Dakota Grizzly is a proud third generation maker of men’s outdoor clothing. True to their roots, passionate about the craft of clothing manufacturing and proud to support and outfit ‘Makers’ everywhere, we spoke with CEO Ellen Brin from her office in St. Louis. We learned the history behind the family-owned brand and why the clothing—rich in details—continues to honor her family’s Midwest heritage.
What is the history of the brand? In the 1940s, my grandfather started the parent company, California Manufacturing, producing outerwear, so we come from a 70-plus year history of manufacturing. We’ve always made great clothing, but my brother-in-law, Rob Rosenblum, and I wanted to help build a growing brand because that was a passion of ours, and we recognized that there was a sweet spot for a mid-priced, well-made brand of men’s clothing. That’s when we found Dakota Grizzly.
There are not a lot of family-owned clothing companies that are run by women. When I was 40, and a licensed CPA, I got a call from my Dad to have lunch. He asked me if I would be interested in coming to work for the company as the CFO as the CFO at the time was retiring. I said ‘yes’ and the rest, as they say, is history.
We revamped the entire company, and in 2007 we bought out the second generation. It’s been me and Rob running it ever since. Now we are a female-owned and operated menswear company from the Midwest.
What does Dakota Grizzly mean to you and to the Outdoor Industry? Dakota Grizzly is a beautifully made and richly detailed men’s line that tends to be a little more rugged. The clothes layer wonderfully and are easy transitions from work to play. Our biggest area is flannels. We’ve worked hard on creating flannels that not only feel good but are designed and constructed well. In each of our pieces, there are always hidden details like pockets for your cell phone or intricate detailing on the trim. We fret over where these details should be placed and what feels the best. At Dakota Grizzly, we take the time to design our garments so that they are wearable, durable and beautiful.
The Dakota Grizzly logo is distinctive with a rich feel. The most important thing for us at the end of the day is for our retailer to make a good markup on our items. If they can’t sell it or make a decent profit, they’re going to find something else. We want our brand to be recognized by our customer, we want people to ask for the brand, and we never undermine our retailers by putting merchandise on sale on our website. Our goal is to create a line that (a) we think is beautiful and well-made and (b) performs well at the retail level. Because that’s the whole point.
Nowadays, we are getting more into outerwear. The best thing about growing our outerwear selection is we can use our experience in the outerwear business to help us build a better collection.
Our core business started from the retail-centric world. We are starting to get into the direct-to-consumer world, which is very important; however, we did it the other way round first.
We started in retail stores and are now delving into the world of online, and because we’ve already established ourselves at the store-level, it has us envied by some in the outdoor industry.
The grassroots retailers are a very important target for us as they are true spokespeople for emerging specialty outdoor brands. We feel our styling, pricing and distribution would fit well within their group.
We own a 100,000-square-foot warehouse in California, MO. We ship everything out of the warehouse, which is great because it’s two-day shipping almost everywhere and it’s much cheaper for our retailers to ship out of the Midwest.
We have a Midwest ‘Makers’ mentality and embrace other Midwest ‘Makers. All of our catalogues and imagery focuses on people here in the Midwest who also make something. Our recent catalog was shot at 4 Hands Brewery in downtown St. Louis. They are brewmasters, and we are pairing their craft with our craft. We love to embrace other people that are ‘Makers’ like us such as Jermaine Todd, Ryan Hanlon and Griffin House.
We’re from the heartland and we’re very proud of it. Our voice differs from every other voice because we’re authentic. It’s got to be authentic. That’s what we are … Midwest Makers. Photos courtesy Dakota Grizzly