Marketplace: Park City children’s clothing company Sawyer hopes to spark outdoor adventure
Founder says youngsters are missing out by staying on the sofa
September 8, 2017
Cameron Olthuis was growing weary of the fruitless searches.
Time and again, he'd visit the websites of his favorite clothing brands looking for outfits for his two daughters. The offerings were always sparse — sometimes just a T-shirt or two. So eventually he decided to do something about it.
Olthuis recently launched Sawyer, an online children's outdoor clothing brand based in Park City. He said in addition to simply wanting a better clothing options for his daughters, he sees the company as fulfilling one other important mission.
"One of the mantras for our brand is encouraging kids to get outdoors," he said. "… I've seen the invasion of technology in my own kids' lives compared to when I was growing up, so that was another inspiration behind (the brand)."
Shelby Layman, Sawyer's brand manager, sees that focus as an opportunity for the company to connect with customers on a deep level. Most parents can recall fond times from when they were young of camping adventures in the mountains or simply playing tag with neighborhood friends in their backyard. And many parents worry that, with the rise of cell phones and Netflix, the youth of today are missing out on those kinds of childhood experiences.
Layman said Sawyer is for people who want to make sure their children make memories other than sitting on a couch in front of the TV or iPad screen. It's why, in addition to selling clothing, the company includes articles and how-tos on its website aimed at sparking a motivation in customers to get outdoors.
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"I really valued my growing up, being outside all the time and those kinds of things," she said. "I've got a slew of nephews and a niece and a lot of cousins and stuff, so it's fun to recall the experience I had as a kid and seeing them have the same kind of experience. That's where it hits home for me."
Sawyer launched its website about a month and a half ago, offering a variety of T-shirts, hats and tank tops made to be soft but durable. The plan in the future is to expand the line to include products like long-sleeve T-shirts, sweaters and beanies.
"A big part of what we wanted to do was create clothing that we would wear ourselves," Layman said. "It's kind of 'Do we like it or don't we?' That's the final question on a lot of products, but we're really relying on the feedback of family and friends and other people we're running into, which is really cool."
Before starting Sawyer, Olthuis and his team had limited experience in the clothing world. He and a friend started a clothing shop when they were 18, but it never picked up much traction. He spent the following roughly two decades in the technology industry. He said the decision to operate Sawyer as an online company, rather than establishing a brick-and-mortar location, stemmed from that background.
He added that operating under a direct-to-consumer e-commerce model provides a lower barrier to entry for young startups, with a higher upside and a larger potential customer base.
Still, even with Olthuis' tech expertise, Sawyer's leadership team has found familiarizing themselves with the clothing industry to be a learning experience — albeit an exciting one.
"It's been a lot of drinking from the firehose and learning to, first of all, find designers and work on our own designers," Layman said. "We're learning their communication process, and even certain terminology we're having to learn about. It's been constant learning and constant mastering new skills and learning from the expertise of people we meet along the way."
Despite the steep learning curve, however, Olthuis is finding that venturing into a new world and merging it with his passion for tech suits him. He said it's been a thrill unlike anything he's ever experienced.
"It's been a blast," he said. "I don't think I've had this much fun ever in my career as I'm having right now. I love the whole product creation and going through the ideation of everything and seeing that come to fruition, all the way to the point where we touch the customer. And the feedback we get from them is amazing."
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