An attorney and a designer walk into a bar… and come out with a company.
Like many business ideas, the concept for Wear Boise was born over beers.
“We were just doing what we do all the time,” says Lisa McGrath. “Hanging out with friends, brainstorming business ideas.”
But this time was different. This time, new media attorney McGrath and her fiance Paul Carew, a creative agency owner, thought they were onto something.
“We had this idea to do T-shirts that reflected Boise’s personality,” McGrath says. “ I came up with this idea of putting a beard of the state of Idaho over beers. It was a play on Portlandia’s ‘put a bird’ on it. Paul pulled out a pen and starts sketching on a napkin. It was perfect.”
And just like that, Wear Boise was born.
The couple knew from the start that Wear Boise (whose tag line is is ‘Wear Your Where”) should be — and would be — about more than just cute designs.
“There are these inherent stories that come out of being an Idahoan,” explains Carew.
“It’s a conversation that has been going on for years. It’s about understanding how we fit in with the rest of the world and appreciating what is unique and special about this place.”
Today, the company designs and sells a collection of Boise- and Idaho-themed caps, sweatshirts, stickers and, of course, T-shirts. While they still rely heavily on website sales, a growing network of retailers are also carrying Wear Boise gear.
Their biggest sellers? The “Put a Beard On It” series, followed by a “Boy-See” tee that jumps into the middle of the debate about the proper way to pronounce the name of the capital city. Wear Boise’s “Idaho / Iowa / Ohio” design also draws a lot of attention.
“People will see one of our shirts from a distance and will come over to tell us a personal story,” says McGrath. “Everyone has a story about pronouncing ‘Boise’ or having a relative confuse Idaho with Iowa. Our company is about more than the T-shirts and merchandise, it’s about the message. That’s what connects.”
For a couple of long-time service professionals, the process of producing, managing and selling physical products has meant a learning curve in some aspects of the business.
“We’re both in service businesses,” Carew says. “‘Inventory’ is not a word we’ve used often. Before we launched our website, we had a million ideas, but we had to decide what we were actually going to sell. Some of the ones we thought would be hot sellers, weren’t.”
Wear Boise’s first holiday retail season was also a learning experience. “We had plans to go see Lisa’s family over Thanksgiving, not really thinking much about the fact that Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year,” Carew says.
“We started getting all these calls from retailers at the start of the week saying they needed more inventory. So that’s how we spent our holiday week.”
As experienced entrepreneurs, McGrath and Carew knew the unexpected should be expected in starting any new venture. Thankfully, some of the unexpected was positive.
For example, the day the iconic beer brand Olympia posted a photo on its popular Instagram account of an Oly in a bearded Idaho koozie, tagging it #putabeardonit. “That was a cool surprise,” grins Carew.
Or when Wear Boise’s products ended up predominantly featured in the holiday buying guides of both the Boise Weekly and Idaho Statesman.
It has all propelled Wear Boise from what the co-founders expected to be a hobby business to a legitimate enterprise, with orders now coming from across Idaho and even the nation. Despite the company’s plan to expand into retailers in north and eastern Idaho, Carew and McGrath are clear that this is a very local company.
Operations are split between Carew’s office and the couple’s living room in downtown Boise, which doubles as the company warehouse. Design is handled by Carew and all screen-printing is sourced locally.
“Our partnerships have been critical to our success,” McGrath says, pointing out that they can measure the time from idea to product in hours instead of days — very important for a company that creates designs that are not localized just for the city, but for individual neighborhoods.
Even as the pair learns, adapts and grows (they’ve even been approached about some T-shirt related consulting work) it’s clear that Wear Boise is more than a company. It’s a sort of love letter to the city they adore.
“We love living here,” Carew says. “And when you love a place as much as we love Boise, it is just really fun to create products that share that love.”
Note: Find Wear Boise at wearboise.com or The Record Exchange, Hyde Park Books, indie MADE in Boise, or Paperie + Pen in Meridian.
Photography by Chris Ennis