Winchester Native Makes His Mark in the Sporting-Apparel Industry
The Tombigbee River is a tributary of the Mobile River that flows nearly 200 miles through Mississippi and Alabama. Radcliff Menge grew up hunting and fishing in St. Stephens in South Alabama with his grandfather in the Tensaw Delta of the Tombigbee. The region’s wetlands helped define Menge’s adolescence and his adult entrepreneurial creation: the sporting-apparel brand Tom Beckbe.
Menge also has roots in Virginia. He’s from Winchester and graduated from the University of Virginia in 2004. He also attended law school at Washington & Lee University, where he met his wife Mary in 2005. They both earned law degrees in 2008 and married a year later. The couple moved to Manhattan and practiced law, where they made frequent trips from the city to the country and back again.
While living in New York and working as a mergers and acquisitions attorney, Menge began searching for a waxed-canvas hunting jacket that could handle the demands of the field—and the stylish social and professional obligations of city life. He wanted something traditional and well crafted, a transitional jacket designed for his pursuits and lifestyle.
“I searched far and wide for years but couldn’t find a hunting jacket that met my needs,” Menge said. “I wanted a waxed-canvas jacket that provided a full range of motion for shooting, yet something I could wear around town to dinner or over a suit for business settings. I wanted something unique and timeless. That’s when I decided to make a jacket myself.”
“The Tensaw Jacket is part of my Southern heritage, and we wanted to develop a brand known for superb craftsmanship with other offerings that honor it in rugged yet stylish fashion.”
The Menges moved back to Alabama in 2013. They searched online and found a patternmaker who fashioned a prototype. When the couple examined the jacket, they believed it had commercial promise. They were right.
“When we brainstormed a name for the jacket, we wanted to make sure we linked our creation to Alabama,” he added, “and we couldn’t think of a better name than “Tensaw” for our signature product. I put a lot of thought into the design of the Tensaw, and I source the materials that go into it myself. The jacket is part of my Southern heritage, and we wanted to develop a brand known for superb craftsmanship with other offerings that honor it in rugged yet stylish fashion.”
The couple researched the history of St. Stephens and discovered the French spelling of the Tombigbee River on a colonial map. It read ‘Tombecbé,’ and the idea of a fictional name for a sporting-apparel brand appealed to them. Tom Beckbe became a figment of their collective imagination, but it also represented a lifestyle inspired by the days Menge spent hunting and fishing with his grandfather in the delta.
“I searched far and wide for years but couldn’t find a hunting jacket that met my needs. That’s when I decided to make a jacket myself.”
In 2015, the Menges launched Tom Beckbe in Mountain Brook, just outside Birmingham, and began selling the Tensaw jacket independently online at tombeckbe.com. Soon afterwards, they gained retail distribution at Mobley & Sons, a men’s shop in Birmingham. Two years later, Menge left his day job with a law firm to run the business full time.
Weatherproof and durable, the Tensaw offers a classic fit with durable field functionality. The jacket’s eight-ounce waxed-shelter-cloth shell develops a rich patina over time, and its bi-swing back and gusseted underarms offer a full-range of motion for swinging a gun. It has six exterior pockets, including two sets of handwarmer pockets; large bellow pockets provide generous storage and come with continental-style restraints, so you don’t have to unsnap the pockets when you need to grab shotgun shells.
“Made in the U.S.A., the jacket
is artfully lined with cotton that matches the vibrant color of Alabama red clay found
along the Tombigbee River.”
In addition, the Tensaw has antique brass hardware that fastens the main zipper guard and pockets shut, and the sleeves are lined with smooth polyester twill that glides over layers with ease. The jacket also has a hidden Napoleon pocket for discreet storage (Read: flask) that keeps things dry, and its standup collar is lined with Bedford corduroy for protection from the wind and cold. Made in the U.S.A., the jacket is artfully lined with cotton that matches the vibrant color of Alabama red clay found along the Tombigbee.
But the Menges didn’t stop there and expanded the business by adding an assortment of men’s and women’s apparel and accessories. These include jackets and vests, as well as fleece, quilted and moleskin layering options. Other offerings include men’s shirting, bags, field hats, shooting gloves, belts, pistol cases and gun sleeves.
Tom Beckbe is no longer an online-only retail operation. The Menges opened an outpost location in historic Wilson, Arkansas. Then in August 2021, they opened a 1,300-square-foot flagship store in Mountain Brook to showcase goods and create an immersive space for sportsmen and women to congregate and celebrate the finer things of the sporting life.
The store features an in-store workshop where brass plates are custom-engraved for outerwear, bags and accessories, as well as made-to-measure hunting vests. It also showcases custom millwork from woodworkers Julian & Sons, as well as exclusive collaborations with Wisconsin-based Russell Moccasin Co., and South Carolina-based Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. The store also has the “Loading Dock” bar in the rear of the store with private lockers for customers’ whiskey and other favorite spirits.
Tom Beckbe doesn’t just appeal to hunters and shooters. Last year, the company joined the Breeder’s Cup in Lexington, Kentucky, for the opening of its retail shop-in-shop at historic Keeneland.
“Like the South, which has never been more dynamic, Tom Beckbe is evolving to address the needs of people with different sporting interests like waterfowl hunting, fishing and equestrian pursuits,” said Menge. “We’re thinking about the customer every day, what they’re doing and how we improve the experience.”
“Like the South, which has never been more dynamic, Tom Beckbe is evolving to address the needs of people with different sporting interests like waterfowl hunting, fishing and equestrian pursuits.”
Whether you check out Tom Beckbe instore or online, you’ll be impressed with the brand’s unique take on traditional outerwear and accessories that reflect Southern sporting culture. They were created by a sportsman who was raised in the Southern wilds and never forgot his roots.
Photos by: William Hereford
Joe Shields is the editor in chief of The Virginia Sportsman. He is a writer and communications executive based in Charlottesville, Virginia. His writing and photography have appeared in The Virginia Sportsman and other publications. He is also an award-winning, gallery-represented artist whose work is found in private collections and galleries. Whether fly fishing or surfing, drawing or painting, he celebrates sporting life and culture in his narratives and art.