source: By Kailee Bradstreet, Transworld Business
THE STORY BEHIND THE HOWLER BROTHERS: MUSICIANS TURN SURF TRIP MEMORIES INTO APPAREL BRAND
Artist and musician Chase Heard grew up in Orlando, Florida, where he honed his surfing chops, before packing up and moving to Virginia for college. It was there he met up with fellow creative mind, East Coast native, and surfer Andy Stepanian, and together they founded the band Wrinkle Neck Mules, which has 5 studio recordings under its belt to date, and have “managed to forge a bizarre, cult-like following,” according to Stepanian.
While they had no idea at the time, the two would go on to found another creative project together: apparel brand Howler Brothers derived from the surfing, fishing, and outdoor lifestyles. Presently, the young brand is gaining its own unique following with retailers throughout the US, as well as expanding into Canada and New Zealand.
“We got to know each other pretty well after years of touring and playing music together and discovered we had covered a lot of common ground growing up,” says Heard of Stepanian. “Since we work well together in a creative capacity with the band, it was easy teaming up again to start Howler.”
Some of the common ground the two had covered included surf trips to Central America. As they began to share their stories, Stepanian and Heard quickly developed the name of their new brand, based on the haunting sound of the howler monkeys they had both heard on various adventures.
Drawing on his background as an artist, and his most recent career as an architect in Austin, Texas, Heard got started on the early concept behind Howler Brothers. Over the course of the next several years, the young brand spent countless time learning about the garment industry, sourcing and designing goods, and dialing in the look and feel of the brand, which today has carved out a niche going into its third year.
We caught up with Heard just in time for the launch of the Austin-based brand’s Spring 2014 collection, to hear more on Howler Brothers, what it’s like to launch a brand that revolves around the beach from a land-locked city, and what projects he is getting creative with moving into next season.
How did the idea to launch Howler Brothers come about, and how long did it take from concept to product to bring this brand to life?
The concept of Howler Bros. started back as early as 2008. The catalyst for the idea was some of the artwork I had been working on at the time and the ambition to create a brand around the lifestyle that we love: surfing, fishing, travel and the good things that come with those pursuits. We set out to make gear that reflected this culture, taking cues from surfing and art, but that also performed in the harshest conditions. We faced a steep learning curve in terms of manufacturing top quality gear and did not want to launch the brand until we were satisfied that the product reflected our vision. It was another two or three years after conception to get the whole line launched and rolling, but we were glad we did it right from the start. The reception so far has been overwhelming.
Austin is such a unique and diverse city. What is it like in terms of manufacturing an apparel brand – do you work within a factory there, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of producing garments domestically?
The diverse creative community in Austin is a big part of the brand. There are a lot of people starting exciting ventures down here as well so it’s a great environment for a growing brand. We currently manufacture many of our products overseas but we work with local and domestic printers, designers and craftsmen whenever we can. We are always looking for ways to bring more of our operations closer to home.
In terms of the new collection for Spring, what demographic are you trying to target? It seems geared more toward beach life than previous lines. What was your design inspiration for this collection?
Most of our gear is for people who spend a lot of time in and around the water who want gear that performs well and looks good in a variety of settings, from the lineup or the boat to the bar afterward. From inception, the brand has always been geared toward the adventurous coastal lifestyle.
Design inspiration for the collection comes mostly from tidbits and ideas we pick up in our travels. This spring the line includes board short patterns inspired by southern quilting, palaka fabric from old Hawaiian fieldworker shirts, Cuban embroidery, hula girls, roosters and t-shirt art inspired by Neil Young and classic longboard logos—plenty of variation, but all with a Howler vibe.
What pieces are you most stoked on from this collection? Which ones have you been rocking regularly?
Lots of favorites this year, but the Aransas shirt with the sunglass-cleaning pocket is always on my back and the Horizon Hybrid shorts are my daily shorts. We’re also pretty stoked on the Coordinates belt-buckle, which is a customizable heirloom quality piece that can be customized with the location of your favorite destination.
What are the challenges presented when speaking to surf specific and mountain specific retailers when you are based in a region that doesn’t have much of those two elements.
We get asked this from time to time and it’s definitely something that sets us apart. Generally though, people recognize Austin as a sort of creative mecca and understand why we’re here. Being in Austin gives us a really diverse palate to pull from—everything from music to street art to cowboy stuff. These things tend to resonate well in surf communities and mountain towns and, hopefully, give our gear a unique look and feel.
Plus, since we don’t have waves or mountains in our backyard, we get to embrace the idea of the entire mission and everything that goes along with it—whether it’s hopping a plane heading to Central America or driving a few hours to the Texas coast. The bonds created during the totality of the adventure are really what Howler is all about.
What are your plans for distribution over the next 12 months – are you trying to get into more retail doors or just maintain the number you are at?
We are definitely expanding our retail presence over the next 12 months. Things have been picking up for us in the surf and specialty outdoor market and we are excited to continue taking things in that direction. It’s been fun to see the retail side of the business growing as the brand gets more exposure and people start to recognize the brand.
What do you think sets your apparel apart from other brands at retail?
I think our creative approach to functional pieces of clothing is pretty unique in the current retail environment. Our take on the Guayabera shirt is a great example. We adapted the traditional four-pocket “Mexican wedding shirt” with an updated fit, UPF protection and travel-friendly, wrinkle-resistant, breathable fabric. We have received great feedback on the combination of utility and thoughtful design that we bring to our products.
If you had to describe the brand in three words, what would they be?
Heed the call.
What are you most excited about in terms of upcoming projects, collections, etc.?
We’ve got another set of Danny Hess Handplanes coming out this spring, as well as a new bag collaboration with Topo Designs which we are fired up about. We also expanded our board short offerings for the spring. I am a board short junkie of sorts so I’m excited about getting a few more pairs out there.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just an enormous thanks to everyone who helped us reach this point. There’s much more to come.