Getting Down to Business
“So, everyone else out to lunch?” I naively ask as Andy Tuller, owner of Outa Ware Outdoor Clothing Company, leads me through a tour of his facilities, showing off the industrial sewing machines, miles of fabric, and well-stocked showroom.
“I’m it,” he says, laughing. “I do absolutely everything here.” He tells me he prefers having complete control over every aspect of the company, personally designing, sewing, and testing his outdoor gear. Without employees to worry about, he can take vacations on a whim and, most importantly, can ensure that every piece of clothing conforms to his standards of quality.
“When I’m sewing, I can hear when the machine skips a stitch; I can correct it right then and there,” he explains. “When the whole piece is completed, you can’t properly check it for quality, because there’s too much to look at. Quality control is an ongoing process, you can’t just do it at the end.”
I speculate that Tuller may be the personification of the phrase if you want something done right, do it yourself. “I’m pretty stubborn,” he admits. “My standards are fairly high.”
Twenty-odd years ago, living out of a modified 30-passenger short bus in a parking lot, Tuller enjoyed the classic dirtbag lifestyle as a Big Sky ski patroller. After repeatedly wearing through ski clothes year after year, he decided to do something about it, and a simple pair of mittens planted the seed of Outa Ware.
“I wanted clothing that wouldn’t fall apart or cost very much,” he says, “so I basically made things that I needed.” Slowly he expanded into making gear for friends and family on his home sewing machine, and gradually he built his craft into the company he runs today.
After first setting up shop in Big Sky, he moved to Bozeman, then out to Belgrade. He finally settled in Three Forks nearly four years ago, where his wife was living. “I got tired of commuting all the time,” he explains, “so I moved here and bought this building. Really, I just want to be able to walk or bike to work. I want my life to be convenient.”
But convenience took its toll, and the business took a massive hit after moving 25 miles from its former location. “Being located in Big Sky was great for business, Bozeman was good, Belgrade was mediocre,” he notes. “And Three Forks is… well, people ask ‘why are you in Three Forks?’”
Business continued to suffer, and almost exactly one year ago, Andy was considering shutting the whole operation down. “Sales were down,” he remembers, “so I took some time off and didn’t tell anyone about it. I was kind of burnt out too, and I needed to find some balance in my life.”
When ultimately faced with a normal 9-to-5 job, Andy made his choice: “I was thinking about getting a $10-an-hour job, working for someone else… but I finally realized I just couldn’t do that.”
Determined not to give up the dream, Andy returned to his passion and constructed a massive inventory, rented booths at local farmer’s markets, and revamped his website, complete with online ordering and payment. “I finally got the website to the point where it’s bringing in business… only took me 11 years to do it,” he laughs. He’s now enjoying the most business he’s had in the entire history of Outa Ware.
As for the future of his company, Andy says he’s going to take it slow. “I could take on an apprentice, or find a business partner… but honestly, for the next five years, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.” He doesn’t plan on selling out either. Even from the beginning he’s been courted by investors, promising loads of cash and national recognition, but he flatly turns them down.
“Making money is nice," he explains, "but if that’s your only objective, you’re not contributing anything to the betterment of the world. I want to make enough to pay my bills and take a few vacations… just to live a simple life. Subsistence living.”