How We Started A $10K/Month Men's Outdoor Apparel Brand
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi friends, my name is Brad Hoos, founder of MuskOx. No, unfortunately, I wasn’t the first person to discover the musky odored, super cool, Arctic hooved mammals with two-layered thick coats that roam the tundra in herds. However, I did start a men’s clothing line called MuskOx to provide quality, functional gear for your everyday adventure, whether you’re trekking alongside arctic mammals, hustling at the office, or exploring new terrain.
Why? It’s simple -- I felt like men needed more thoughtful gear to simplify their lives.
Our customers are men who appreciate simplicity in design, functionality in features, and seek greatness in their daily pursuits. One of our top-selling products is The Grand Flannel-- a flannel made of heavy-duty cotton twill with a soft brush finish so our guy can be prepared for any adventure without sacrificing comfort.
Also, our Summer 2020 collection includes the Charleston Performance Hoodie, which is a technical hoodie made of a lightweight knit fabric with UV blocking, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying properties -- a must-have in the sun or heat!
Since our launch in 2019, we have already grown a significantly supportive customer base, comprising thousands of MuskOx men and women who live in tandem with the spirit of the MuskOx brand. We have recently developed a partnership with the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in support of the quality care they provide to wildlife like the greatest animal around: muskox!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I grew up in Michigan and always sought out adventure. In high school, I found my way to the Rockies for long backpacking excursions and spring break in college meant hiking The Narrows in Utah. But I also loved the city -- spending time in Washington DC, Indianapolis, and 8 years in Chicago.
I went to business school at The University of Chicago but took advantage of precisely ZERO of the entrepreneurial opportunities that were offered there, but I suppose the truth is that I have always liked to do things the hard way. After years in management consulting, lots of outdoor adventures around the world, founding a VC-backed business, working for a VC, and being an owner of an influencer marketing agency -- I realized it was time to make a physical product that mattered and connected with people. Something that helped inspire people. And something that was designed to last.
I came up with the concept for MuskOx because I found myself constantly looking for versatile high-quality clothing that I could wear to the office and out on the trails alike. Rather than settling for what’s already out there, I decided to craft something that’s fitting of the American man today: rugged, timeless, and built for the long-term. As an entrepreneur, I knew this was the right idea because if something is missing, that’s an opportunity to create it.
Simple as that idea maybe, it’s certainly not easy to execute and not something I could do alone. In this type of endeavor, it’s important to know one’s strengths...and the areas where I knew nothing! So I sought out the expertise of a designer, Lindsey, from New York who has worked at other reputable menswear brands and comes with years of valuable experience not only in design but also sourcing. This synergy has allowed us to create high-quality, thoughtfully designed clothing with functional details for everyday adventure.
Why the animal muskox? Well, they are fascinating creatures that assert their dominance when needed and brave the treacherous, unforgiving conditions of the arctic. They are loyal, protective, efficient, and do what it takes to survive with their herd. While those qualities might be inherent in muskox animals, they are also notable when present in mammals of the human variety. Those are the kind of men we wanted to make clothes for -- the guys that know when to take a stand, the guys that do whatever it takes, the guys that are adaptable to whatever adventure is thrown their way.
We’re not built as a rocketship; we’re built as a train that starts slow, gains steam, and becomes nearly unstoppable once it’s at full speed.
And so MuskOx was born to support those men. So we might not be the flashiest brand around, but MuskOx men are the type of guys that put their head down and get the job done. No pomp and circumstance required.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
From the start, we’ve been committed to finding the right fabric for the functionality of each garment. Sometimes that’s cotton and sometimes that is a poly-blend with performance capabilities. We want the right fabric for the right use case.
And for MuskOx men, comfort is key -- so we search for soft fabrics that are sturdy enough to hold up to our guy’s active lifestyle. We also use cooling or quick-dry fabric when it's important to the design - like our Charleston Hoodie that’s a must-have for sunny days on the water and our Quick Dry Quarter-Zip that’s perfect for evening fires outside.
Needless to say, our designer Lindsey’s experience has been critical here! All praises are due for tapping into her network to identify some great sourcing options and handling not only the selections and order but the logistics as well.
In terms of our process for design, we first and foremost determine which pieces we want to offer for a seasonal collection. Sometimes this is as simple as an idea or preference, sometimes we’re inspired by past military collections, and often we’re focused on simple problems guys experience every day like losing their sunglasses or keys. And yes, sometimes it’s plain old style.
Once we agree on our overall approach, Lindsey works her magic to collect fabric samples in the ideal fabric we’ve identified, design key features that differentiate MuskOx & solve problems (like the sunglasses loop on many of our summer shirts or the thumb holes on lots of MuskOx gear).
