Born out of endless summer surf trips to scour Central America’s coastline for fine waves and hidden beaches, Howler Brothers crafts dusty road-inspired clothing suitable for the vagabond patron saints like Hemingway and Kerouac.
I’ve been wearing the Hula Girl Gaucho Snap Shirt ($80) for a few months now. It’s a classic poplin with two hula girls playing ukulele emblazoned over the two chest pockets made of lightweight, quick drying poly-cotton blend with a mesh-lined, vented back yoke. Wearing the shirt is a bold statement, which simultaneously elicits “nice shirt!” with a side glance and raised eyebrow.
I’ve rarely had so much fun with a shirt. So I reached out to the founders to chat on the brand and their inspiration.
GJ: I’m not sure who has bigger cojones: me for wearing the hula shirt to work or you for designing it. Regardless, it gets a lot of attention! Chase, you behind this classic?
That shirt was really inspired by Andy’s and my mutual love of old western shirts by H Bar C and the like that had fairly outrageous but cool embroidery. We had a few we loved but they were either hot and sticky or threadbare. We wanted to replicate them with a cooler and more wearable fabric and some imaginative embroidery. The best part is deciding what to put on them from year to year.
What is your design process like, and where do you get inspiration?
The inspiration comes from all over really. Just like the Gaucho, I tend to pull a lot of ideas from historical garments and try to make them better and more wearable for today. Our Guayabera is a good example; it’s based off the classic Mexican or Cuban shirt but we teched the fabric up, added vents and modernized the fit to make it a little more accessible and versatile.
You boys are a little far from your surfer roots…does Austin’s urban cowboy balance your muse?
Austin is an active place so you’re never too far from some sort of adventure or creative inspiration. I feel like everyone I meet is doing something unique. To some degree, this pushes us and finds its way into our design. We also travel a ton — Texas has great airports so we find ourselves on the move quite a bit en route to water of some variety.
I understand you release micro runs of garments. It’s a bit like a limited edition print, no?
I suppose. It’s one of the most fun things we do and it enables us to take some risks on items that might not strike everyone’s fancy. For a company that is growing like we are, it’s also an essential way to create items that define what we are as a brand without having to manufacture 10,000 pieces.
Does this build a bit of a collectors market?
We hope so! In fact, there are some folks out there who have every Gaucho in their closet. Maybe one day the Gaucho will be like Air Jordan’s or something and people will rhyme about the strength of their Gaucho game.
The outdoor garment industry is competitive with established brands like Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Khakis. How have you distinguished Howler Brothers?
Inevitably, there is some overlap with what those brands do but we draw our inspiration from a little different place since most of our creative energy ties back to the coast. We also like being small and nimble enough to create small runs and do collaborations with others. Our Whiskey Cups, which received a lot of press, are a good example. We worked with a small potter from Virginia to make something very unique and limited edition.
You have a band! Are there similarities crossing over between designing clothes and making music?
Absolutely. Mason, Andy and I have played in a band called Wrinkle Neck Mules together for 15+ years. In that time, we have spent many hours creating together. I think it taught us, and continues to teach us, how to collaborate and how to bring a collective vision to reality. Being a traveling musician also teaches you infinite patience. We have travelled thousands of miles together in a van without killing each other. By comparison, days in the Howler office seem relatively easy.
You seem like the kind of boys who know their way around a fire, sharp knives and a good bottle of tequila…what’s in your bar?
I think cold beer is the most essential bar item for all of us. We typically choose something that’s local or regional to wherever we are on the globe. After that, we can go in any number of directions based on climate, time of year, etc. We are not overly choosy! As for knives, we have been knocking around the idea of a Howler machete. We’ll see if we can bring that to light.
Sweet! Our Austin TSA readers are taking note. In your line of clothes, form often follows function, but you manage to put out some sharp looking threads! Can you share anything that we can look forward to seeing this fall?
We are excited to continue to expand our fall line. I think my personal favorite item is a new puffy vest that is super warm and light. I dig the simplicity and utility of it. We’ve also got quite a few other new items and some updates on things like flannels that we did last fall season.
Thanks for your time!
—Steve Greapel is a contributing writer. See the Howler Brothers’ main page for more about the company.