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Since 1985, a small town in New Hampshire has been home to something rather remarkable.
Boasting little more than 23,000 residents, a state college and a private liberal arts university so common to that region of the U.S., Keene, New Hampshire is also the hometown to a long-standing business. This business is known for its commitment to the sustainability, or “Going Green,” movement as well as its penchant for spawning internet memes and infectious customer loyalty.
The combination may seem odd –– Grumpy Cat mixed with save the whales –– but The Mountain has long since proven an uncanny ability to simultaneously hit the sentimental nerve and funny bone of online shoppers. So much so, in fact, that the ever-coveted virality the internet seems to so randomly spur is a common brand awareness driver for the company.
For The Mountain, these days marketing begins with doing things that its small team believes to be awesome, then letting customers spread the word on the company's behalf. The first time was in 2008, when Brian Govern, a law student at Rutgers University, was browsing Amazon for his textbooks and was served a recommendation for a t-shirt.
The Three Wolf T-Shirt and an Amazon Review of a Lifetime
This was in the days when Amazon was primarily an online bookstore –– with its reach only beginning to fully expand into all consumers goods. Even its recommendations algorithms were in their nascent form.
Govern, intrigued, clicked on the link and, without buying the shirt, left the kind of review only the internet could have given rise to –– but which has roots in satirist style back to Jonathan Swift himself.
“This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself, but once I tried it on, that's when the magic happened. After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women. The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to 'howl at the moon' from time to time (if you catch my drift!). The women that approached me wanted to know if I would be their boyfriend and/or give them money for something they called mehth. I told them no, because they didn't have enough teeth, and frankly a man with a wolf-shirt shouldn't settle for the first thing that comes to him.
I arrived at Wal-mart, mounted my courtesy-scooter (walking is such a drag!) sitting side saddle so that my wolves would show. While I was browsing tube socks, I could hear aroused asthmatic breathing behind me. I turned around to see a slightly sweaty dream in sweatpants and flip-flops standing there. She told me she liked the wolves on my shirt, I told her I wanted to howl at her moon. She offered me a swig from her mountain dew, and I drove my scooter, with her shuffling along side out the door and into the rest of our lives. Thank you wolf shirt.
Pros: Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women
Cons: Only 3 wolves (could probably use a few more on the 'guns'), cannot see wolves when sitting with arms crossed, wolves would have been better if they glowed in the dark.”
Seemingly overnight, the review became an internet sensation, with the New York Times, BBC and ABC all reporting on the “Three Wolf Tee” with headlines like: “Think a T-Shirt Can’t Change Your Life? A Skeptic Thinks Again.” This review even shows up in higher education textbooks and graduate research papers explaining the irony of the internet.
Yes, the irony.
For The Mountain, the producer of the shirt, the review caused operational havoc. It was their first time reaching mass production velocity for one product, and they soon were forced to halt the production of their 500 other t-shirts to match demand. After all, the shirt immediately skyrocketed into Amazon’s best selling and most recommended products –– proving to the industry as a whole the true power of Amazon and online reviews.
Today, that review has been cited as “helpful” by more than 40,000 people –– and the entire review section reads like multiple excerpts from a modern Mark Twain short story book, if one were to exist. That is, satirist storytelling on our modern consumerist culture.
The Mountain’s team took the success in stride, and soon thereafter launched their own online store and social media presence to capture the attention and demand. At the time, Amazon was their only selling channel.
Saving the Environment One Meme at a Time
Good humor aside, The Mountain has long been dedicated to something outside of a typical t-shirt production company’s roundhouse of expertise.
“From our earliest days, we have worked to be a responsible company. We have a Green Philosophy and every day we strive to run our company and produce our products in a way that protects the environment, gives value to our customers and supports our employees and the artists,” reads the company’s about page. “Long before it was the ‘in’ thing to do, the founders of The Mountain® have been taking the kind of steps that make a real difference.”
This dedication can be found in the final product, 80% of the cotton of which is sourced from U.S.-based farmers. This, along with a unique water-base ink treatment (rather than the petroleum-based ink 99.5% of other screen printing companies use) has earned them the Oekotex 100% certification –- the highest qualification worldwide for chemical-free goods.
Sure, this commitment to quality products and supporting farmers is impressive, but even more so than that is their production facilities. In a time when outsourcing is often the most coveted route to higher margins and lower prices –– using warehouses half a world away to produce goods nearly all labeled “Made in China” –– The Mountain has found a different method.
“Our shirts are dyed and printed in our own facility here in New Hampshire. We believe that Fair Trade starts at home by taking good care of our employees and their families. The Mountain maintains an on-site Child Care Center that is available for all employees’ pre-school aged children.”
That’s right –– all of The Mountain’s t-shirts (more than 800 designs of them) are dyed and screen printed right there in New Hampshire, serving to build and foster a local economy for generations of families.
When Doing the Right Thing Pays Off
It was these founding principles, and The Mountain’s refusal to value short-term benefit (often the pricing race to the bottom) over long-term gains (the fostering of a community and goodwill), that in 2011 gave the company another boost in revenue.
In the days, weeks and years following the worst act of aggression on U.S. soil in recent memory, Americans went online in droves looking for locally-made goods. In the wake of 9/11, thousands of online shoppers discovered and began buying shirts from The Mountain –– the epitome of American Made Manufacturing, not to mention a company that for years had actively supported farmers through green causes.
Today, The Mountain is still going strong. In fact, it’s likely that you own one of their shirts, or know someone that does.
