In Wyoming, folks are pretty proud of the square-shaped state they call home.
So much so that, along with the boom in all things craft industry — think beer, coffee and handmade goods created by local artisans in recent years — the Wyoming lifestyle brand has taken off.
“A lifestyle brand is a brand that promotes their audience’s desirable lifestyle as a primary method of resonating with who they are or what they want,” Stephen Houraghan with Brand Master Academy said.
Many lifestyle brands create an image of a quintessential life, which taps into a yearning for something more, for something better, for something aspirational — and helps people display that ideal.
“We all have that desire to be a better version of ourselves,” Houraghan said. “Lifestyle brands put the lifestyle on a pedestal, and really lead with that.”
Perhaps the oldest lifestyle brand is Surf Wyoming, which was started by river surfers in the 1990s. The first North American river surfing occurrence was documented on Wyoming’s Snake River in the early 1970s, according to Krista Treide, who currently owns Surf Wyoming.
“While surfing, which you do on a standing wave going against the current, they found that the water often carried pollution,” Treide said.
The friends formed a Mountain Surf chapter with national water nonprofit Surf Rider Foundation as the first inland chapter for the organization.
“As river junkies and everything outdoor enthusiasts, they fashioned a T-shirt intended to raise awareness and to help keep the waters clean,” she said.
That initial T-shirt read “Paddlers for Clean Water” and remains a heritage product still part of the Surf Wyoming collection. A decade ago, Krista and her brother, PJ Treide, acquired the company as a hobby, hand-filling orders out of a 10-foot by 15-foot outdoor storage unit. Together, with backgrounds in finance, innovation and technology, brand building and marketing, they wanted to bring Surf Wyoming into the modern era. When they started, leveraging e-commerce, social media and the greater resources of the internet were nowhere near where they are today.
“While we acquired Surf Wyoming as a hobby, today it has become a jobby,” Krista Treide said.
Wyomingites are grounded in honesty, trust and pride for Wyoming, and Surf Wyoming itself embodies an interesting juxtaposition of ideas, she said. As proud of the state and its culture as Wyoming residents are, it also draws millions of visitors a year. Many of those people love the brand because Surf Wyoming draws on the “mystique and rustic/raw, otherworldliness” of this place, Treide said.
The brother-sister pair are surfers, but are not staunch river surfers.
“One key component in our brand reset was to cast a wider net and celebrate being outdoors,” Treide said. “Surf Wyoming really is about celebrating and empowering a mindset, that mentality around going against the current, choosing the path less taken and doing whatever makes your heart race and your adrenaline pump.”
Surf Wyoming has been folded into a parent company, Bighorn Design Studios, which provides a platform to support other brands through design, marketing, inventory and worldwide e-commerce management and product manufacturing from screen printing and embroidery to custom cutting and sewing of apparel and accessories. They also do brand strategy, social media management and “compete directly with aggregate shopping and fulfillment sites like Amazon,” Treide said.
Bighorn Design brand partnerships includes the wholly-owned Surf Wyoming and Twin M Leather, and exceeds 45 partner brands.
Sean Peverly owns WYOMADE in Casper, which started as a consignment-style shop for local artisans. When he bought WYOMADE several years ago, he wanted to make it the brand itself. Today, many of the brand’s products spring from Peverly’s imagination, and he is a Bighorn Design Studio brand partner, as well.
“Being an artist, I can see in that moment a design. Boating down the river, it’s easy to see why so many people love doing this,” Peverly said. “So it’s looking across a river and seeing a tent on the perfect point, seeing that, drawing it out and taking it to a graphic designer.”
Peverly said the craft industry, into which the lifestyle brand falls, especially appeals to people who are 25-45.
“There are kids who are carving their own path, as well, and I think that is what the craft world has always been about: carving your own thing,” Peverly said. “When you see something that someone has made on a smaller level, there’s a nostalgia that goes along with that. Somehow, our generation fell in love with that, and now it fills a huge niche in our country.”
It is hard to gauge people, though, he said, and one year, a certain color will sell out, and the next it won’t. So he has learned to be flexible.
“A funny thing about Wyoming brands — you would think that brown and gold would sell, that any product in brown and gold with a different design would sell,” Peverly said. “But, no way, nobody wants brown and gold unless it has Steamboat on it. Stuff like that are definitely lessons we’ve learned along the way.”
Bighorn Design Studio brand partners also include Go Fast Don’t Die, which, on its face, is a brand that promotes motorcycle culture, but extends beyond that definition, as well, co-founder Brady McLean said. Go Fast, at the beginning, started as a saying between friends and has grown to be not only a lifestyle brand, but an organization that hosts elite moto retreats in places like Thailand. McLean and his business partner ran a marketing agency and shared space with Bighorn Design in the mid-2010s, and in 2017 — a year of personal growth — Go Fast took off.
“We really began to find solace and escape in motorcycle riding,” McLean recalled. “The interesting thing about Go Fast, for us, is that the brand became far more about the why, and not the what.”
Go Fast Don’t Die may incorporate motorcycle culture, but it’s bigger than that.
“The message is, you don’t have to be ‘fast’ to go out and do the thing. We just want to encourage people to go out and do that thing they love, and not in comparison to the next person,” McLean said.
The Go Fast message, which started in the least-populated state in the nation, has now traveled the world, perhaps because of its authenticity.
“The salute that I give to Wyoming is that we don’t deal with people in a way that we look at them and ask how that person will contribute to my climbing whatever ladder,” McLean said. “There is a culture of service, and we are community-based in Wyoming largely because we have to be. That means that we’re not as centered around product as aesthetic, and our brand has been heavily centered around community, and the rejection of a broken status quo.”
Because, ultimately, the things people wear should make them feel authentic, he said.
“We want to make our message the center. When people wear anything that is unnecessary — and any T-shirt they buy from a brand is an unnecessary thing — they wear that to tell the world who they are. So, how do we deepen that expression?” McLean said. “For us, it is about doing what you love for the work, and not working to do what you love.”