We are diligent about trying the prototypes on different body types to determine measurements like the best average length of sleeves to fit someone like me at 6’4” and someone like my father-in-law at 5’8” (very possibly 5’7”, but that’s neither here nor there). Also recruiting models of varying physical statures for photoshoots has been a great way for us to see how our garments fit different body types and dudes with different preferences for how their gear fits.
Our biggest “challenge” has been finding fabrics and styles that are classic but also relevant today. But it’s a worthwhile challenge that allows us to design and deliver quality products. From there we select the best factories from around the world and close to home to make quality gear in a way that our families and our MuskOx herd can feel good about.
We honed in on some fine details that are important to us as well, like the MuskOx printed patch and logo zipper pulls on our shirts. And because we want our garments to be functional, we’ve created features like the hidden zipper pocket inside our American Hoodie to keep your most important items from falling out. Since this was one of our first pieces, we were super excited at how well it turned out, how well it works, and how well it was received by the herd!
We also wanted our packaging to make a simple statement: We’ve Got You. Yes, you just spent your hard-earned money on our product - so we want to arrive in a way that makes you say “wow, that’s cool”. Our garment boxes flip open with a musk ox image printed on the inside and each one contains a MuskOx sticker -- to put on your personal property for everyone else to see, of course. Additional cost for a new startup business? Absolutely. But worth it for us to make that statement to our herd.
Our products are designed in Detroit, distributed from our partners in Texas, and manufactured in Portugal, Nicaragua, Honduras, Korea, China, Turkey, and right here in the US of A. Like many brands in 2020, we experienced manufacturing and logistical delays due to the pandemic and like many brands, that’s not something we necessarily accounted for when planning for this year, which is why our Spring/Summer line evolved into just a Summer line. Nevertheless, we weathered the storm and are grateful that our herd waited patiently for the new gear to drop.
Is helpful not only to level-set everyone’s expectations but also to allow the team to constantly raise the bar for what we’re collectively holding ourselves to. And that’s a pretty powerful thing.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I started MuskOx in 2019, but our story began quite a while before that. I got connected with my business partner and MuskOx man Joel Beckett back in 2014 and we have worked together to grow The Outloud Group, an influencer marketing agency to 35 people and growing.
After working with some incredible outdoors and hand-on influencers like Rob Terkla, Andy Rawls, and Matt Carriker, we decided to harness their industry expertise and wide reach to startup MuskOx. All three of these men embody what MuskOx stands for, and they were excited about taking on this venture with us. To date, I attribute much of our success to being focused on building the business the right way for the long-haul. We’re not built as a rocketship; we’re built as a train that starts slow, gains steam, and becomes nearly unstoppable once it’s at full speed.
We haven't taken on any eternal funding for MuskOx and we’re doing everything we can to bootstrap the business. It’s a hard business to bootstrap because of all the upfront inventory expenses, but we’ve always been long-term thinkers and MuskOx is the poster child for that. We’re building things the right way and know that it takes years to create a brand.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launch, we have built a strong base of supporters who actively engage and who always advocate for our brand. Our customers, like me, are adventurers and we want to play to this mindset by engaging and giving tips and suggestions that provide value to the lives of these men.
When sending emails and posting advertisements, we always ask ourselves what the value is that we provide to our followers, so that we can give them interesting content that they are likely to share with their friends and family. When I craft emails myself, it is from a personal place so people can understand who I am and who the brand is -- in a very personal way.
The separation of work and personal is largely a thing of the past & I want our herd to know what I’m feeling, especially when times are difficult. We don’t want our emails or posts to be solely advertisements for our product with hopes they compel people to buy. I have a genuine desire to share some of my life and perspectives, to make MuskOx more relatable.
In our efforts to increase traffic and sales, along with improving SEO, we regularly run advertisements on Facebook and Instagram, where we have an active following of over 4,000 followers -- none of which are paid.
We have also recently launched a podcast, The Herd Has Spoken, to learn more about some of the men in our herd with a focus on resiliency and doing what it takes to get sh*t done. We enjoy the opportunity to learn more about like-minded men and view it as another way to provide value to our client base.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re currently finalizing our winter 2020/2021 line, creating great content, and building some amazing partnerships with creators and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. We’re about to roll out a new partnership where we will sponsor a MuskOx through a $10 donation to the AWCC for every $100+ purchase from our customers. We think that giving back to the wilderness and wildlife is super important.
Our day-to-day operations consist of designing new gear, interacting with customers, and continuing to represent the brand in a way that’s exciting and aspirational for the adventure-seeking men of the world. We of course regularly post on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook -- and engage with our followers across all platforms. We take a lot of pride in our email, website design, and photo design -- which has helped us to create an approachable brand that is still aspirational.
