In 2003, a small team of friends with years in the outdoor industry launched Pistil to bring focus and sophistication to the often-overlooked, yet essential, accessories category. I have loved this brand since I was in middle school and was honored to interview one of the founders, Darren Glassman about how this brand was inspired by the creativity and energy of its Hood River home in the Pacific Northwest where I lived in 2015. Enjoy this deep dive into what it means to build a community minded business, to live by the motto: work hard, play hard, and to create meaningful partnership with retailers like TB&C.
Tell us about yourself. Who are you? What inspires you? What drives you? What brings you joy?
The four of us, Tood, Forrest, Pete and Darren, manage Pistil Designs in beautiful Hood River, Oregon, on the edge of the Columbia River, between two volcanic mountain peaks. We are driven to be positive contributors to the fabulous community that we live and work in, while enjoying the many bountiful offerings it provides us with. We are inspired to be our most creative selves, both by the physical beauty of our home as well as the authenticity of the people who live here, in addition, of course, to our awesome, locally-brewed beer.
What inspired you to found Pistil?
We founded Pistil in 2003 based on our recognition that there were no accessories brands in the outdoor channel, only accessories commodities, along with our shared belief that consumers can always become passionate about something different, even when the emphasis is on the little things. We felt that we could generate an authentic interest in accessories that are designed to be playful and fun, sufficiently sophisticated when desired, and generally, unique enough to add a whimsical, yet purposeful touch of flavor to anyone’s day.
What is Pistil's mission? What is your personal life mission? How do they influence one another?
Pistil has always aimed to be the best possible wholesale partner to our retailers. We endeavor to make buying and selling easy and convenient for dealers that invest in us and our brand. This dovetails directly with who we are, and how we live each and every day. We have never taken ourselves especially seriously. These guiding principles inform us quite similarly in both our personal and professional lives.
How do you incorporate play into your life to create a healthy work/life balance?
We make sure to include play as a meaningful part of every day, whether we’re participating in high octane activities like windsurfing, kiteboarding, skiing or mountain biking, or simply taking a walk, or playing sports with our kids. We are fortunate to live in a small, resort town in a notably vibrant region, both physically and creatively. The natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge, as well as the mountains and forests that surround us, all provide an abundance of offerings to enjoy the outdoors every day of the year. We feel compelled to play at least as hard as we aim to work.
What are some of the obstacles you have overcome to pursue this dream?
All of us originally came to Hood River from somewhere else far away. While we have each overcome varying personal challenges of our own along the paths of our individual journeys, we are most proud of having found our way towards settling in a wonderful, tightly knit community which allows us to live locally and thrive in many different ways.
What are you excited about right now?
We are excited about continuing to undertake the challenge of navigating through a new and shifting business environment, working to maintain a solid wholesale business while everyone around us appears to be increasingly focused on establishing and building their direct-to-consumer business. Our efforts are squarely focused on leveraging the strength of our many long-term relationships with our retailer partners.
Also, as true Oregonians, we are genuinely excited about the upcoming Fall and Winter seasons. We love layering up and heading outdoors; there is nothing better than getting a little wet, working up your core energy and getting after it on a muddy trail or high up on the slopes of Mount Hood!
What piece of advice do you have for outdoor enthusiasts with entrepreneurial spirits?
Work where you live, don’t live where you work.
What would you have done differently when you started your company if you knew then what you know now?
We would like to have been able to make more of our core constituents equity partners out of the gate. This would have been difficult to accomplish, as our initial goal was always (and still remains) to earn a decent living on our own, in our small town. We have always felt as if we have many people invested in our brand, but would like to have more true business partners among the many individuals who have contributed to our success.
We are currently focused on the challenge of keeping our wholesale partners at the forefront of our focus as we evolve. With so much meteoric change underway in retail, we recognize the challenges faced by the many wonderful outdoor industry dealers that have literally enhanced our lives. These folks have remained as our partners and friends for the last 15 years, and our goals remain as aligned as ever with one another, which means that their challenges are the same as ours.
What’s your favorite product and why?
We are proud of our lifestyle Bags. Having launched this entirely new category in Spring ’16, we feel the range has fully matured to meet our customers tastes and functional needs. Our Bags are practical, functional and fun, with a simple, relaxed aesthetic that fits in with Pistil’s trademark sense of style.
Anything else you want to share
We are humbled by the opportunity to live where we live and do what we do for work, with the people we get to spend our lives with, both socially and professionally. To all of you who make that possible, we extend our heartfelt appreciation. Thank you!
Bonus question: What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?
We want to be the type business partners that you would like to hang out with in your free time, whether grabbing a bite, beer or coffee, or hiking, biking or skiing. Simply put, we’d like to be thought of as fun to be with.