Follow your passion. Do what you love. Find where you Belong. Such is the mantra of Belong Designs, a clothing/action sports startup founded by college buddies Shamus McNutt, Ben Thomson, and Mark Grubbs. But to simply call it a mantra would be doing it a bit of a disservice, as it is an all-encompassing belief that they all share, down to their very core.
The interesting thing about these guys is that all three are Colorado natives, a trait which has become increasingly rare to find in groups as Colorado continues to grow in population, with more and more people transplanting themselves to the state by the day. Mark and Shamus went to highschool together in Arvada, while Ben attended school in nearby Lafayette. The trio was united during their freshman year at the Colorado School of Mines (Mark and Shamus sharing a dorm room, and Ben living right across the hall), and they quickly developed a bond based on their love of sports (soccer, skiing), and the culture of Colorado in general. To hear them tell it, they believe that Colorado residents enjoy a certain palpable uniqueness unparalleled by any other state in the country. We all exist and live in a harmonious balance, provided by the mix of city, nature, people, and adventure offered by the physical environment around us. While it’s true that many of the cities in Colorado are still considered small to mid-sized by big city standards, it can still be easy to find yourself mired in the trappings of these concrete jungles if you don’t allow some time for escape. And the fact that all of us who live along the Front Range are never more than 15-30 minutes away from the solitude of the mountains allows us to remain a little more even keeled than people who inhabit places that aren’t in close proximity to such a natural playground.
Knowing that we have that change of setting and scenery also allows us to live in the moment, and gives us the ability to seize that opportunity for an escape or an adrenaline rush on a whim. This freedom is one of the major building blocks behind Belong’s ideology: having it means you never have to confine yourself to a way of life that leaves you uninspired or wanting more. You always have the power to express your passions, those things which allow you to exist moment to moment and clear your head of outside static. These moments are where you truly Belong, whether it be making or listening to music, creating art, or participating in action sports… you belong anywhere that allows you to tap into feelings and visceral experience. And while all of these things may have different meaning to different people, they all remain a true representation of the canvas and the paintbrush with which we create our own picture of life.
Wanting to draw on these mutual feelings of inspiration, the guys at Belong decided to put this concept to a test, and in early 2013 they pooled together an initial investment of $800 dollars to acquire 40 custom printed t-shirts, which they then sold for $25 a shirt. Not the largest of profit margins, but when your initial marketing strategy consists solely of word of mouth between friends on campus, the fact that they were able to sell all 40 shirts and turn a profit is a feat that is impressive in itself. And from there they haven’t looked back. Aggressive expansion has been the name of their game, and to quote Shamus “we’ve been all about the hustle ever since.”
A statement such as that, even when said with a smile, is something that garners a significant degree of respect. Because there is no guarantee of success when undertaking such an endeavor. There is going to be a lot of trial and error, and in Belong’s case that’s made them the company that they are today. Whether it be experimenting with different print shops and suppliers, to having to learn the hard way about millimeter rating and stitching for waterproof ski jackets, they have been able to take the good with the bad and learn from each experience. And not only learn, but apply that knowledge gained to further their cause.
At this point, not only is Belong growing their clothing line, but they also now boast a roster of sponsored action sports athletes, ranging from skiers and snowboarders, to cliff jumpers/divers, slack lining athletes, and lastly, professional tumbling. If you don’t know what that is, take a look at this video (parkour fans, eat your heart out).
Shamus, Ben, and Mark are truly living the dream. They’re at the point where they can quit their day jobs (all three got their degrees in mechanical engineering from Mines), and start operating Belong full time. Their goal is to be internationally known as an action sports/lifestyle brand within 5 years, and considering the traction that they have already established, we fully believe that they have the style and substance to pull it off. A lot of this belief has to do with their approach and attitude about this challenge that they have ahead: they’re not looking to snag a piece of the existing pie in this particular niche/market. They’re out to make their own pie. That’s the type of thinking we can get behind in a major way.
2016 is going to be easily the most interesting and probably the most difficult year of all three of their lives. They all acknowledge this. They are basically taking a close friendship that they have created and nurtured for the past 8 years and are attempting to monetize it. Never before have they had to rely on each other to this degree, monetarily or otherwise. But that’s the beauty of it. They are going to remain friends no matter what. They’re still the guys you’d meet on the lift at Winter Park who’d offer you a tour of Topher’s Trees and a shot of Fireball if you’ve never been there before. It’s just that now they’re taking the next step in order to make what initially started as a hobby and dream and turning into a full blown cultural movement. One that will take constant change and adaptation on their part to ensure that it not only continues to grow, but flourishes. They’ve clearly found where they Belong, so maybe it’s time for the rest of us to follow suit.