On a higher level, we have weekly team meetings to discuss merchandising and marketing strategy and planning, which consists of everything from planning emails and social posts to planning new products, and analyzing our weekly performance.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Illustrate what “good” looks like. Admittedly, I have high expectations of myself and those around me (my enneagram is a 3 - big surprise)....but I have learned that an entire team must agree on what “good” looks like. This is helpful not only to level-set everyone’s expectations but also to allow the team to constantly raise the bar for what we’re collectively holding ourselves to. And that’s a pretty powerful thing.
Provide the minimum amount of structure needed to get something done, but not any less. Emerging businesses have a huge advantage over large companies in that they can make decisions quickly and change direction fast. Keeping that mentality is super important, but what’s also important is keeping everyone aligned and communicating. As you grow, more structure is needed -- and this isn’t something to shy away from -- in fact, it’s something to embrace & usually is work that you only have time for on nights and weekends.
Hire slow, fire fast. I probably don’t have to elaborate too much on that one -- it’s a guiding principle in all of my endeavors, not just MuskOx.
As I mentioned above, it’s important to recognize what you know and what you don’t know; know your strengths and where you need support. When you’re on a specific timeline in a competitive space where you only have control over your portion of the supply chain, it’s really important to surround yourself with other qualified people that supplement those needs to work together like a well-oiled machine.
This of course becomes a little trickier during a pandemic. But you don’t necessarily have to hire seasoned full-time employees (most of us can’t afford to early on anyway); you can piecemeal certain tasks to different people, get an intern or search for freelancers with relevant experience on platforms like Fiverr.
Build your team out of those who you know will bring value to your business, who are great leaders and are, most importantly, respectful people.
Be intentional about assigning ownership. When you’re operating with a lean staff where everyone is wearing multiple hats, don’t assume that ‘someone’ will take responsibility if something unexpected arises.
Start with a modest scope; pick one thing and do it well. You probably hear all too often that many companies want to conquer the world out of the gate. Who wouldn’t want that?! It’s not always easy to pick your one thing to focus on when you’ve got an awesome idea you’re excited about executing. Here, we’ve tried to keep it simple. Our focus is to provide thoughtfully designed functional apparel for everyday adventure.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our team does a great job of integrating numerous online platforms to optimize our operations. Slack and Google meet have been our lifeline during the COVID pandemic and have been extremely useful in team collaboration. Our website and fulfillment are both done on Shopify, which has made everything from procurement to fulfillment to posting on our blog simple and streamlined.
For MuskOx emails, we use Klaviyo, which provides a great way to design beautiful emails and intricately segment our customer base. Lastly, our podcast platform is done through anchor.fm, which makes the distribution to all podcast platforms extremely easy.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
One of my favorite books is How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. This book has stood the test of time, over 80 years, and is one of the most important reads for anyone, whether they are an entrepreneur or not. Getting a solid foundation for how you conduct yourself can help boost your charisma and will get you a lot farther in life than you think.
For podcasts, one of my favorites is How I Built This, with Guy Raz. I like this podcast because, even though the guests that Guy has on the show are extremely accomplished entrepreneurs, it shows that no matter who you are, you are blazing your trail through anything your startup. Hearing these success stories (and some brutal failures) lights a fire under your ass and gets you motivated to take your startup to the next level.
I’m also quite partial to The Herd Has Spoken podcast we started where we interview MuskOx men from the herd to learn about how they got to where they are and hear about inspirations, challenges, and lessons they’ve experienced along the way. There’s a big entrepreneurial bent to the programming and lots of big YouTubers who come along for the ride.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
This might be obvious for some, but I think it’s worth saying: in any startup, investors and partners always look to “bet on the jockey, not the horse,” meaning the team is really what drives forward your business. Yeah, you can have a great idea, but if your team is either unmotivated or lacking competency, your idea will stay at just that -- an idea. Knowing this, build your team out of those who you know will bring value to your business, who are great leaders and are, most importantly, respectful people.
As far as starting -- just fucking go. When a car is stuck in the snow it doesn’t matter if your ultimate destination is east, west, north, or south. What matters is that you start rocking the car to get it out of the snowbank and into drive mode. Creating a business is a lot like that. Sure you need vision and a plan -- but what you need is the want-to and momentum. So start moving today.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for scrappy folks to help grow an apparel startup, so if you want to sink your teeth into high-quality outdoor gear, and won’t experience in the clothing industry, shoot us a note.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Podcast: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
MuskOx has provided an update on their business!
About 1 year ago, we followed up with MuskOx to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
4 months ago, we followed up with MuskOx to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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