Voyage Denver - Meet Jeremy Dougherty of Maroon Bell Outdoor
Today we would like to introduce you to Jeremy Dougherty...
Jeremy, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am 36 years old, an entrepreneur, a husband, a new dad of twins, a twin myself, the coordinator of a government program, and a 4th generation Coloradan. The last part, being a 4th generation Coloradan was actually never that big of a deal until the last few years. Denver has seen a surge in population over the last ten years and now everyone seems to be in awe that I was actually born here. I personally love that and aside from a lot of folks, I love that everyone decided to move here. I am a very social person and it is helping Denver achieve its greatest potential.
I am the youngest of four and grew up just south of Denver in Aurora. I earned my degree in accounting from Colorado State University in 2005. After I graduated, I traveled and worked various sales jobs until I landed in Washington, DC in January of 2008. From 2008 until the summer of 2014 I worked across the street from the White House, as an analyst for the federal government. In the summer of 2014, I was transferred to New York City and in the fall of that same year I was transferred again; but this time back to Denver.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I always loved the idea that I could visualize a dream for my life then set out on a journey to realize it. While I was cutting my teeth on the east coast, my twin brother Shawn who is also an entrepreneur was doing the same in Los Angeles. Shawn is my best friend and our whole lives we planned to get our degrees, work in Corporate America for a few years then start building companies. In 2013, with our older brother Zach, we launched our first company, the Dougherty Land Company (DLC). The goal with this organization was to re-develop land in Denver. We found an angel investor, pitched multiple projects, got them funded and over the next two years constructed two buildings; a single-family home and a five-unit townhome. DLC was our first startup and invaluable to our journey. While we didn’t make a lot of money personally, we all received what probably amounted to a master’s degree in starting and running a company.
When the Dougherty land company dissolved, I began searching for my next project. I wasn’t passionate about land development and knew that in order to realize the dreams I had visualized I had to find something I loved. During my time on the east coast, the one thing I was more passionate about than anything was fashion. I loved finding new designs and hearing about new lines out of LA, New York, and Paris. Folks around the country were designing staple pieces with little twists and updated fits. I loved it. When I returned to Colorado, I couldn’t wait to see how the boutique fashion industry had woven its way into what was a booming Denver economy. What I found was that it had not woven itself at all. Aside from Topo Designs, there was nothing new to pick from except the major out of state corporations we had to choose from as kids. I was disappointed but had found my new project. I would call it Maroon Bell Outdoor.
With no formal training in fashion, I set out to design a brand of clothing gritty enough for the Rocky Mountains but fashionable enough for the urban lifestyle most of us live. We would not use any VC money, give 3% of our revenue back to non-profits, and build a company the way our grandparents did. My goal was to start with t-shirts, hats, and a single design, the Campfire Flannel shirt. As we made money we would continue designing and build out the company. Because we had no marketing budget my goal was to build a moveable 10×10 retail space that I could pop up anywhere. We would bring our products to craft beer festivals, music festivals, Denver events and tell our story to whoever would listen. I would also use free social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to begin building out the image of Maroon Bell Outdoor.
Two and a half years in we have grown into a viable company with these strategies. We just finished our 4th design and it will be coming out this summer. It is a vintage crew neck sweatshirt call “the doc” after my late grandfather. We also are re-releasing our original design, the campfire flannel in Aspen Gold and Glacier Blue.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
There have been about 20 days in 2.5 years that have been smooth. I don’t mean to say that in a victim’s voice but rather a realistic voice. Our concept is working, the designs are getting traction and the puzzle pieces are falling into place, however; getting those pieces into place takes effort, an enormous amount of effort. The task of actually selling the final product is important and nothing works without that happening but getting to that task is like marching 99 yards down a football field. The sale is the last goal line run into the touchdown. We are trying to build a puzzle that doesn’t exist, create pieces that don’t exist, come up with a unique and innovative way to cut the pieces so they fit together and then place them on the board. One of my mentors years ago, in regard to problems solving told me, “Jeremy, we don’t know what we don’t know.” Designing a viable company is an exercise in that advice every day.
