NEWBURY, Ohio – Paul Taylor has found his niche. It’s in his pants.
Founder and self-proclaimed “Head Monkey” of Arborwear, Taylor, 37, leads a staff of seven to imagine, research, design, test and market a fairly new line of outdoor clothing best known for its trousers.
When the bough breaks. About 10 years ago, Taylor was living with his parents and had embarked on a career as an arborist trimming trees. His ladder-climbing had nothing to do with corporate maneuvering – or much to do with clothing, for that matter.
That changed the day he took a 35-foot fall out of a tree and, according to Arborwear’s Web site legend, he woke up thinking about pants.
“I had an epiphany,” Taylor said.
Comfort = safety. He realized the clothing he had been wearing to work all his life wasn’t ideal for arborist activity. Anyone operating a chain saw 30 feet up in a tree does not want clothes that pinch, bind, slip, tear or catch on twigs.
So Taylor started to imagine the perfect pair of pants.
“I had no background in design or manufacturing,” he said. But he did have tolerant parents and a friend who designed fashion clothing but “didn’t know anything about tree climbing.”
Fortunately, Taylor didn’t aspire to great heights in the marketplace.
“In the beginning I wasn’t trying to sell to anyone,” he recalled.
Devil in the details. Just finding the right fabric for his ideal trousers – lightweight, tough and soft – was a challenge. The design sketches his artist brother-in-law drew looked good, but figuring out how to translate them into patterns for production was a nightmare.
Finally, someone connected with a professional pattern maker in San Diego, Cindi Sutherland, who did the job, and a manufacturer was found.
Taylor still has the original paper patterns hanging in the basement of Arborwear’s headquarters in Newbury, a log cabin on state Route 87.
His first sale. The fall of 1997, still working out of his parents’ basement, he headed to the annual Paul Bunyon Festival, then staged at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, with 500 pairs of pants, 500 shirts, a borrowed trailer and plenty of doubts.
“I thought ‘What if I don’t sell anything?'” Taylor said.
But before the event was over, festival-goers had bought a couple of hundred shirts and pairs of pants.
“I was hooked,” he said, more on the idea that his hard-wrought product satisfied a need than on the income from the sales.
“I never looked back.”
Tree trimmer by day. Arborwear did not become an overnight sales wonder. Taylor continued to trim trees three days a week, bootstrapping his business into the marketplace in his free time.
When money was a problem, he would barter his arborist skills for legal services or printing, and depended on help from friends and family.
He built his staff in a laid-back manner that reflects his informal management style. And it wasn’t until recently that he and his partner, Bill Weber, hired someone who actually had some education related to the garment industry, Jenna Sexten, a graduate of the Kent State University School of Fashion.
Farm connection. Besides having interned at Arborwear, Sexten also grew up on a farm so she understands the special requirements customers need.
Her father, Bill Sexten, a cattle farmer in Washington Court House and past president of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, is one of the company’s field testers and may be its biggest supporter.
As a tester, he has been trying out Arborwear on the job for more than five years and has learned that Paul wants him to be critical and outspoken about Arborwear designs.
“I’ve had everything on that they make,” Sexten said. “They listen to what you’ve got to say and make changes.”
Never thought about it. Often it is the little things he notices that make a big difference in a garment’s appeal.
“One of the first things I told them about was the tab on the zippers,” the farmer said. “I have big hands. I had trouble getting hold of the darned things.”
Larger tabs were built into the product on Sexten’s say-so.
Hooked on vest. One of his favorite items is the vest that has zippers up the side. Although he was skeptical at first, Sexten discovered the design allowed for ventilation as needed.
As an added bonus, the vest was roomy enough to wear over overalls. “They hit a home run on that one,” Sexten said.
Sexten also appreciates Arborwear designs for their safety consciousness.
The double-weight knit sweatshirt is warm enough to wear in below-freezing weather, he said, and it has three snaps at the neck
“They don’t have that stupid string,” Sexten said. “It’s not dangling down there getting tangled up in a PTO shaft.”
Reality check. “Bill’s our No. 1 tester,” Taylor said. “He’s the guy we’re selling to.”
Arborwear counts on their testers to give them a reality check on the usefulness of the designs.
The founder recalls that Sexten, like himself, was used to wearing blue jeans for work. Taylor started off thinking the pants needed to be more form-fitting, but was persuaded by a designer to go for the relaxed fit.
Now he realizes that, for real work, “you need to be able to move.”
Where to buy. Arborwear has 250 to 300 dealers, from feed stores to department stores. The clothing is especially popular with the hunting and fishing contingent.
The stock has evolved with the business to include parkas, chamois shirts, shorts and even belts made to look like the chain of a chain saw.
The belts are a favorite of Jim Cermack, a dentist who lives in Huntsburg. He met Taylor at the Paul Bunyan Festival 10 years ago.
When the dentist said he’d like to see some more product, Taylor offered to bring it by his office. A few days later he was as good at his word.
“Here comes Paul with a duffle bag full of clothes,” Cermack recalls. “Now we’re almost like family.”
The dentist likes to spend his spring making maple syrup and discovered the Arborwear lightweight pants with the double fabric on the front of the legs holds up much better in the sugar bush than other brands, besides being extremely comfortable.
“It’s almost a cult thing, now, kinda on the fringe.”
Commitment. Taylor and his happy crew aren’t trying to be all things to all people, the founder said. They just want to make a better product and keep their customers comfortable and safe.
As Taylor says on his Web site: “Protect your crotch – I can’t stress that enough.”
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