Robert Felder never interviewed for a single job in college.
What was the point?
He was already running a company selling shorts and after just one year in, he had decided that Bearbottom Clothing would be his career.
It all started in high school with a trip to South Asia. Felder said he was shocked when he discovered Bangladesh is one of the largest apparel manufacturers in the world — yet many people living there can’t afford even basic clothing.
“The fact that they were producing millions of garments right there and the kids just outside didn't have any clothing on just stuck in my mind,” he said. “And that's when I said, you know, when we do this business, obviously we'll do what we can, make sure that the factories are good for the workers. But let's do something a little bit extra where the product that they're helping us produce, they get to enjoy as well.”
With that goal from the get-go, Felder established that his manufacturers weren’t just going to make the clothing. They are partners at every step of the way, from producing the product to giving back to the community.
“We don't just go out and place orders. We work with people we know, we build relationships,” Felder said. “There have been suppliers that have been to our wedding.”
Felder now works with suppliers in Bangladesh, China, and India, who care about what they produce and how they treat their employees. He keeps in constant contact through WhatsApp, phone calls, and video chats. As soon as borders opened up after the COVID-19 pandemic had subsided, he was on the first plane to visit them.
And all of that relationship building has paid off. When pockets that were too small were sewn onto Bearbottom shorts, Felder’s suppliers alerted him to the issue before any of the shorts were shipped. Together, Bearbottom and the supplier were able to split the costs for repair.
That kind of trust is important for taking big risks during uncertain times. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many companies were scaling back production and canceling orders in line with demand. But Felder was convinced otherwise.
“We had these great relationships with our production partners and they were able to believe in us when we said the demand is coming,” Felder said. “And, you know, there was a lot of pressure on these partners just from having so many cancellations to believe us and stick with us meant a lot because we were doubling and tripling order quantities.”
“When people were canceling, they had to take that risk and they were willing to do it,” he said. “And it's paid off because, you know, all these customers that we've gained during that time have stuck around.”
Take a listen to Robert’s full interview on Shopify Masters to hear how he started Bearbottom Clothing in college and how he gives back to the community today.