Business: New Outdoor Clothing Line Benefits Chatham Conservation Foundation

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Business , Conservation

Erik Hibbard. DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

Erik Hibbard, 25, of South Yarmouth, wants every aspect of his clothing company, from manufacture to sales, to help people and the environment.

Steward Outdoor, an “environmentally-conscious outdoor apparel company,” which carries a line of men’s T-shirts and women’s racerback tank tops, will mark its one-year anniversary on July 1. Last month Steward shirts went on sale at the Clothing Bar in Chatham. Two percent of all sales of Steward Outdoor shirts at the Clothing Bar will go toward the Chatham Conservation Foundation, Inc., the Cape’s first private land trust founded in 1962.

“We are very excited to partner with Steward because their message is so positive and sales directly impact our local environment,” says Sandy Wycoff, owner of the Clothing Bar. “It’s also so important to support young entrepreneurs.”

A business/marketing major at Salem State University, Hibbard’s goal after graduation was to combine his love of the outdoors with a job. “A lot of my passion for the outdoors came from growing up here,” Hibbard said during an interview in the West Chatham Dunkin’ Donuts last week. Also, “I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit.” Growing up, he saw firsthand how his father ran his business Cape Cod Plumbing and Heating in South Dennis.

“I always wanted to work for myself,” Hibbard says. “It developed into a passion with me.”

In college, Hibbard took an environmental course in which his professor “was really passionate about climate change.” All of this came together when he began to brand his clothing line in a way that “people can rally behind.” He wanted to create a sustainable line of clothing made from organic cotton—that is cotton grown without herbicides—in the U.S. Hibbard believes that consumers, particularly millennials, will find his product appealing.

So how do you start a clothing company? Hibbard began by “leveraging my own personal network,” as he puts it.

He consulted Amanda Converse, who co-owns Shift Eco Boutique in Hyannis, billed as “Cape Cod’s green shopping destination.” She in turn put him in touch with master tailor Kathryn Hilderbrand of the Good Clothing Company, a collective in Mashpee. Hibbard worked with Hilderbrand to design patterns for the T-shirts. Only a small percentage of all clothing is made in the U.S., yet overseas sweat shops were not something Hibbard wanted to support. He soon discovered Carolina Cut ‘n Sew in Mount Gilead, N.C., incorporated in 2009. Cut ‘n Sew is an automated company that can manufacture clothing quicker and in larger quantities than a company doing it by hand. When Hibbard met with the company’s owner, Ellen Guarini, he learned that “she wanted to stimulate growth in the economy there,” he says. “I thought that was super neat.”

Steward T-shirts are made from organic cotton grown in Texas and are manufactured in North Carolina. They are also dyed with materials that are not harmful to the planet.

Hibbard named the company during a hike in New Hampshire’s Franconia Ridge loop when he saw a sign that read “Entering the Alpine Zone: Be a Caring Steward.” So Steward Outdoor was born.

Hibbard set up a website that can process credit card orders. Currently, he is the CEO and sole employee of Steward, and fulfills orders himself, enclosing a personalized note in each package. He even appears on the website, modeling the clothing.

The Shift Eco Boutique was the first retail store to sell Steward shirts, and the Clothing Bar is the second. Hibbard is currently “on a big push” to place his shirts in more retail locations.

“Ultimately I hope Steward becomes larger,” he says. “I want it to become an alternative to very conventional clothing. Steward speaks to the environment and could be an outdoorsy brand.” One of his goals is to “make an environmentalist out of somebody” through his brand.

Right now Hibbard is working on Steward’s fall/winter line of long-sleeved T-shirts and organic sweatshirts in fleece in black, navy, teal and graphite. His shirts retail for $40, which is about $5 more than comparable shirts at Patagonia. Men’s shirts run in sizes small through XX-large and women's are in small, medium and large. Through the website he also sells mountaineer beanie hats for $40 and wood stickers with the Steward logo of mountains for $5. (These are used to personalize anything from water bottles to laptops.) Two percent of Internet sales also go to environmental non-profit organizations.

“Chatham Conservation Foundation is fortunate that Mr. Hibbard understands the role of conservation organizations in the protection and preservation of ecosystems as valued and fragile as ours,” says Rachel Barnes, president of the board of trustees of the Chatham Conservation Foundation, Inc. “We are grateful that this young entrepreneur is willing to invest in the future of the environment here in Chatham.”

On April 27, wearing one of his own T-shirts, Hibbard joined about 200,000 others at the People’s Climate March on a sweltering day in Washington, D.C. Particularly after Pres. Donald Trump announced the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Hibbard feels it is important to support sustainable clothing.

“The planet is a rental textbook,” he says. “You want to give the planet back in the same condition you got it.”

For more information, visit stewardoutdoor.com.