Minnesotans can now wear their love for the lakes on their sleeves. Founded and led by alumnus Spencer Barrett, '13 BSB, and his business partner David Burke, Great Lakes clothing is satisfying a demand for a Midwest lifestyle clothing brand that has long gone unmet. Represented by the state bird, Great Lakes offers shirts, hats, and accessories adorned with the loon their Minnesota-proud customers hold dear.
"We felt it was time there was a brand that represented our way of living," says Barrett. "We saw a need to create a brand that speaks to what we Minnesotans are all about: we work hard and play hard, get up to the cabin to relax with the family, escape to the lake, and enjoy the finer things in life."
Barrett and Burke were overwhelmed by the support the venture has experienced from customers. The founders recently completed a Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $25,000 in a mere 30 days. The crowdsourced cash will fund production of a new short and long-sleeved polo shirt, as well as a seersucker leather tabbed belt. The founders also plan to expand their women's line soon.
"Reaching our Kickstarter goal really validated that our idea was worth pursuing," says Burke. "That was a big milestone for us."
Barrett recalls lessons on boot-strapping a venture from his entrepreneurship courses at the Carlson School, and testifies he keeps the business's operations as lean as possible. Today, the founders cull spending by preparing and shipping orders in house, employing only one intern, and finding alternatives to courting venture capital funding.
"Keeping the venture lean was a key strategy. We took the slower route, but it was worth it," says Barrett.
Staying true to their Minnesota roots has been instrumental to Great Lakes' initial success. In addition to using only products manufactured in the United States, the founders are also dedicated to conserving the lakes they love. The business gives back a portion of sales to Conservation Minnesota and Alliance for the Great Lakes.
"We're building our brand around the importance of life at the lake, so it makes sense to give back to something that was such a big part of our lives growing up," says Barrett.
Hopkins-based Great Lakes sells products online, and is expanding to retail now. Great Lakes clothing will be available at Brightwater in Excelsior this winter, with more retailers coming soon.
Are you eager to get your hands on some Great Lakes merchandise? Like the Carlson School on Facebook for your chance to win a T-shirt!