Interview by David Steele
Thereís a trend: people in Montana seem to take the exceptional landscape as a hint towards their character and actions. Mountains and this big sky produce stand out people. I first heard of M.Elihu through some friends in Washington state, only to learn that it was being run by Miles Friedman, a fifteen year old in Whitefish, MT, just north of where I grew up. Friendly, easygoing, and thoroughly immersed in living his dream, I sat down to find out a bit more about him, his clothing company, and what itís like to contend with homework while running a business.
Hey Miles. Howís the winter treating you so far?
It's been good. Fall and winter are always two busy seasons, with school starting, planning for future seasons, and the daily thoughts of snow falling on the mountain, I manage to keep occupied.
Iíve got these visions of you answering a Blackberry while in class. Is it strange to have the responsibility of running multiple companies when your friends are concerned about girls, skateboarding, and homework?
Haha... itís an iPhone actually. To say the least, itís a huge responsibility. The average freshman in high-school (as you mentioned) isnít worried or even thinking about anything more than the next football game, girls, etc. Sometimes, it would be nice to shut off my phone, turn off my computer, and be able to sit back, and have no worries or thoughts of future plans in my mind. I enjoy what I do greatly, and I wouldnít trade it for anything. Of course there will be those moments when Iím asked ďWhy arenít you playing sports. Create a company when youíre olderĒ but after over five years, I feel like its finally starting to pay off.
Drawing inspiration from the weather at Big Mountain, you started with Inversion Clothing Co. What made you move on to M. Elihu instead? How has the branding and direction differed between the two?
There were actually multiple reasons I decided to make the change. One of which was a small trademarking issue, which was a roadblock I didnít want to have to go over. By this time, when I learned about the issue, I felt as though the brand was growing, but not at the rate Iíd like it to. With the first Inversion line, the products were not suited for my personal style at all, which was a huge mistake. I quickly learned that if I didnít feel comfortable wearing my own products, there was a problem. Purple and lime green beanies may be cool, they just werenít the beanies Iíd pull out of my closet if I had to choose one. Besides the legal issue, I wanted a fresh start. By creating M.Elihu I was able to do this. With M.Elihu, Iím trying to keep everything subtle (as much as I can without becoming boring) and focus on minimal advertising, mainly through social media and networks.
Could you elaborate on the legal issue? My guess is that as a small company, you got bullied legally by somebody with too much cash and the time to swing it around.
As I mentioned it was a trademark issue. My aunt actually suggested I trademark the Inversion name and it turned out to be unavailable. Someone had already trademarked it, so if the company grew, I was going to be in trouble.
Trevor Woods told me earlier this year that you two had a great conversation about clothing drops over the years. He was impressed by how much you both knew about specific pieces from all sorts of different brands. So why clothing?
For longer than I can remember, clothing has been important to me. Clothing defines a person. When I was looking to start my second company, I had pages of possible ideas; from selling phone cases in bulk quantities, importing electronics, etc. However, when I thought about it, ten years from now, would I really be happy selling cases used on mobile devices? Most likely, I would be bored with the concept, assuming it was still in business. Clothing is something that will continually expand and grow; in other words, an exciting business field, in my eyes. Itís been an absolute honor to be able to work with Trevor throughout the last year; heís taught and brought things to my attention I may have never thought about. Talking to Trevor I have learned more about specific brands, but Iíve been able to voice my opinion on what I feel companies and brands are doing correctly, and incorrectly.
Seems like everyone is doing their own clothing line. How do you see M.Elihu standing out amongst all the companies making cut and sew?
Clothing is a huge market; thousands of brands are fighting for a small market share. When I decided that clothing was the next step for me, I wanted to do cut and sew. I really didnít see a need to create another graphic t-shirt brand using blanks that anyone could purchase. The only problem is that most customers donít seem to pay attention to the fabric and detail of the piece of clothing, rather the price tag and graphic on it. Because of this, M.Elihu has to stand out in a few other ways. One of which has been price point of the clothing, along with the quality. Iíve personally witnessed friends of mine spreading news to other friends about [other] companyís poor quality. Making sure that everything I create (even products as simple as t-shirts) are made to last, and wonít fall apart is an important aspect to the brand. Other than this, Iím always trying to create clothing that is timeless for the teenager/young adult age.
