Please excuse the well-worn pun, but Sarah Calhoun had to learn the clothing business by the seat of her pants.
Frustration drove Calhoun to launch Red Ants Pants, a Montana company that produces rugged work pants for women, in 2006. She had a background doing physical work outdoors and had grown sick and tired of battling with boxy, ill-fitting work pants that were geared toward the male physique.
“When your pants don’t fit, you can’t move as easily,” she said. “You have to put your tool down and keep pulling up your pants.”
At one point, Calhoun wrote to clothing companies, asking them to consider designing pants that were tailored to fit women’s bodies. After one company representative suggested that she should go into business for herself, she decided she would do just that.
She learned about clothing design, sizing, fabrics and manufacturing techniques, not to mention website design and selling merchandise online. Red Ants Pants are made in the United States, and they always will be, Calhoun says.
Billings Business profiled Calhoun, who lives in White Sulphur Springs, in 2009, just as her company was starting to garner regional and national attention. The rugged work pants are made in 70 sizes to fit the contours of women’s bodies. They have garnered a cult following among women who work for a living, and some men are even partial to them.
Promotional photos show women in far-flung places such as Antarctica and Greenland wearing Red Ants Pants. The company remains a good example of a niche company that can prosper in the Internet age.
And success keeps coming Calhoun’s way.
Last March the Montana Ambassadors honored Calhoun as Entrepreneur of the Year. In May, the U.S. Small Business Administration honored her as its National Women in Business champion.
Aside from the recognition, Calhoun’s business has been growing. Sales have doubled from the previous year, she said.
Meanwhile, Calhoun has unleashed her energy on another project. These days, she's busy organizing the second Red Ants Pants Music Festival July 26-29, about three miles west of White Sulphur Springs. Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Taj Majal are this year’s headliners.
The music festival benefits the Red Ants Pants Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aids women’s leadership, family farms and rural communities.
So, not only is Red Ants succeeding financially, it's doing its part to help local communities. That's the way business should be.