An example of a struggle we endured was in our first year. I had designed the structure of the company, come up with a logo, created some branded products and began popping up at festivals. During that time, we were working on designing our first product from scratch, the campfire flannel. I had never designed anything before, so I was working with a professional designer who was also consulting me on sourcing and process. After 11 months of work, we received our first 100 flannel shirts from a manufacturer in Los Angeles. We only made 100 because early on I decided we would never make a decision that would bankrupt the company. We would manufacture in small batch then after we sold them we would use the money to make more.
The first batch of shirts arrived in late August of 2017. Two weeks later on Labor Day weekend, I took them to our favorite festival in Snowmass, Colorado; The JAS Aspen/Snowmass Labor Day weekend music festival. That weekend we sold almost all of them. I remember thinking I was a genius and starting a company was not as hard as everyone had told me. If this shirt sold that well and we were coming into Christmas, then it would not be long before we were riding off into the sunset. I was ecstatic.
Upon my return to Denver, I contacted my sources and we put in another order for 150 shirts. The reason we didn’t order more was because of my promise never to make a decision that could bankrupt us. A lot of the folks around me thought this was crazy and told me to order 500 or more; max out the credit cards. I stuck to my business plan, ordered 150, paid 50% to the manufacturer and then thousands of dollars for fabric, buttons, inner lining and all of the pieces you need to make a flannel. I was promised the shirts by no later than November 1st. On October 1st I texted my manufacturing point of contact for status and got no response. I called multiple times and got nothing. Over the next month, I texted, called, sent carrier pigeons and got nothing. I started to panic and question my thoughts on the ease of starting a company.
In early November, I received a call from a gentleman claiming to be in possession of all my fabric, buttons and raw materials. He told me “the person I had hired skipped town and nobody could find him. But I was in luck because he was familiar with my product and could produce it for me within three weeks with a discount.” I had no options, so I hired him and believed we were back on track. I began taking e-commerce back-orders for Christmas and collected thousands of dollars. At the end of November, we had not received any product. December 1st, nothing, December 7th, 8th, 12th nothing. Finally, on December 22nd, I received a box with about 15 shirts. Of those 15 shirts, probably eight of them were sewn together so poorly we couldn’t sell them. Of the shirts, we could sell my twin brother Shawn and I drove around Denver and delivered them to whoever hadn’t already canceled their orders. By this time, my credit card was maxed out from high-interest charges, a large percentage of the money we had collected from backorders had to be returned and all of our profit from these shirts and everything else had been wiped out.
We began 2018 with no product, no money, no available credit and starting down six months of the slowest time for retail. In the spring we ended up getting about 75 more flannels that we would sell over the next year.
After this event, my vision of how easy it was to start a company was long gone and not only did I not feel like a genius anymore but I clearly remember thinking, I better figure out how to get smarter really fast because this is an enormous problem. Over the next year, we launched a new branded product with higher margins, added events, were able to secure more inexpensive funding options, found a reputable overseas supplier, designed a glove with a lower cost of materials and we slowly fought back. By the end of last year, we were completely out of debt and turned a profit in year two. Just a week ago we revived 500 flannel shirts from our new supplier as well as my new design, a crew neck sweatshirt “The Doc.” They were all made to perfection and we will have them to sell for the end of Summer, Fall, and Christmas. This story was just one of probably a hundred struggles we deal with every day.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Maroon Bell Outdoor – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We are a fashion-conscious outdoor apparel brand based out of Denver, Colorado. We are fourth generations Coloradans and setting out to create a company that designs high quality, fashion conscious, outdoor apparel. Something you can wear on a hike than to a café or bar and not have to change. Our clothing probably isn’t great for climbing Everest but it is great for folks who go on a hike then stop at a brewery on the way home. One of our mottos is “hike by day, cocktail by night, stay fashionably comfortable the whole time”. Think Ralph Lauren meets Patagonia. I wanted consumers, ie: me, to have more options other than the big corporate outdoor apparel companies we grew up with.
We are not a get rich quick schemed organization. If it takes us three years to get a flannel shirt correct than that is what we will do. We also believe new companies have to change the way business is handled in America. We have to treat each other with more respect than exists currently. We have to try and get away from large legal contracts and get back to handshake deals with the understanding each party will figure out problems together. We do not believe one person at an organization should make 800 times more than the lowest paid employee. As we grow we will continue implementing this philosophy into our strategy.
