SMALL BUSINESS

Farm Boy & Girl, Farm-Inspired Fashion: The Next Big Idea?

08/29/2010 01:53 pm 13:53:21 | Updated Aug 10, 2011

Sure, Old MacDonald had himself a successful farm, but these days, an oink oink here and a moo moo there just doesn't cut it. Farm Boy & Girl was started by two Minnesota natives who had grown up on farms and didn't think their culture was well represented in the fashion world.

In 2002, Dan Adamson and Brian Goldenman decided to test market a new line of clothing at the Minnesota State Fair, one of the largest gathering of livestock owners (not too mention butter sculptures) in the nation. They brought a selection of T-shirts and hats with slogans such as "Farm Boy Field Sports: Watch Where You Step," and attendees ate it up like the fair's signature dish, walleye on a stick.

Right away, the two entrepreneurs knew this cow would milk.

"We thought the concept would work because farmers were being lumped in with cowboys and nobody was speaking to this particular audience," Adamson says. "These are proud communities who consider passing down the family farm from generation to generation a badge of honor."

Adamson and Goldenman have been friends for more than 15 years, and their complementary skill sets have served them as well as Farm Boy & Girl has gone from a booth at the fair to a $2.5 million company. Adamson was a graphic designer who had worked for major retailers like Target, while Goldenman had been in sales and customer service in the telephone industry. However, it was their shared love of having grown up in farming communities that was truly the raison d'etre for starting the company.

From the beginning, the co-founders knew that Farm Boy & Girl had to have major appeal with the young folks who actually plow the fields and tend to the cattle. The strategy was to avoid the mass-market chains and sell the clothes through feed stores, co-ops, farming supply outlets, saddleries, tractor shops and even western-wear clothiers like Cavaender's. The plan was successful, so Farm Boy & Girl stuck with it.

Adamson says farm stores are easy to work with and always pay their bills on time, and they are still reticent to go into stores like Target, although they would like to have a retail outlet of their own at some point. Both men think the Farm Boy & Girl clothes could be a hit on the urban coasts as local organic farming becomes more prevalent -- not to mention its appeal as ironic "red state" apparel -- but a quick check of the company website's store locator doesn't show a brick-and-mortar store to buy goods within 25-miles of New York. (Fear not, city slickers, everything is available for sale on the website.)

"Our primary audience is the real-deal farm kid," Goldenman says. "They are extremely loyal to long-established brands like John Deere and Wrangler, and now we are part of that lifestyle, so we need to remain true and never alienate them."

Remaining vital also means a steady flow of new product. Farm Boy & Girl changes it up twice a year with spring/summer and fall/winter clothing lines, and by expanding what they sell. The company recently added bedding (the pillowcases resemble feed sacks).

Turning over clothing on the same schedule as the crops gives the company a lot of flexibility to create new designs, often inspired by customer feedback, or to discontinue the occasional misfire. Turns out, even farm kids won't buy polo shirts at the feed store -- fancy duds have to come from the mall.

Another way Farm Boy & Girl keeps it real is through their authentic models. The company is constantly on the lookout for fresh faces to be part of their marketing campaigns. Marie Mahaney, 21, of Brodhead, Wis., was a 2009 model. The University of Wisconsin at Platteville senior, who grew up on a 300-acre farm with 55 head of cattle and 125 ewes, was originally approached at a Future Farmers of America event as a high school sophomore. At 15, she was too young, but once Mahaney turned 18, she contacted Farm Boy & Girl and ended up at a shoot at male counterpart Ross Potter's farm in "the middle of nowhere Minnesota." Mahaney loved the way the pictures turned out and believes they capture the essence of why Farm Boy & Girl has been such a hit.

"The pictures are alluring, a little flirtation between two kids, that typical summer fling," Mahaney says. "Farm Boy & Girl offers a country twist on Abercrombie."

(And Mahaney would know, as she's now modeling for the clothing behemoth before fulfilling her modest dreams of becoming Miss Wisconsin, a licensed veterinarian and, eventually, Secretary of Agriculture.)

Occasionally, the T-shirts get a bit randy, which the younger generation likes, but Midwest farming communities tend to be a bit more conservative than urban areas, so it's a balancing act. Adamson says most designs are more tongue-in-cheek than ribald, while admitting that a lot of farming terms (e.g., silos) are ripe for double entendres.

Even in these fallow times, Farm Boy & Girl has reaped a bounty, growing every year since the fair, where the company still sets up shop every summer. Cheeky selections worn by attractive young folks have been a formula for success. There's a reason the farmer's daughter fantasy lives on -- and online. Even in the most rural of communities, sex appeal sells.

"The models are appealing, but not just us farm girls," Mahaney says. "The buff guys don't hurt."

Ee-i-ee-i-ohhhhhh.

The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 8/29/10.

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