Whether it's a political meme, one of its ‘Big Face’ animal tees, kids’ and college apparel, gag gifts at bachelor parties, nerding out for ’May the Fourth Be With You,’ its t-shirts stand apart from others, both in appearance and quality.
But this company isn’t done quite yet. The Mountain’s staff have made their mark on the world using humor and good will –– and also having a particularly fascinating knack for being at the right place, at the right time. After all, who knows what would have happened if Govern hadn’t been recommended that shirt on a late, law school night in New Jersey.
It’s one thing to have good timing, though. It’s another altogether to be one step ahead of grassroots movements turning into widely popular cultural conversations. And the company’s next initiative is nothing short of their previous success.
Today is the official launch of The Mountain’s first brand extension: Colorwear.
Produced in the same factory with the same Oekotex 100% certification, with all dyes going through the same water treatment process (one which treats and cleans the water so well that the company is effectively cleaning the local river with every shirt produced) and all materials being sourced with the same dedication to American made and marketed comes the next wave in what is already a nationwide trend. They’ve been marketed as great for creativity. They’ve been said to reduce stress and level out anxiety. You can even mediate with a few.
That’s right –– adult coloring books have taken over the creativity market, and now, The Mountain and their first brand expansion, ColorWear, are bringing you sustainable, American-made coloring book t-shirts.
Adult Coloring Books are About to Take Over Your T-Shirt Collection
Let’s go back to 2015 for a moment, back to our town of Keene in the southwest of New Hampshire. It is fall and the adult coloring book movement is strong. Bloomberg reports hockey-stick growth numbers from Barnes & Noble and other sellers. A subscription box service takes off. Books marketed to help ease anxiety, for meditation, to get the creative juices flowing –– all of these make headlines across the most popular to the most niche of online websites.
But in Keene, something else is happening. A group of women have gathered. Wine is poured. Cheese is placed on cutting boards. Lindsey, a marketer for The Mountain, leads the women into a room where tye-die t-shirts with outlined owl screenprints are laid out in front of chairs at a table you might find in the kitchen or dining room of your own childhood home.
The product testing has begun.
The women sip wine and snack, pick up the fabric markers and begin doing what each of us –– admittedly or not –– has done over the past year: they color.
Suddenly, the women are chatting, getting to know one another and talking about their kids, their friends, their lives. Their future use of this exact activity at birthday and bachelorette parties, with aging parents and young children, for binge-worthy get togethers watching the newest episode of whatever new Netflix series has just launched –– it’s all discussed at length.
For The Mountain’s team, the work was only beginning but one thing was clear: this was a product that had consumers collecting and communicating. It was stirring similar emotions to the scrapbooking of the 2000s and the coloring craze of just that year. It was likely the next evolution in the trend. And now, 12 women were about to spread the most valuable marketing of all –– word of mouth –– to everyone they knew.
The Clock Was Ticking
In traditional The Mountain style, the team set out to collaborate and immediately began looking for the best of the best in coloring book artists. Now, The Mountain already works with artists throughout the country, giving both visibility and profit to their work.
“A little known fact that started over 20 years ago is our artists receive royalties on every shirt sold. So you are supporting our artists, their families and their ability to keep creating as well!”
The outreach process to a couple additional artists is a tried and true method for the company. They landed on Valentina Harper and Angelea Van Dam (aka Hello Angel), both of whom immediately were on board with the idea.
From there, the team needed to find a fabric marker company which matched The Mountain's moral integrity and quality. In typical fashion, the team always seems to find partners on the brink of new and relevant initiatives. The fabric marker company Tulip was looking for just this sort of opportunity –– and the deal was signed.
Now, for the distribution angle. Sure, The Mountain itself has hundreds of thousands of fans. But, it’s one thing to have a recognizable brand, and another to launch an offshoot and go back to the basics of growing awareness. So, armed with the knowledge that in-store shoppers spend more, the team flexed their wholesale capabilities (The Mountain is a wholesale company, after all) and reached out to their distribution network. You'll soon be able to buy ColorWear goods right there next to your hobbying project items at Michael's Craft Store.
Knowing the good fortune that comes to those with good will, and The Mountain especially, it is likely only a matter of time before larger news publications pick up on the trend. From Forbes and Entrepreneur, sites following the revenue side of the coloring book trend, to BuzzFeed and Mashable, sites following the internet craze of that same trend, ColorWear will soon be a brand you, your kids and your best friends know and wear all too well.
Submit Your Designs to Win
But, don’t think ColorWear is done just yet. With such dedication to customers, The Mountain’s team would be remiss to not tip their hat in the direction of all artists and potential customers.
So, exclusively here, you can join in on the fun! BigCommerce and ColorWear have partnered together to launch an instagram artists contest –– the winner of which will get their design printed on a ColorWear t-shirt. Who decides? The community of course!
Here’s how it works.
If you are an artist, submit an instagram photo of an artwork piece you think is perfect for coloring in and use the hashtag #ColorWear and tag @BigCommerce. The sooner you submit, the better –– because for everyone else (those of you not submitting a design), you get to vote on the designs you like the most.
The winning artist, as well as 20 lucky voters, will win the free t-shirt, complete with markers, so you can host your own t-shirt coloring party and be the first of your friends to take the adult coloring book trend to the next level.
It’s wearable art you can feel good about, and we’ll be following ColorWear’s success over the following months, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, remember this: the internet is full of passionate people and creativity. How can your brand better serve your customers, your community and our insatiable desire to find what is new, different and interesting?
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