Usually we use this space to check in with Cottonwood Institute alumni, to hear about all of the amazing things they’ve been up to since completing CAP. But we can’t forget about the other important folks who make up the CI community! So this time we’re speaking to Jeremy Dougherty, fourth generation Coloradan, Founder of Maroon Bell Outdoor, and one of Cottonwood Institute’s most consistent supporters. Jeremy uses his business to support local organizations like CI, and we are happy to return the favor where we can. Be sure to check out Maroon Bell this Small Business Saturday, November 30th!
1. How did Maroon Bell come to be, and what is your vision for the brand?
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. After spending seven years on the east coast I became passionate about 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. But the boutique fashion industry had not woven its way into Denver. 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 had found my 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 a single design, the Campfire Flannel shirt. Because we had no marketing budget I built 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. Three years in we have grown into a viable company with these strategies. We just finished our 4th design, a vintage crew neck sweatshirt called “the doc” after my late grandfather.
Maroon Bell donates a percentage of its sales to Cottonwood Institute and other nonprofits. What was behind your decision to give back in this way, and why did you choose CI?
For a long time I have believed the future was our responsibility. When I was structuring Maroon Bell Outdoor in the Spring of 2016, I organized everything around the philosophy that we can all win together. I didn’t want to create another get rich quick organization that would benefit one person and be gone in ten years. My goal was to build a for-profit company with everyone in mind. So early on I decided to give 3% of my top line sales back to three non-profit organizations I believed in, forever. One night I heard about an organization helping young people from lower socio-economic environments experience the mountains. I did some research and was hooked. I introduced myself to Ford, explained what I was doing, and asked if he was interested in accepting random checks from a company I had not started yet. Ford tells me it is the easiest sales call he ever made.
Clearly you have some affinity for the outdoors. Was there a formative outdoor experience in your life that you can remember?
The most formidable memory I have of being in the outdoors was camping with my family on Guanella pass, above Georgetown. In the 80’s and 90s Guanella pass was a remote location with few people around. Friday nights in June and July after my dad would get off work our family of 6 and two dogs would pile into the Volkswagen van and head for the hills. We would drive up through Georgetown, past the dam, past the aspen tree groves, up a bumpy dirt road, and to the area where we always camped. That once remote road is paved now, and our favorite spot has to be reserved a year in advance. At night we would cook food on the fire with our carved sticks, eat s’mores, and watch the sky for shooting stars. All six of us and the two dogs slept in one big tent from the 1950s.
As an adult I think about those experiences a lot. I think about how the trees and the forest didn’t judge me or want anything from me. They existed as they were. I love Cottonwood Institute because they are giving kids this experience.
What’s next for you and for Maroon Bell?
Our plans for the future are to continue growing in a slow, methodical way. 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 quantity of actual festivals we go to but choose more pointed pop up spaces in targeted retail hubs so keep an eye out for that. Finally, we are now working with a Denver based manufacturer and starting this Christmas will launch an original Maroon Bell Bag. This bag was innovated with a zero-waste philosophy. We are making it primarily from prototypes we cannot sell but most importantly a batch of our Rocky Mountain Rugby shirts which did not come out to our standards.
Thank you to Jeremy Dougherty for his contributions!