Inside a repurposed three-story smokehouse at the foot of Mount Kessler in Fayetteville, a new crop of entrepreneurs is working to build an outdoor apparel brand that transcends the city it is named after.
Fayettechill, a company founded by 25-year-old Fayetteville resident Mo Elliot, began as a t-shirt company with a nod to Fayetteville and the surrounding areas he fell in love with when he first came to town to attend classes at the University of Arkansas.
But the company, created less than five years ago, has already grown far past the city limits of Fayetteville, and even well past Arkansas state lines to become a million-dollar company with distribution to 51 retailers in 12 states.
From Fayetteville to the Ozarks and beyond
Elliot started Fayettechill when he was still in college in 2009.
“I got a great outdoor vibe from this town,” he said. “I knew there was an outdoor culture, but I really wasn’t thinking outside of northwest Arkansas at first.”
Elliot decided to try and capture the essence and culture of the city with a t-shirt line backed by a lifestyle brand.
He enlisted the help of some local graphic designers, released his first line of shirts soon after that, and by 2010 had convinced a handful of area retailers to carry his products.
They took off.
The Fayetteville Visitors Center was one of the first retailers to carry Fayettechill shirts. The center’s small gift shop saw sales growth of more than 100 percent for seven straight months in 2011, a growth the staff attributed almost solely to the addition of Fayettechill’s line.
Other retailers saw similar demand, and it didn’t take long for Elliot to see the company’s potential growth outside of t-shirt sales – and the region.
Elliot brought on business partners Grant Holden and Devin O’Dea, and instead of just focusing on apparel, Fayettechill also began carrying everything from water bottles to camping equipment.
“It evolved from there into more of an Ozark mountain outfitters line, and now we’re at the stage that even the Ozark aspect is confining us,” Elliot said. “Now, we’re even working with some guys in the Appalachians in Fayetteville, Virginia, and trying to create the every person’s outdoor brand.”
A new home on the mountain
After starting out in a small space below his apartment on Center Street, Elliot moved the bulk of Fayettechill’s operations into his dream location inside the old Ozark Mountain Smokehouse building just below Mount Kessler.
The new headquarters has helped the company foster a close relationship with building owner Frank Sharp, who built the smokehouse in 1976, and who now works to preserve the Mount Kessler area.
Elliot and Sharp’s mutual passion for the Ozarks certainly helps, too.
“I met Frank, and we just hit it off,” he said. “He has been really great to us, and I think he sees likes seeing the space being put to good use in this spot that he grew his business in.”
The 18,000-square-foot building serves as a warehouse, fulfillment center, and office space for about 10 employees – most under 25 years old – that run the company. With its skateboard ramps and basketball hoop out front, as well as the proximity to the Kessler trails, it’s also a perfect place to hit the outdoors and test their products after work.
“I try to get up there and ride my bike as much as I can,” Elliot said. “That’s kind of the culture here, we’re all friends. We all work hard, but we also try to have fun as much as we can.
“I think that’s one of the reasons (Fayettechill) has been so successful,” he said. “Everyone pretty much lives (the lifestyle) we’re putting out there. We use the products every day. We’re the ones in the ads. I think that comes across in our social media. It’s authentic.”
Outdoor sports and conservation partnerships
One of the pillars of Fayettechill’s company philosophy is to stay involved with local outdoor sports or conservation-minded non-profit organizations.
Locally, Fayettechill partners with the Buffalo River Foundation, the Arkansas Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Arkansas Climbers Coalition, and Ozark Offroad Cyclists.
Elliot estimates that the company has donated about $30,000 so far to those organizations. The money, he said, goes to things like building off road cycling trails, purchasing signage on Mount Kessler, securing easements along the Buffalo River, or just refurbishing old rock climbing routes in the area.
Recently, the company has expanded those efforts to some of the other areas it serves. “In Dallas, their off road cyclist group is called Dorba, and we’re donating a portion of sales in that market to that organization,” he said.
The company also lends its influence to other local conservation causes, like the recent Save Mount Kessler campaign that resulted in Fayetteville’s recent purchase of the unique property to be used as a public park.
“We created a shirt for that campaign, and were able to raise a couple thousand dollars,” Elliot said. “Mostly, I think we were just able to raise awareness about that cause through our marketing.”
The future of Fayettechill
Despite the young company’s successes, Elliot and crew are determined to keep the momentum going.
Sales, he said, have doubled every year since he started, crossing the $1 million mark for the first time in 2013. He thinks he can double that number again this year.
“We’re raising some capital right now to make sure we sustain that growth,” he said.
One of the strategies to do so is to continue to diversify the company’s product offerings, adding more clothing styles, camping equipment, more products for women, and other items.
The company also plans a move their Dickson Street retail store to a larger, nearby location this year. In addition to offering Fayettechill products, the new store will also likely include community meeting space for outdoor groups, a coffee shop, and other amenities. Elliot said he hopes to announce the new location in about a month.
Overall, though, a lot of Fayettechill’s success hinges on the ability to continue growing in areas where the word “Fayetteville” doesn’t mean much.
“Patagonia is going to sell a billion dollars this year,” he said. “For companies like them and Columbia, it’s not about the geographic locations that inspired the brand anymore. It’s about the quality of the products. It’s about other things.
“For us, once we get outside Arkansas, a lot of people have never really heard of Fayetteville,” he said. “But they understand what we’re shooting for in our marketing, and they get the quality of the products. They understand the lifestyle.”
For Fayettechill, that lifestyle is what it’s all about.