(L-R) Howler Brothers CMO Rick Wittenbraker and Co-Founder and Designer Chase Heard in Austin.
The first time I ever saw a Howler Brothers shirt, I stopped in my tracks, walked to the clothing rack, and looked it over for a good ten minutes. It was a long-sleeved, pearl snap button-down with hibiscus embroideries on the shoulders. This thing was like a vintage western shirt but with a dose of surfer flavor. There was another twist... it was made with a techy, quick dry fabric and was vented in the back. "Dude, this is a fishing shirt," I thought to myself, "but I would wear this anywhere." It was made for me. I loved everything about it. But, I didn't buy it. Why not? Because I've become careful with my purchases. I've lost my patience for things that don't work, don't fit, or don't perform. So, when it comes to clothing, gear, or anything else, I tend to stick with the ol' tried and true. I left the shop that day empty-handed, but curiosity got the best of me and I went back a few days later for the shirt. That was a couple of years ago. Today, that Gaucho Snapshirt remains one of my favorites amongst the plethora of Howler Bros. products in my arsenal. I had converted.
Howler Brothers, founded in 2010, is the brainchild of East Coast college buddies Chase Heard and Andy Stepanian. In addition to being bandmates (more on that below), they share a passion for things like surfing, fly fishing, art, fashion, and travel. The Howler Bros. product line they've created embodies these pursuits, and perhaps more importantly, the spirit and lifestyle associated with such endeavors. The brand's "Heed The Call" mantra and popular hashtag may sum it up best. Howler's high-quality, carefully curated line of apparel, gear, and accessories kills it in the field and transitions seamlessly to the pub or backyard barbecue. My kinda stuff.
I recently visited the Howler Bros. headquarters in Austin to meet and interview the guys. They couldn't have been more hospitable. Their office is a cross between a surf shop and a design lab overflowing with creativity. I'm pretty sure I was drooling. Here's my Q&A with Chase Heard:
How and when did the Howler Brothers story begin?
Although Howler did not launch until late 2010, our relationship with each other pre-dates Howler by many, many years. We have been in a band together called Wrinkle Neck Mules that formed back in 1999. We spent thousands of hours driving around in a van together playing shows and testing each other's patience. In many ways, the creative energy for Howler flowed straight from our history making music together and understanding of how to collaborate with one another artistically. I don't think we would have had the stones to form Howler if we had not been through a lot of trial and testing together previously.
What void did Howler fill in the outdoor apparel market?
Our design and inspiration comes from a different place than most of what is out there in the outdoor apparel market. Most outdoor companies are rooted in the mountains and focus on delivering highly technical pieces for that environment. Although we love the mountains, the inspiration for Howler Bros. and its design really comes from the coasts where we grew up surfing and fishing and bumming around. So, our products really reflect coastal lifestyle and utility first.
Who are your products for?
People who like to seek out what they love to do no matter what it is. We think you could fill your bag with Howler Bros. and nothing else for a surf trip, fishing trip or most any outdoor pursuit and those pieces would have you covered from being in or on the water to being in the bar or around the camp fire that night. We try to make things that have utility but that also transcend a particular sport and work all day and into the night.
Describe the Howler Brothers aesthetic.
We have cross bred the coastal aesthetic I referenced before with our daily lives here in Austin which, as you know, is a funky and inspiring place to be. What emerges are technical garments that have a high degree of fashion form inspired by what's around us.
Where do your design inspirations come from?
Daily life here in Austin, travel, historical ideas from surf and skate and fashion, music. You name it. Our eyes are always searching.
What's it like seeing people wearing your clothing?
It's awesome. The feeling is akin to when we first heard our music being played on the radio or tv. Your instinct is to start looking around to see if your mom is there handing it out for free to people just to make you feel good but then you realize it's a total stranger who has gone out and spent their money on it. It validates the mission.
We hear that Will Ferrell is a big fan. What's up with that?
We sent a hat to his hotel when he was passing through Austin way, way back before we had even launched the brand. We assumed it got thrown away or stolen by some intern. Alas, he showed up in Rolling Stone wearing that hat nearly 2 years later. On a whim, we sent him a few more things and he seems to be into it because he keeps showing up at Lakers games and on TMZ wearing Howler Bros. If you're reading this Will, thank you.
What are the challenges and advantages of operating out of Austin?
People sort of scratch their heads when you tell them you're a coastal outdoor company based in inland Texas. But, it doesn't take long for people to understand why once they step back and think about the creative culture that is here and the pedigree Austin has for design and music and being on the leading edge for the movement towards artisanal things.
Where do you see the company in 5 years?
We want to expand the line and bring to life many of our ideas while staying true to our core. This is a labor of love and something we want to be doing for many years into the future.
What does "Heed the Call" mean to you?
It might sound a bit 1960's-ish but it's really just pursuing analog things you love with people you love.
What are some favorite Howler travel destinations?
Tough question. It's like being asked to name your favorite child or something. In the recent past we all went out to Montana to participate in a fly fishing event for a charity called Casting 4 A Cure. That trip pretty much encapsulates everything we love. Fishing all day with great people, drinking a few at night around the fire and picking some tunes. You have to love it.
*Get the full Howler Brothers story and check the entire product line at howlerbros.com
Armed with fly rods, camping gear, and some new fall/winter Howler Brothers goods, we took to the Guadalupe River for a cold, 2 day adventure of our own. We camped, we fished, we heeded the call. Photos below. Special thanks to Action Angler, Diablo Paddlesports, and of course Howler Brothers. Crew and photos: Trey Daffin, Deric Garza, and Rodney Mishler.