facility in downtown Buffalo is painted white with the words “Keep Buffalo Secretpainted in blue lettering. On Saturdays, you’ll find weddings queuing for photos in front – which will end up on social media, further raising the profile of the city as a place to know.
The company’s activities in Buffalo are posted on its Instagram page – which has 193,000 followers – and people are taking notice, far from the Rust Belt.
“You want to be in their world”
Interior designer Max Humphrey grew up in New England, spent a decade in Los Angeles, and is now based in Portland, Oregon.
His high-end residential designs have been featured in publications such as Architectural Summary, Domino, Remain and The Wall Street Journaland he is the author of the hardcover decorating book Modern America (Gibbs Smith), published in April. People The magazine recently featured the nursery it designed for cool celebrity dads Lance Bass and Michael Turchinart.
Humphrey’s style is influenced by old houses and the preppy, vintage looks that were part of his New England childhood. In many of his designs you will find an Oxford Pennant Camp Banner or Flag. He likes to use “raise hell, kid” in nursery designs and created a custom piece that said “color outside the lines”, which Oxford Pennant added to its product line.
“I like that kind of ’50s college look,” he said. “I thought it was an accessible way to buy art. I think of what they’re selling as art.
It’s gotten to the point where his customers expect — and can’t wait for — a cool pennant. They look great in a modern San Francisco condo and also complement other vintage items, he said. And with so many customers willing to share their scenery online, they shoot especially well because they’re not behind glass.
“It’s a lot of chasing for the money, which really appeals to me as a designer,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey only went to Buffalo once. (“It was cold,” he said. “I don’t remember much.”)
But he follows corporate social media, and he found himself interested in Buffalo — not so much the Bills, as he’s not a sports fan, but more the town’s debate on the opportunity to save its huge grain silos.
“You kind of want to be in their world,” he said. “I want to go to Buffalo. They make it sound awesome.
From promising start to peril
Oxford Pennant has also been noticed outside the interior design community.
Since 2019, Oxford Pennant has worked with bands like Wilco, My Chemical Romance and Goo Goo Dolls (the latter hailing from Buffalo) as well as brands like J. Crew, Harley Davidson, Adidas and Gibson Guitars.
The company was conceived while Horesh and Mikoll – acquaintances in the ad agency business – were traveling to and from Boston in a Fiat 500, an 8-hour drive each way.
While in Boston, they came across a pennant – the triangular type reminiscent of Arnold’s Drive-In on the set of Happy Days, but now cheaply made overseas using synthetic materials. Horesh and Mikoll thought there might be a market for wool felt products associated with the first half of the 20th century.
By the end of this time together, they had come up with a plan to start an entrepreneurial business.
In 2013, they had some pennants made through contacts Horesh had in the printing industry. They also offered bespoke pieces, such as for weddings. They added rectangular banners and pointed camp flags to their product line, many of which featured cheeky messages. The designs were posted on Instagram and gained popularity.
A retail store opened in downtown Buffalo in 2018, followed by a manufacturing plant a block away. Everything looked promising until early 2020 when the pandemic hit. Sales fell 85%, closures were imposed, and they laid off their entire staff of about a dozen employees.
To boost morale, they created a pennant inspired by a World War I slogan. “Together We Will Get There” was printed on a camp flag in navy blue letters on a white background framed in red.
“We weren’t trying to capitalize on some kind of sentiment,” Mikoll said. “That was how we felt at the time.”
The response was immediate, and within days they found themselves calling employees, asking them to sew the banners from their homes. Owners went from house to house, dropping off materials for the banners, which came with suction cups so people could hang them from window panes, facing outward.
“That one seemed important,” Horesh said. “It felt like something the world needed.”
Because the owners were unsure if it was appropriate to profit from their sales, they lowered the price of the banners to $35. They sold 5,000 in all and donated $20,000 of the proceeds to local charities.
“It makes me happy when we drive around and see it in people’s windows,” Mikoll said.
A few years later, an associated banner was released with the same design: “I can’t believe we keep doing this.”
Since this stressful time in 2020, the company has grown to 50 employees. Many have their own creative endeavors outside of work.
Ashton Warner, for example, sews some of Oxford Pennant’s most intricate designs three to four days a week. “I love it,” she said. When not at work, she works on her own clothing line, called ARW. “I’m not sleeping,” she said.
After college, she lived in New York, but eventually moved back to Buffalo. When she sells at local pop-up markets, Horesh and Mikoll inevitably show up and take an interest in her work. “It’s a small town where all the creatives know each other,” she said. “It’s nice to be in a supportive environment.”
As for the laying plow, Horesh continues to drive it to work. His most recent Instagram post reads: “JOSH ALLEN REVENGE TOUR”.
Following:Even after ’13 Seconds’, believe Buffalo Bills fans. That’s how they do it.
The partners plan to renew their partnership with the Bills in the coming year. One banner that probably won’t be unveiled is the one that was supposed to appear in the two playoff games the team ultimately lost.
“All it takes,” he said.
“We will always be in Buffalo,” Horesh said. “Roll or die. We’re not going to take a tax credit and move to Missouri.
Tracy Schuhmacher is a food and drink reporter and storytelling coach for the USA Today Network’s Storytellers Project. Email her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter or Instagram as @RahChaChow, or sign up for her weekly newsletter.