By Dan Sanchez | Aug 28, 2017
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara, California
Privately owned (a division of Dehlsen Associates Design Group)
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Crossover clothing
The inspiration for outdoor lifestyle and performance apparel is often mountains or oceans, not wind turbines, but the renewable energy industry was the catalyst for Purnell.
"My co-founder, Brent Dehlsen, is in renewable energy systems and our parent company, Dehlsen Associates Design Group, develops new green technologies," says Womack, the company's president. "The idea for the clothing line, came in 2013, from a necessity to develop workwear that would be tough, comfortable, last a long time, and look good in a business meeting."
Purnell operates like a division within Dehlsen Associates. "We have five dedicated Purnell employees, however, along with a sales force that helps with product development and getting our apparel into the hands of retailers," says Womack. "We began our apparel line by trimming up silhouettes of cargo pants, and chambray shirts, then adding stretch and performance aspects so they would allow for more freedom of movement for wind technicians to climb and rappel."
While the apparel was widely accepted by the workers in the field, the workwear stores didn't embrace it. "The typical workwear stores weren't looking for anything new," says Womack. "They knew workers bought one type of pant or shirt over and over again. It wasn't until we showed it to the outdoor retailers that the line became popular. They liked the work aspect instead of the play aspect they were accustomed to. It's evolved into what we call crossover clothes."
Manufacturing overseas was a necessity -- and a challenge. "We initially wanted our clothes to be accessible and we looked at sourcing locally in Los Angeles," says Womack. "We can't, however, get the price points we need to have our brands available in the stores we're selling to."
The process of manufacturing overseas didn't start off easily for Purnell. "We learned the hard way," says Womack. "We had a shipment of men's canvas pants come in and all of them didn't have a front zipper! The whole lot was completely unsellable. Since then, we've used third-party inspection companies. We have inline inspections, final inspections, photos, reports, and we test everything. It's now very streamlined and we can be reassured that when we open the box, it's up to our specs."
While it's focused on workwear, the company strives to foster a strong brand. "Our clothes are very classic," says Womack. "We aren't trend-driven at all. In this age of disposable clothing, our chambray shirt, for example, has a potential to be in your closet for 10 years. The quality is great and the looks are such that you aren't going to be ashamed wearing last season's plaid. So there's a sustainability to the clothes that we have."
Challenges: "We feel we're going against the grain by not moving online and selling out to Amazon and online retailers," says Womack. "That's not the place for us. Department stores and malls are all going away and the online retailers are changing the way people shop. I think that we are unique in that we still are a touch-, feel-, and wear-it kind of brand. We want to be in those retail stores that have the service and engagement with their customers to create a great shopping experience."
Opportunities: Combining work and lifestyle pieces is a fresh approach that retailers like. With their roots in California's Santa Barbara, the styles and the idea of work-to-office wear is one that resounds with the popular coastal community as well as brick and mortar retailers.
"Our clothes are very classic," says Womack. "We aren't trend driven. The crossover clothing line is one you can wear to the office, have a client meeting in, and go out to the job site. Our indoor-outdoor pants, for example, can be comfortable for riding a bike to the office, and be appropriate for a meeting with the boss."
Needs: Because of the company's reluctance to move into the online marketplace, Purnell needs more in-person exposure. "Our approach to selling is very old-school," says Womack. "Face-to-face presentation with buyers is important, and there's a lot of work that goes into that. We need more boots on the ground. It's tough to try to be all places everywhere. We just need good salespeople!"