We give 3% of everything back to three non-profits in Denver doing things we support. We will do that forever. We also try to work with as many Denver based companies as possible. One, in particular, is a non-profit called Mile High Workshop. This company sews all of the patches on our hats and will soon handle all of our online fulfillment. They have a 90-day program helping folks come out of incarceration, addiction and homelessness. We believe in supporting folks who are willing to fight for themselves. Everyone has their own mountain to climb and we want to do what we can to assist in that journey.
What makes us different from most of the Colorado clothing brands is that we are actually designing garments from scratch. A lot of companies we are competing with put their logo or a design on another companies clothing. For instance, a mountain with the words “Colorado” printed on a Hanes t-shirt or an American Apparel sweatshirt. While we do some of this it is only a means to an end. Our goal with branding is to build our brand awareness and increase cash flow so that we can continue to design our own line of clothing.
To date, we have designed the Campfire Flannel, the Buffalo Leather Gloves, the Rocky Mountain Rugby shirt and coming soon the Rocky Mountain Crew Neck “the Doc” (after my grandpa). There are so few companies operating this way that at festivals we have folks fail to fully understand what cut and sew actually means. After explaining that the Rugby Shirt is our design and there are only 100 in existence folks will ask me “So, you just get a blank shirt and put your patch on it? Is that how it works?” Nope, that is not how it works at all. It is decidedly more complicated. I think it is an enormous differentiator for us.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Our plans for the future are to continue growing in a slow, methodical way. This fall we are going to make a big push to finally get the flannel shirts into lots of hands. It’s been a long journey and we can’t wait. We are also going to launch our crew neck sweatshirt and make a big push for our buffalo leather gloves. We will also try and reduce the number of actual festivals we go to but choose more pointed pop-up spaces in targeted retail hubs so keep an eye out for that.
My wife and I had twins 2 months ago so while having a full-time job, taking care of them and running Maroon Bell Outdoor things can get a bit challenging. I always tell my wife, if it was easy everyone would do it. One of my favorite quotes is from the movie Gattaca. In the movie, two brothers spent their lives competing with each other by swimming out into the ocean. The younger brother always won and at the end of the movie the older brother asked him how he did it? His response was “I never saved anything for the swim back.” That is how I live my life and what I always wanted from my career. Suck the nectar out of every day, don’t save anything for the swim back. Finally, one of the reasons I believe so strongly in visualization is that if you do it for long enough then your dreams become your destiny. Your mind will believe whatever you tell it to believe. So, struggles like the one I described above never seem impossible. The idea that we won’t figure out a way through never enters my mind because failing is not my destiny.
Okay, my final, final comments are about my wife, Whitney. She was there when I started Maroon Bell Outdoor, she has been there as I designed and dealt with struggles, she has stood with me in parking lots and fields and warehouses and breweries and conventions centers for two and a half years selling this brand. She was with me in snow storms, hail storms, rain storms, heat storms, and last summer when a 75 mile an hour wind gust destroyed my entire pop up. She was also there when we had paramount weekends, listened to performers like Lionel Ritchie, Maroon Five, Hall and Oats and Jack Johnson play in iconic mountain towns. She is now a mom to our new twins and continuing to work as well; She is a public-school teacher. I never thought I would meet anyone who worked as hard as I did until I met her.
Having a lifestyle company and going on a journey to realize my dreams always included her. Before I met her, I visualized someone like her and us finding each other. Companies have to make money to be viable and it’s a necessity for basic needs like food and shelter, however; it’s not everything. Money is the byproduct it’s not the journey. Whitney was the life blood of this journey. Without relationships, without each other this adventure would have been bland, less dynamic and lonely. My dad told me when I was living in the Czech Republic to “think of my life as a book, then make it as interesting as possible.” Whitney has made my book so much more interesting than I ever could have done on my own.
- Campfire Flannel Shirt – Aspen Gold and Glacier Blue $130 (hand made fabric, hand stitched garment)
- Buffalo Leather Gloves – $65 (also hand made)
- Crew Neck Sweatshirt (“The Doc”) – $59 (Hand made fabric, hand stitched) See website for why we call this “the doc”
- All of our hats – $29
- Website: www.MaroonBell.com
- Email: JeremyDougherty@MaroonBell.Com
- Instagram: @MaroonBellOutdoor