How Robin Hall Founded a Sustainable Apparel Brand in Rural Colorado
By Margaret Hedderman
Robin Hall thought she’d retire at Smartwool, an outdoor apparel brand based in Steamboat Springs. But when Smartwool’s parent company announced its relocation to Denver, Robin – and her family – faced a big decision. Ultimately, she decided to stay in Steamboat and start her own company along with two partners: Town Hall, a sustainable apparel brand for children.
Robin’s last day at Smartwool was March 1, 2020, and, well, we all know what happened last spring. Despite the global disruption caused by the pandemic, Robin launched Town Hall and will soon release a line of apparel this fall. We spoke with her about starting up, sustainability, and the importance of community.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Startup Colorado: What role has community and love of place played in founding Town Hall?
Robin Hall: This community is everything to us. It’s the entire reason that we’re starting this business.
When the Smartwool announcement came, our family quickly looked at each other - my two young sons, my husband and I - and said, “We're not leaving this amazing community.” These 12,000 people are family to us and we want to do everything we can to give back to them. So that was a slam dunk.
Now the question is: What can I do next? What problem are we going to solve? And what came to life was in the shape of a Venn diagram.
- Why are we staying in this town? Well, it's really our kids and this community.
- What are we good at? It's the outdoor industry and making outdoor apparel.
- And then, what are we passionate about? The planet and not creating stuff just to create more stuff.
So those three things met in the middle. Hence, Town Hall was created. Community and the planet are the two core values that we are living and breathing every day. Every decision we make is run through those two filters. Community has kept us here and it has turned into this juicy reason for our brand’s being.
SUCO: Town Hall is very much a purpose driven company. What's been challenging about building a sustainable clothing line for kids?
RH: Two of Town Hall’s co-founders are from the outdoor industry. The third one is an amazing entrepreneur. And very early on the third gentleman said, “So we're producing in Steamboat, right? We're going to make the jackets here?”
And we're like, “Well…” Unfortunately, there's just not that skilled labor; there's not the machinery and the factories in Colorado, much less in the country.
I think one of the challenges has been balancing our desire to keep this in the community and keep it sustainable. Unfortunately, making it around the corner from our house wasn’t feasible.
It’s something I think we’ve navigated well by choosing a really good factory partner. And then we’re going to assess the transportation cost to the planet and figure out how to best offset that, in a Town Hall-community type of way. We also want to ensure we have the best, most sustainable fabrics; which we would likely have to get from Asia anyway.
SUCO: What's the biggest lesson you've learned along the way?
RH: I would say be laser focused on your purpose. I literally have a whiteboard right here that says all of our mantras and values. Being able to reference that when we make decisions has helped us keep an unwavering focus on what we're doing. It makes decisions easier and cleaner. I think the consumer sees that as well.
I’d also add that it’s so important to be authentic and transparent. You know, I'm asking a million dumb questions every day. Gone are the times of me in my late 20s, where I'm trying to climb the corporate ladder and use big words and presentations. Now I'm like, “What you see is what you get with me.” I’m just being transparent and telling you what I don’t know.
SUCO: So, you’re launching your fall apparel line in a few months and getting ready for spring. What's next for Town Hall?
RH: I think it's these launches. And getting a baseline for things like: Are we going to sell through everything we bought? Which sizes are going to move and which aren’t? How much impact is this first season going to have on the planet? These upcoming seasons are going to be really telling for us. And then, like every startup, it's going to turn into a cashflow game pretty quickly.