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We are not exactly sure when it happened, but sometime after the industrial revolution, and when the factories rose up, replacing manpower with machines, and the majority of our father’s joined corporate America, and those turkey and gravy television dinners were being consumed on couches, there came a shift in men.
No longer did ordinary men have to fight in a war, we had our military. No longer did we have to settle a dispute on our own, we had a police force or lawyers. No longer did we have to hunt and kill our own meat or even wake up to milk the cow and get eggs, we had grocery stores and new stainless steel fridges at our convenience.
As men, we settled into a rather safe life. We cared too much about things we probably shouldn’t be caring so much about. We lived a little too much for money. No longer was hard work and integrity idealized in a man like our grandfather's era. You might say that we got a little too soft and domesticated. As Brad Paisley sings, “it's hip now to be feminized.”
I grew up in the South, just outside of Nashville, TN. I was raised in the wonderful traditions of sweet tea, church, a private school education, college fraternity life, and classic men's clothing. The term southern gentleman should explain it all.
And no one spoke to this American story in clothing better than Polo Ralph Lauren. You name it... Cologne, bed sheets, dopp kit, pants, shirts, boxers, shoes, beach towels, I had them. All with that polo horse logo on it. In some ways it felt like I was living that American dream. And considering I was wearing that logo at two (pictured on the left), it seemed to define the story of my life.
But after graduating from the University of Tennessee, I got married and moved to Colorado. There was something out West that was calling. As the phrase says... "Go West young man." It was a journey of sorts. From experiencing another side of the country and really myself.
I learned a few lessons my more privileged southern background and private school upbringing missed. Instead of going into a white collar business setting, I found myself working for a commercial house painting company where I learned many lessons that my private school education couldn't teach me. I was the low man on the totem pole. It did something to me. I was woken up to another part of a man and his work. In so many ways that brought me to some new spiritual discoveries about myself and the hard working blue collar men I was around. I also picked up some experiences with some older men hunting and fly fishing. And with all this, so came a change in my clothing.
In time, a buddy and I started a wilderness leadership program called Training Ground to teach some of these lessons to college guys as well. We felt it was important to train the next generation of leaders in those life lessons. We gave them blue collar jobs to learn the lessons of hard work, brought in men and teachers to cover areas about understanding the heart of a women to dealing with the issues relating to the lack of fathers and how our culture had sort of messed all of this masculinity up. And went on some unbelievable adventures. We didn't make much money at it, but we loved it.
It was during this time, when I began to wonder if the various categories of clothing revealed our disconnect from our masculine heritage. So many of the men in the deep South were covered head to toe in velveteen rabbit pinks and dandelion daisy yellows. While we were the first to enjoy some pastels, and put on a pink tie, it felt like a man over the past few years had become defined by these extreme colors. The pretty boy and momma's boy looks was almost telling you about the men wearing the clothes.
Then there were all those New York fashion companies experimenting with men by dressing them in what appeared more like women's fashion with things like studded and embellished jeans and selling sex over the actual clothes. Morality and character was thrown out the window for so called progress. It felt as if fashion shows were some sort of social experiment in complete de-construction of masculine virtues.
But the other side was kind of doing a different version of this. The rugged and technical gear companies of the West and many of the clothing I discovered in Colorado were "designed" for the summit of Everest. Selling the mountain life to mostly suburban kids that hadn't seen a mountain top beyond their computer screen saver. There were also the blue collar type companies promoting a man as only tough or made for a construction site. No ties or pastels in this image. Caring about your style was frowned down upon with this group.
It just seemed to me there was a great divide in men just like how clothing was being marketed. You had to pick one. You could be defined as a super style lovin' pretty boy in pastels, a fashion forward hipster from New York or a rugged cowboy mountain man from Colorado.
As we looked back to men in our great-grandfather's era. Men like Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir. These seemed to possess all these traits that had become subdivided. They were classy, rugged, intelligent, and outdoorsman. They could be found in the city giving speeches at black tie events or just as at home in the mountains in solitude. They embodied it all.
Clothing companies of the past offered these in one store. You could buy a gun or a necktie in the same catalog. But most of these were no longer around. They had gone out of business or switched to more pop-trends over the years and cashed in on the next phase of clothing that had put us in this current condition. For example, Abercrombie & Fitch sold Teddy Roosevelt supplies for his trip down the Amazon and Burberry outfitted wool coats to men in war and Ernest Shackleton on his polar explorations....
Now it sells this…
These really cool people, Mel and Patricia Ziegler, who loved to travel all over the world, thought it would be great to create a clothing company that would promote travels and adventures in people, even safari type lifestyles. They called it Banana Republic and it started as this...
But Gap bought them and turned them into this...
We felt like there was something important in the past. In the clothes that had been lost. And the men who had gone before us. So the idea came… a clothing company for men. Classic styles that also were rugged. Not just for mountain sherpa’s or for beach lovin’ pretty boys. But a company that offered styles with both classic and timeless traditions and with a rugged and stylish side as well. We would follow something of the past, of those men and their values. Like Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, Ernest Hemingway, and Winston Churchill to name a few.
We thought we could build the company by word of mouth. Not by big money or huge marketing campaigns with models. We didn't have the money anyways. But we would do it honestly and organically. If it worked, it would be because people believed in it, not because we created a trend with models and fashion designers. It would be a movement of sorts. A return to our masculine heritage. Through people who believed that was important too. The idea of hard work, honest values, classic styles, and a little rugged side.
That is our founding idea, our story of how we began. We sure would love to have you part of it.