By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor
RED LODGE – The small community of Roscoe, Mont. had a population of 15 at the 2010 census. But its proximity to the tallest point in Montana was reason enough for two climbers to name their clothing company after the unincorporated town.
“[Roscoe] is a popular way to access Granite Peak,” said Hans Howell, who together with business partner Hailey DeMarois owns the high-performance outerwear company, Roscoe Outdoor. At 12,807 feet and surrounded by the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Granite Peak is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground.
And it’s a central reason Howell and DeMarois started Roscoe Outdoor approximately 20 miles southeast of Roscoe in Red Lodge. “It’s an awesome place to hike, climb and ski,” Howell said. “We love these sports and building great products for them.”
Howell, 30, and DeMarois, 31, both grew up in Missoula, though they didn’t know each other then. It took attending different colleges for them to meet in Missoula on a break from school. Howell earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics from the University of Montana, while DeMarois attended Drexler University in Philadelphia, Pa., earning a B.A. in fashion design.
They moved to Red Lodge in 2008 for the outdoor recreation opportunities after Howell left his job as an analyst for D.A. Davidson Companies, a financial services firm in Great Falls.
“Both of us were doing a lot of climbing at the time,” Howell said. “We realized there wasn’t a really durable synthetic climbing pant on the market and we thought we could do something to solve that problem.”
In 2010, Howell and DeMarois set out to develop sturdy, comfortable clothing for the outdoor recreationalist, a challenging task given the highly competitive outdoor retail industry. They started with one pair of pants called the Washakie, which Howell says are as tough as the 19th century Shoshone warrior they’re named for.
“We wanted to take the durability of a Carhartt pant and make it out of synthetic, high-performance material,” Howell said of the Washakie pants, which are reinforced in the knees and seat to withstand the beating that climbers and hikers can impose on their clothing.
The resulting Washakies are treated with a water resistant DWR finish, are quick drying, and built from 95 percent nylon and 5 percent Lycra. “Hailey and I started the company on peanuts,” Howell said. “The Washakie pant was a big hit, but we want to expand our product offerings. Growth is where we’re headed.”
Roscoe Outdoor currently offers two pant options for men, two for women, and shorts for both, distributed by nearly 30 locations from the Rockies to the Pacific Northwest. But the duo hopes a recent crowdsourcing effort will allow for an even greater business expansion.
Howell and DeMarois launched a Kickstarter campaign on Thanksgiving Day for a U.S.-sourced and manufactured Polartec fleece, dubbed the “Yellowstone.” Making the product available only through Kickstarter reduces distributor costs, and sourcing Polartec, which manufactures its fleece in Lawrence, Mass., allows Roscoe Outdoor to fulfill an early desire to sell American-made.
“For us to produce domestically, it’s important for us to use materials based in [the] U.S.,” said DeMarois, who designs then works and reworks patterns until she gets what she wants.
At EBS press time on Dec. 21, Roscoe’s “Yellowstone” pullover fleece Kickstarter campaign was at approximately 70 percent of its $18,000 goal with a week to go. A campaign does not receive any of the pledged contributions if the goal isn’t reached, but after speaking with others who have completed successful Kickstarters, Howell is optimistic.
“They tend to be busy at the beginning and at the end [of the campaigns], and I think we’ll get there,” he said. “It’s certainly not a guarantee, but we have a good shot at reaching that goal.”
While the partners realize the difficulty of starting and developing Roscoe Outdoor, they say they’re looking forward to a successful future.
“Being small has the advantage of being nimble,” Howell said. “We’re always looking for small, niche products that we can produce successfully.”
And being a smaller company at this point, DeMarois notices the little things that amount to success. “The greatest reward is going places and seeing people wearing your pants,” she said. “I always get a kick out of that.”