By Eric Peterson | Nov 14, 2016
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Outdoor apparel
Working in commercial and industrial real estate in the Chicago area led to an entrepreneurial career sidestep for Barrett. "That was my introduction to manufacturing," he says.
In short order, Barrett moved to Denver and launched Bighorn. Local designer Holli Gibson "was a huge help for us," he says. "She does all the design."
Barrett still works in real estate as he fosters the brand. "I bootstrapped the whole thing," he says. "We started small with six work shirts that were made in Colorado." The company has since expanded into premium hats and T-shirts. New in fall 2016: a line of long-sleeved button-downs made from hemp blends and organic cotton denim and flannel.
The strategy is to create clothing equally apt for the great outdoors and urban environments. "Outerwear and activewear brands are already doing it pretty well," says Barrett. "What I thought was missing was casual clothing. Multifaceted stuff -- I'll wear it at a bar and go camping in it as well."
Bighorn's direct-sales model is bolstered by sales at markets like the Denver Flea. "A lot of that has to do with margins," he says Barrett.
He says he strives to mesh "sustainability and style" in the designs. "Clothing is one area that's blown it," Barrett says of the former. In response, Bighorn uses a trip of sustainable fabrics: hemp, organic cotton, and recycled polyester.
"Everyone wants to talk about hemp," says Barrett, noting that most of Bighorn's hemp originates in Canada and China. "It's no pesticides, it's a third of the water, it's a third of the land."
Organic cotton represents less than 1 percent of the global cotton trade, and Bighorn sources it from mills in Texas, China, and India. "For us, it starts with farming," says Barrett. "Twenty percent of all insecticides are used for growing cotton."
The recycled polyester comes from Denver-based Ecocentric Brands, which uses a different plastic for each fabric color: Food trays become black, X-ray paper is grey, water bottles end up as blue fleece.
Woven fabrics are typically sourced from Chinese mills, says Barrett. "It takes some of the romance out of it when you realize everybody gets their stuff from the same companies."
"I wanted to focus on as much local manufacturing as possible," says Barrett, noting that he contracts with Sew Inspired, a Pueblo-based cut-and-sew operation, to make button-down shirts. "They're amazing," he says. "We do some stuff overseas and it's hard."
Challenges: "Manufacturing's hard, especially sourcing," says Barrett. "Ninety-nine percent of [vendors] are too big for us. . . . We're competing with the biggest brands. It's hard to meet their minimums."
Another relates to apparel manufacturers treating sustainability as a marketing ploy instead of an ethos. "There's a lot of greenwashing," he says. "It's bullshit." Educating consumers is key: "People definitely care about it, but it's different than food -- you're actually eating it."
Opportunities: "As much as sourcing is a challenge, I see it as an opportunity," says Barrett. Because finding suppliers of hemp and organic cotton is no small feat, Bighorn is nicely positioned to grow with market awareness of sustainable apparel, "especially with hemp," he explains. "I see a lot of 'made in the U.S.A.,' but very little organic."
Needs: "Space," says Barrett. "I'd love some retail space with distribution in the back." Bighorn is currently a basement operation, he adds. "It's filling up fast."