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To find out more behind how Wild-Rye got its start and what’s in store for the future, Josh interviews Wild-Rye co-founder, Katy Hover-Smoot
More about the episode...
Josh sits down with Wild-Rye co-founder Katy Hover-Smoot. Wild-Rye is a brand that is dedicated to lifting up a long overlooked category of outdoor goods, women's bike and ski apparel. After achieving her PHD and flirting with a career in academia, Katy began to swiftly change paths and chase her desire to immerse herself in the outdoor sport industry. Since then, she’s had the opportunity to work with some fantastic mentors in the outdoor industry giving her the boost to turned her attention towards building Wild-Rye and seriously strengthening an often ignored (but not for long!) category: clothing specifically geared towards athletic women.
Have an opinion? We want to hear it! Join the conversation and leave a comment, check out show notes, and get all the links mentioned in this episode below
- Check out Wild-Rye’s website
- Peruse Wild-Rye’s shop for Women’s Bike and Ski clothing
- Follow Wild-Rye on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
- Tune in to Wild-Rye Radio
- The company that helped Katy get her footing in the industry: Specialized Bicycle Components Inc.
What is Wild Rye all about?
“We make design forward outdoor apparel for women and, we’re really focused on disrupting the soft goods industry. We think it’s an overlooked category and something that’s been especially overlooked for women…”
How did you decided to dive into this kind of business?
“I didn’t really have a traditional business background. Before working in the cycling industry I actually went to get a PHD in art history at USC Berkeley and, I always thought that I would be a professor...I started interviewing for jobs in the outdoor industry and I think I interviewed for at least 30 jobs…”
What was it like taking the first steps in starting Wild-Rye?
“There was really no process...in the beginning it was everything from asking people who could supply our fabric to finding a branding person to building a website to understanding how our sales funnels work...my background was not in business so it was a steep learning curve…”
Do you specifically focus on biking and skiing to stay a four season company?
“From my perspective, I think categories like running and hiking and just general athletic outdoor pursuits are really well served by the existing brands out there...for us, mountain biking and skiing are two really specific hard endeavours…we really chose ski and bike because they’re really overlooked for women...”
What is it like working remotely?
“I actually had been remote at Specialized for my last two and a half years there. So I was really comfortable working remotely with a co-founder and in fact we work remotely with a designer as well…”
How does Wild Rye stand apart from other soft good companies?
“For us it’s a couple of things. One is fit and an attention to women’s bodies. We fit specifically to women who are athletes in the sports that we make apparel for… At the end of the day anyone who skis a lot know you come out of ski season with huge thighs and if you’re on a bike a lot you’ve got some junk in your trunk and that’s something that should be embraced…”
What was the prototyping process like for Wild Rye?
“I’m a firm believer that your product can always be better...We test a ton, obviously we test iterations in house...we usually run a test process for about a year before we go to production…”
Did you have any mentors that helped you build Wild Rye?
“I’ve been lucky, I’ve had some really wonderful mentors. I think my mentors started as far back as my days as an academic in my PHD program...I was really lucky to start my career in cycling in the outdoor sport industry working as the assistant to the founder of specialized bikes. Working for Mike Sinyard is like a masterclass in running a business…”
What is your commitment to sustainability?
“I personally don’t believe advocacy should be an advertising platform...I think instead it’s really just about doing the right thing. We manufacture every piece we can in the United States...If we have to manufacturers overseas we work through partners who have the most stringent worker safety and pay standards and, we only work with bluesign certified fabrics…”
What does your daily schedule look like?
“I’ve always been a really early morning person. My day usually starts around 5/5:30 in the morning...I think anyone who runs a startup can tell you there’s a ton of fluidity between your work and your life and there is no demarcation between the two…”
What has been some of the hardest parts about starting Wild Rye?
“After that first initial struggle, I think the problems and the questions and the roadblocks we hit in that first year, now just seem run-of-the-mill. When Wild Rye launched, it seems like when things went wrong, it was the end of the world…I think one of the hardest parts about starting a business is when you begin you don’t realize how much of this is going to happen and how much of this is going to be beyond your control...”
What has the growth been like since you started?
“Our growth has been pretty fantastic. Our monthly growth is usually around between 20% and 50% month after month. We’ve also started to open wholesale accounts so we’ve seen growth into the wholesale market as well. When we started Wild Rye we really wanted to go to direct to consumer only but, Cassie and I had this realization at an event this summer when we watched women come up and stretch and touch our product…”
Where did you guys come up with your name?
“We actually launched Wild Rye under Buttermilk Mountain Apparel. Buttermilk was named for the Buttermilks which is a region on the east side of the Sierras so, down outside of Bishop is the best climbing, mountain biking and backcountry ski access anywhere in the States…”
What are some of your biggest fears in regards to Wild Rye?
“I’ll be totally honest, I think our biggest fear is cashflow. We’re 100% bootstrapped so we haven’t done a Kickstarter, we haven’t raised traditional capital, we don’t have a line of credit. So, this means at the end of the day we’re working with a limited budget for marketing initiatives and even adding new product lines…”
What have been some of the biggest mistakes that you’ve made in regards to Wild Rye?
“I think our mistakes run a huge gamut. Mistakes run everywhere from when we started I didn’t realize you could negotiate down minimums with fabric suppliers or manufacturers for a surcharge...the other side has been mistakes in product…You’re going to f*ck up, you really are, it’s going to be a mess and it’s really just how you deal with what on the backside that matters...”
What advice would you give someone who wanted to start a business?
“I have two pieces of advice; one go get some experience...the experience that we have coming from those two companies is huge and has a ton of value to us on a day to day basis...the other piece is if you’re not going to do it and you’re really ready to start a company, don’t agonize over decision making, it will just slow you down…”
Where do you see Wild-Rye headed into the future?
“I think in the next year our goal is to continue our growth rate, if not, expand on it. I think we will continue to open up additional wholesale accounts. Our approach to retail is pretty organic, we haven’t gone to outdoor retailer, I mean, after all we’re not even a year old…that’s a $5,000 cost to play with...”
What’s the best part about running Wild-Rye?
“I think the best part is making great gear for women...I love the challenges of running a startup and, I love how hard it can be to build something new to build something new and how rewarding it can be…even if this doesn’t work I’m going to end up starting another company. I just can’t imagine doing something else at this point...”