Arkansas natives Mark Bertel and his long-time friend Christopher Royer launched Borderline Clothing & Supply in 2015, bootstrapping the business with $20,000 and a dream to develop a lifestyle apparel brand from the heart of America. Based in Mountain Home, the small clothing business has returned Bertel’s original investment and continues to grow its reach with distribution by recently adding a deal with Hibbett Sports to carry the apparel in 50 stores across the U.S.
Mason Gardner, chief marketing officer, said the company has seen a 400% jump in sales this past year, helped in part from the expanded distribution through Hibbett Sports.
Bertel, who is CEO of Borderline, told Talk Business & Politics his background was in construction, but when Royer approached him in 2015 to help fund and grow a new lifestyle brand he jumped in with both feet. By 2016, the company was selling its apparel to wholesalers.
“Borderline was a concept brand everyone could use and afford,” Bertel said. “We see it bridging different cultures who meet on common ground where they celebrate the outdoors for inspiration and enjoyment.”
The bread and butter for the young brand is its patented Bugout technology, an all-natural bug repellent which is infused into the fibers of each product. Bertel said the shirts and caps are sourced in the U.S. The all-cotton shirts are manufactured in El Dorado and the caps are made in Colorado. He said each item is treated in Mountain Home with the Bugout repellent and the original designs are also screened or embroidered at the facility.
Bertel said the Bugout repellent sets the brand apart and makes the garments functional for those who enjoy being outdoors. Gage McIntosh, who serves as vice president, oversees the application of the Bugout repellent to the garments. McIntosh is also a founding partner in the business.
Bertel also said a key focus of the company is giving back to the community. The company works with Feeding America and each Borderline item sold supports 10 meals given to the hungry. Last year, Borderline sales supported more than 120,000 meals and the goals for 2019 are higher.
Borderline has grown from its three original partners to a team of nine. Bertel said the company is nimble and stocks not finished inventory. Instead, final designs are created upon demand. He said there is a two-week turnaround on orders and the majority of the company’s sales come through wholesale relationships with outdoor and sporting goods retailers.
In Arkansas, the apparel is available at Gearhead Outfitters and Hibbett Sports. Bertel said he’s interested in expanding the distribution across Arkansas with a few more retailers, as well as growing the business more throughout the Midwest.
Bertel said the apparel line is simple with basic short-sleeve and long-sleeve T-shirts with the Borderline original designs. There is also a cap line and the company also sells a daily supply of its Bugout spray, which Bertel said will last through multiple laundry cycles. The price of the shirts ranges from $34.99 to $37.99.
When asked where Bertel hoped to see Borderline Clothing & Supply in five years, he said providing between two and three million meals with distribution in all 50 states. He said if the pace of sales continues to grow, those are realistic goals.
Bertel said the company has not sought any outside capital investment, but he can foresee trying to raise some funding in the next few years to keep adding to the sales team, should expanded distribution goals be reached.
He said one lesson he’s learned in trying to run a small apparel startup and grow a brand from scratch is to lead with his heart and find people with similar goals to work for the company.
“If you can find these people, don’t stop appreciating them,” Bertel said.