As part of our series of maker spotlights, we recently teamed up with Zack of Bowen Outdoors to talk about how he turned his passion for the outdoors into a business. For Zack, owning her own company is a way that she can give back to the causes and programs that matter to him, like nature conservation and camps and training programs that help children experience nature. Read more below to find out how Zack started Bowen Outdoors, and how he's making sure a new generation can enjoy the great outdoors.
How did you get started creating an outdoor brand?
We founded our brand on one mission: to inspire families and children to get out and explore more. During our conversations about our biggest influences, we realized the brand we wanted to create should be founded on two principles: family and exploring. These influences led us to creating a social enterprise driven outdoor brand where we give 10% of all net profits to programs all around the country that provide training, education and camps for children and families to experience the outdoors.
A lot of our passion comes from relationships with our families. We were both raised as active outdoor children and were heavily influenced by the experiences and lessons a child can learn from being exposed to the outdoors. Having our own kids now we see that the idea of going camping, hiking and exploring outside is starting to fade and with that we think children are losing their sense of adventure, curiosity and wonder.
Who taught you to start your own brand, or were you self-taught?
We have learned a lot of valuable skills about overall business operations from past experiences in family business and in college. We have learned a lot since starting Bowen Outdoors. Many of the important aspects of creating products, brand image, creative development, etc. were all things we did not know much about. We have had a lot of trial and error and picked up on different skills as we have gone just by trying and doing and asking for help from friends and family. It hasn’t always been perfect, but we have definitely learned a lot along the way.
Did you know you would start your own brand, if not what spurred it?
I have always known I wanted to start something of my own. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and business owners, so I think that the drive to create and build upon ideas is somewhat in my blood naturally. I started working for my grandfather’s business when I was 13 years old because the idea of running a business seemed fun and interesting to me. I worked there from 13-20 and as I got older, I would always have people call me the “little boss man” and tell me how I would one day be running the company and I would always just laugh. Although I have always felt fortunate enough to have had the option to work in the family owned businesses, I always wanted it to be in a field that I was passionate about and wanted to pave my own way.
Bowen Outdoors and the idea behind it happened somewhat naturally for us. Getting outside and exploring has always been something I have been passionate about, but growing up in the Midwest I never thought about creating an outdoor brand because I didn't feel that we were in an area that was “outdoorsy” enough. Now that I have started a family of my own and do my best to get my kids to explore all that life has around us, I realized we don't have to always be in the mountains to explore. The opportunity for exploring is all around us.
How do you get ideas for new products & photo shoots?
Bowen Outdoors is focused on providing outdoor lifestyle products and apparel for people who are just as comfortable in the city as they are on the trail. Our product ideas come from trying to inspire and motivate people to live life outside of the cubicle, living room or their cell phone.
What are your inspirations?
My greatest inspiration overall has been my father. Since I was young, I remember his passion for the outdoors and the part it played in our relationship. My Dad is every part of the word, outdoorsman. Growing up, I lived in a log cabin in the woods, we had a couple of horses, played in the woods and creeks daily, and he participated in all of those things with us. Our vacation every year was in a state park or campground where we always went on hikes and climbed around on rocks. He really taught us about the outdoors and instilled his love for it in us. To this day, my greatest memories with him have involved camping and exploring. Just a few weeks ago, we had one of the best trips I have ever been on in my life and conversations while exploring that I will never forget. He is a tough guy who still loves rock climbing, backpacking, and finding new places to explore.
Outside of the outdoors world, my father is a quiet yet smart and calculated businessman. He is passionate not only for his business, but also for the people working for him. I have always admired the way he has done his best to treat people fairly and respectfully even when it meant less overall profit for the business in the end. The kind of compassion for people that is greater than the desire for money is a rarity in this world and I really look up to him for that.
Overall in life, combining his love for the outdoors and his business knowledge and compassion for people, he is a pretty cool guy. What I am sure most people wouldn’t expect to read is that my Dad is legally blind, and if his eye disease has it’s way, will be completely blind sometime in his life. To see a man who has never stopped rock climbing, walking on narrow trails at the top of a mountain, crawling through caves, and skydiving despite not being able to see is the most inspiring to me. He has never let his sight keep him from living life and laughing and that is one of the things I will always remember most about him. He lived his life to the fullest and didn’t what people thought he should or shouldn't do keep him from truly living.
How do your hobbies influence what you make?
We are family guys, and most of our time is spent with our wife and kids. We try our best to get out with them and teach them about the outdoors, being safe while exploring, and about the incredible things you can find while you are out on an adventure. The best part about being an outdoor brand is that we actually live this life so we are able to take those experiences and work toward creating products that reflect them.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I would say our biggest challenge has been lack of knowledge. We started this brand on a shoestring budget. I have a wife and three kids under 3 years old at home and the idea of using our savings or getting a loan just didn't seem like the best idea while trying to keep their well-being as a priority. When you make a decision to start a business without a lot of money, things start slower in terms of products available and slower in general. This is something we are navigating; yet trying to keep our priority of family as our main focus.
What's been your best advice you've been given?
My father once told me, “I am not going to stop living life waiting to die just because I can't see. I am going to live my life to the fullest, doing the activities that make me happy and if I die climbing down a mountain, at least I died doing something I love” It may not have been real advice that he was trying to give, but the impact that the idea of really going for what you want, never settling and taking chances, will stay with me for a lifetime.
What's your favorite thing about sharing your art with others?
The impact it has had on families and children. When we give back to community programs that help support exploration and adventure it's an incredible feeling. Knowing that not only are we providing great gear and apparel, but that we are actively making a difference in people's lives is the best part of what we do. At the end of the day, it doesn't feel like we're running a business - it feels like we're creating something special and something we believe in.