Interesting. You mentioned the other day that your Momentum vest was originally intended as a layer for spring park laps, but youíve been wearing it constantly this winter. Would you say that happens often with clothing, where a piece functions or is used in a way that you didnít foresee?
Actually, the Momentum Vest was intended to have those features, and I knew it would be better (for what I was trying to accomplish) than some other vests on the market. After receiving and trying the final products, especially on the mountain, I was very surprised. Materials were changed at the last minute, zippers were improved, etc. Small changes like this make this $58.00 vest worth much more in my opinion.
Definitely. This fall, I saw you had some alpaca wool hats. What's the story there?
This summer I had the chance to visit Peru and do some hiking and sightseeing. Before going to Machu Picchu we stopped in Cuzco to spend a few days. While there, we were roaming the streets when I walked into a small shop and met a couple who were weaving hats, scarves and other alpaca products. With minimal Spanish speaking skills, my dad and I communicated how we wanted the hats to fit, the colors (luckily I remembered some colors from a second grade teacher) and other details we thought would be important. After putting some money down, we figured weíd never see a product in return. We later returned and were pleasantly surprised seeing what are now my personal favorite beanies.
With an awesome story, too. M.Elihu sponsored some of the Toy Soldier Productions premieres around Montana this year. One of themes throughout their films has been the relative lack of ski industry scene here in the Treasure State. How does the remoteness of Montana affect M.Elihu? Does the lack of a big scene (like Colorado or Utah) hold you back?
I think Montana isnít thought of when you generally think of skiing (in terms of being in the spotlight). Although we arenít Colorado or Utah, Montana still has some amazing skiing and people. The state doesnít offer nearly as large of a market, but with help of the internet, running a clothing brand is possible from Montana! Itís been great to see Toy Soldier Productions growing at the rate that they have, and to see the positive response shown by not only the state of Montana, but around the country. After traveling to Bozeman for their premier of Act Natural this year, itís clear that Montana does have an active ski scene.
Youíre right. Bozeman was loud. Really loud. Talk a little bit about the overseas sourcing scene. Howíd you become involved? What processes are involved in manufacturing clothing from concept to something a skier will wear?
Iíve always preferred cut and sew clothing, and knew other companies would want to branch into this market. The problem is, itís a very complex and complicated process, and most people donít want to invest years of their time and resources into getting set up. Since I had already spent a few years gaining knowledge and building relationships overseas, I decided Iíd help out a friend after I was approached asking for tips. Quickly, this grew into an operation that produces a wide range of clothing products. Itís easy to overlook what goes into each piece of clothing you wear, especially when itís built from scratch. Speaking for myself, I design at least fifteen products before one is even sampled. Assuming itís liked by friends of mine and fits into the line, it may be produced. I spend anywhere from two to six hours a day changing colors, moving embroideries, and refining details on digital mock-ups. It requires alot of work, but when itís said and done, there isnít a better feeling than putting on something you designed from scratch.
Your line has been steadily growing, and youíve been adding new pieces each season. Whatís your design process like?
Starting with just over $1000, Iíve been able to grow the line from two hat styles to roughly twenty five products in the course of 10 months. Itís taken outside resources that I have created, and hard work to get to the current stage, however Iím nowhere near done. Youíll see product lines continually growing and expanding, with more color-ways of each product, more size options, and a more encompassing clothing collection. Most M.Elihu designs are thought of after seeing multiple pieces of clothing and trying to collaborate them together, and fix all their weak points. I often will take note of clothing I like, and colors that catch my eye. From here, digital mock-ups are made, and sent to those who generally voice their opinion. Later, real samples are made and the process continues; fixing weak points, and changing areas of the garment.
Whatís the next step for M.Elihu?
As of now, Iím focusing on expanding the line, along with gaining distribution through retails stores across the whole country... and hopefully the world! Itís always hard to know how a piece of clothing will fit (when ordered online), and I receive multiple emails a day asking for places where products can be seen in person. Because I feel like this is important in the clothing industry, Iím working with a group of people to promote the brand in the retail world. Hopefully we continue to grow in this field, and youíll see M.Elihu on your local shops shelves! Iíd just like to thank some friends who have shown support along the way. Erik Daniel Andersson, Austin Killips, Curtis Bietz, Trevor Woods, David Steele, and my parents who bring packages to the post office on a daily basis!