Creating a company with meaning, and sharing what made a difference to help others.
It’s a sunny summer day in Jackson, Wyoming. Tourists happily snap photos in front of the well known antler arches, and, across from the town square, the Western Range Clothing store bustles with activity. An employee helps a woman from Texas find a soft sweater for herself, and a tiny bow tie for her young son. Spencer Dower Hirst walks across his store, wearing the exact same outfit as a model in a large photo behind him on the wall, jeans and a blue and pink check button down shirt he designed himself.
He holds up a tie featuring an antler pattern, and looks at it fondly. “These were our first ties and bow ties,” he says.
The antler ties are flanked by patterns such as cowboy hats, trams, and fly fishing ties.
“Every time I turn around, I find a new aspect of how much I love this place. The colors like sage green, the wildflowers, the sunsets, the huckleberries, the wildlife… they all represent a special part of our community,” Spencer says earnestly.
He neatly replaces the tie, and continues, “I want to celebrate life in this region, and share that with the world.”
Spencer surveys the store with a smile. “There’s intentional and unintentional in life, and what makes it beautiful is the collision of the two.”
Spencer, what is your job?
I’m the co-founder of Western Range clothing, we make refined mountain attire. In many ways, we’ve created our own genre of clothing.
We started in a basement in East Jackson, now we have a store on Broadway.
This store is amazing! You’ve got clothing for men, women and kiddos…. sweaters, jeans, button down shirts, silk scarves, ties. Did you have a background in clothing or fashion before this company?
No, we knew nothing about textiles! I was a political science major in college, so was my business partner Ben! Then he was in the army, I was ski instructing and serving tables. Neither of us had worked in apparel or fashion. The first time someone told me I was in fashion, I laughed at them! But, oh damn, we are!
I remember in the early days… you worked A LOT to fund the beginning of your company.
You know better than anyone! From a full day of ski instructing, I’d run to the (Rendezvous) Bistro, or Osteria, it was non-stop. Another 8 or 10 hours working nights, after working a full day.
It was hard. But I loved it, because I put all my chips in. I thought, if I lose now, at least I tried.
What were you doing with your earnings from ski instructing and restaurants?
I booked a ticket to New York, stayed on a friends couch, and interviewed cut and sew operations for neckwear.
I found a lady in Brooklyn, Gina. I looked her in the eye, and knew we’d be friends. You know that warm, sincere feeling. Next I looked for the silk to cut, and found someone else I’ve now been with for years. Turns out George took over the company from his dad, and one of his dad’s first clients was Ralph Lauren, when Ralph started his business! I found that out just recently. They do the silk for Brooks Brothers and Burberry.
George and Gina were my first partners in this thing, they each took a chance on a kid from Wyoming with a dream, and made these beautiful ties and bowties that we still sell today.
How has your experience been, starting a company?
It’s hard work, but I love it. This whole thing has been a giant scavenger hunt. It’s a constant cycle of trying to get to the next level, and meeting the most incredible people along the way.
I had a clear vision of my goal. I could see the top of the mountain…it was just a question of how to get there.
What’s the best part about having a business partner?
Ben’s my best friend, and sometimes we drive each other crazy, but we always motivate each other. He challenges me to take it a step further, refine our ideas, to be our best selves we possibly can.
Walking around the store with you, it’s clear you love everything here.
We put our heart and soul into every product we make.
You mentioned you sent your grandmother one of these sweaters.
She was in tough shape and going to hospice, she said it kept her so warm. It was a way to give my grandma a hug from here in Jackson.
That’s really special. It’s cool that your clothing, can be more than clothing - A lot of people order ties for their weddings, don’t they?
We’re so lucky to be a part of that. I can’t tell you how honored I am, when someone includes us in one of the most special days of their life.
Clothing being more than clothing, that was part of your motivation for starting the company… do you want to talk more about that?
I’ve always thought, if you look good you feel good.
Depression is something I’ve battled with, and it has consumed me in the past. There was a time that I was in an inpatient facility. Everything came apart. My mom got me into the hospital, she saved my life.
During that time, something so simple as putting on a new shirt my mom got me, and getting dressed up, it made a difference.
Looking at myself in the mirror, and thinking, wow, I actually look pretty good, gave me hope. When people said ‘nice shirt’, it gave me confidence, when I needed it the most.
That's a big deal, this is such an important part of your story.
One of the main reasons this company is here is because I hope I can give that to someone, that our shirts or ties can give someone a smile when they need it.
I was watching Robin Roberts ESPY’s speech, and she summed it up so perfectly. She said… ‘Make your mess, your message’. That’s my goal.
My journey got me here, so I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But I will make my mess, my message. This is only the beginning.
This is really amazing and powerful.
I want to use my business as a platform, and start a foundation. I want to use this medium, of a clothing brand, to help foster a new image and understanding of mental illness. Only once you understand it, can you help.
Mental health is not being addressed enough.
I want this company to be defined by what we can do to help. Like Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard says it’s is an environmental activist organization, disguised as a clothing company. It’s such a beautiful way of saying, this is our mission and what we care about.
This is life defining stuff, Spence.
It’s hard to talk about, but if you don’t, you’re perpetuating the stereotype that exists.
I haven’t shared my story publicly before, it is uncomfortable because society doesn’t talk about it. So let’s change that. If I can share my story, hopefully I help someone else.
I think the most successful people in this world, are the ones who have done the most good. I want to do a lot of good.
I came to Jackson, because I needed a change. The mountains and the people here, healed me.
So you’re celebrating all the things that made you feel better.
One hundred percent.
What do you like best about living here?
The people - you’re not going to find a community with more genuine, kind, loving, people.
When I first moved, I ended up living with friends who, to this day, are incredibly important in my life.
Like you found a second family!
I did, and I won the lottery with them.
What makes you happy?
Exploring the creative portion of my mind.
What’s that quote, if Einstein were to play basketball, he’d think that he was a failure?
I went to prep school, with the mentality that you have to be a doctor or lawyer or banker. Those were not a fit! I never thought of myself as creative, then I started working with textiles and design and my world lit up.
It happened when I stopped concentrating on what I thought I was supposed to do and focused on what makes me happy.
Also, hiking in the summer. I like routines, I go up Snow King every day. It’s so familiar, I don’t think about where i’m going, my mind can take the time to really think. I like that mental reset. I go by myself. I used to hate being quiet, because I didn’t want to be quiet with my own thoughts. But now I really enjoy silence.
What do you like about yourself?
I used to hate the way I laugh, my brothers used to make fun of me, and say you sound like a hyena! I love my laugh now.
What would you be doing, if not this?
I love food! Probably baking, that was my first business - baking tomato pies at the farmers market, and cookies, lemon bars, whatever made me happy. I loved baking, and working for myself.
What do you like baking for friends?
I’ve made a few wedding cakes for friends. One was a chocolate peanut butter cake, another was a carrot cake at a ranch in Texas. It was hot, and a flash flood came out of nowhere! It was wild, a lot like the celebration itself.
What’s a happy memory that has to do with your business?
Last New Year’s Eve, I was wearing our tram bow tie. It was awesome! I was at the party at the top of the Gondola, and people left and right were like, where’d you get that?! And I was like, I made it! My company made this! I was so proud.
Photo of Spencer Hirst in the Tetons, courtesy of Western Range Clothing.