Starter Series – Red Ants Pants

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The Mamalode Starter Series is an exciting opportunity for us to introduce you to some of the amazing people we get to meet. Starting something takes enormous amounts of work, faith, help and community. Every week we'll share another story of starting. So, community of Mamalode, read up, get inspired and check out these wonder-folk.

Today's Interview is with Sarah Calhoun the Founder of Red Ants Pants.

Tell us a little bit about your business and how you started it.

The seeds of Red Ants Pants were planted in 1980s, growing up on the family farm. I played hard in the dirt as a kid and later baled hay with my Dad. Throughout my life, I’ve always worked outside – for Outward Bound, Student Conservation Association as well as taking jobs peeling logs and grooming ski trails. I was burning holes through men’s pants that didn’t fit – like nobody’s business.  It was nobody’s business. So, I decided to make it mine.

I set out to design pants that would fit, function and flatter working women. While reading a “Starting a Business for Dummies” book in a Bozeman coffee shop, I was approached by a man who was curious about what I type of business I wanted to start. It turned out, the stranger was Patagonia product designer Richard Siberell, who has become an amazing mentor and friend.

One of the biggest rewards is building personal relationships with our customers and learning about the interesting and hard work they’re accomplishing while wearing Red Ants Pants. They are mothers, daughters, ironworkers, gardeners, road builders, ranchers, loggers and leaders, hunters and hikers who make, build, create and nurture the world we live in today. Inspired by that hard-working spirit, the Red Ants Pants Foundation was born in 2011. The Foundation supports women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and rural communities, the three things most important to me, the company, and the Red Ants Pants Community.

We’re now looking forward to our 5th Red Ants Pants Music Festival which raises funds for our nonprofit foundation. The festival began as a get together in a sweet clover cow pasture in the Smith River Valley and is now a multi-million dollar bucket list item for Country-Americana musicians and their fans around the world. You’re all welcome to join us – it’s July 23rd through the 26th on the Jackson Ranch near White Sulphur Springs.

What does your family think about your job?

They could not be more proud of my progress with Red Ants Pants. As farmers, my folks are small business owners so I have been lucky to have incredible role models for entrepreneurialism, creative marketing, and a strong work ethic. Having parents teach and show that anything is possible really has an impact on a kid.

The Red Ants Pants Music Festival has become a working family reunion. Everyone in my immediate family plus lots of aunts, uncles and cousins come every year and they are happily put to work. They love White Sulphur and being part of the town and festival community as a whole.

Tell us about a total biz fail.

I received a lot of advice early on highlighting all of the drawbacks of doing business in a rural community: the isolation, the transportation costs, the lack of foot traffic, the list goes on and on. I started the groundwork for the business in Bozeman, but it just wasn’t the right fit.  In 2004, I read Ivan Doig’s autobiography “This House of Sky,” which paints an unforgettable picture of the ranching town of White Sulphur Springs. I was so inspired by the book, I headed north to check it out.  When I arrived, I didn’t know a single soul, but knew I was home.  I got to work transforming an historic saddle shop on Main Street, which is now proudly home to the Red Ants Pants International Headquarters.

Share with us a total win (brag away!)

The biggest win is hearing from customers who say, “Finally! Work pants that fit!” We’re proud of the fact that our pants are made in the USA and that will not change. While it’s beyond anything I anticipated, I’m humbled to help be a voice for rural economic development at the national level. I had to pinch myself when I was invited to the White House in 2011 to participate in a forum on jobs and economic development. I saw the opportunity as a chance to put the spotlight on the unique challenges and opportunities facing small businesses in rural America. This month, I’m excited to be heading back to Washington, D.C. as one of 100 entrepreneurs chosen nationwide to participate in the Small Business Leadership Summit. If you’re a rural businesswoman, send me a note – I want to carry your voice with me! [email protected]

What's your relationship with Mamalode?

Elke and I have been speaking side by side at events across the state for years now.  We always joke that we can recite each other’s stories better than we can tell our own.  The fact that she started welding at 16 also thrills me.  

I love the honest creativity of Mamalode.  The realistic elements of the magazine that tell the truth in stories and in life, especially when that truth is hard and requires vulnerability.  My new bucket list item is joining Elke’s Hot Tub Club next time I’m in Missoula!  Everyone here at Red Ants Pants really appreciates the voice of the mamas ringing out loud and clear.  Thank you!

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