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Pluff mud: A Charleston staple Apparel company uses pluff mud to make its merchandise

  • Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Monica Kreber/Journal Scene In Pluff Mud Apparel no two shirts are the same. The one thing they all have in common is each was dyed in pluff mud.

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If his customers can spare a few minutes Kelly Clayton likes to tell the story behind the name of his company, Pluff Mud Apparel.

When settlers first came to the Charleston area they had to plant fields and struggled getting anything to grow. In order to survive they figured out if they took pluff mud (originally spelled “plough” mud) and put it into the fields it was almost a perfect fertilizer.

“Pluff mud is a living organism – what lives in it dies in it,” Clayton said. “Pluff mud is an eco system, to say the least.”

While they spelled the type of mud like “plough” the settlers also pronounced it like “plow,” so it sounded like “plow mud.” At some point, Clayton said nobody knows where or when, but it went from “plow” to “pluff,” possibly because the “-ough” spelling can be pronounced either way.

“That is why pluff mud is called pluff mud,” Clayton said.

When novelist Pat Conroy writes his books he still spells the term the original – and proper – way for readers. Pluff mud can only be found along the Lowcountry marsh lines – from Myrtle Beach down to Savannah.

Clayton learned that story from a customer.

Clayton now owns and operates Pluff Mud Apparel, which consists of hats, visors, long-sleeves, short-sleeves and sweatshirts. All the clothes are hand-dyed in pluff mud, which customers can still faintly smell when they buy their new shirt or hat.

Pluff mud is known for having a stinky smell, but the company likes it because it is indigenous to Charleston.

“People miss Charleston, and when they take our shirts and they smell them, they smell Charleston,” Clayton said.

The founder of the company had been in Honolulu, Hawaii when he came up with the idea for Pluff Mud Apparel.

At the time the founder was trying to buy a Red Dirt shirt, which is dyed from volcanic rock. On the plane ride home the founder came up with the concept of using pluff mud to dye clothes.

The special thing about Pluff Mud clothing is it is 100 percent locally based: everything from the pluff mud, to the shirt artists, to the retailers, to the silk-screening process are all local.

The company sells an average of 300 shirts per month – and Clayton expects that number to grow.

“I make every single shirt that there is,” Clayton said. “Every shirt, on average, takes about half an hour to make. So if you’re looking at 1,000 shirts that’s a lot of time.”

The company has been around since 2007. Clayton bought the company in 2012.

This is the first year Pluff Mud is coming to the Flowertown Festival and Clayton expects to sell 1,000 shirts.

“It’s original – no two shirts are exactly the same,” Clayton said. “We tag every shirt, saying that it’s unique. We couldn’t do two shirts if we wanted to – we intentionally make our shirts so they are not the same.”

Clayton looks forward to meeting people at the Flowertown Festival. He feels confident this will not be their last year at the festival.

“My favorite part of the whole job is to meet the people,” he said. “I meet people that I would never meet, and people love us. That is the greatest experience.”

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