Horny Toad Clothing

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Can you remember the first time you ever saw the ocean? Or the day of your first hike in one of our country’s great national parks, like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon? Often the best adventures occur when you find yourself feeling small in uncharted territory. Born in a tiny mining shack in Telluride, CO, Horny Toad Activewear has known what it’s like to feel small at the beginning of a great adventure.

Photo: 1996 Telluride, courtesy of Horny Toad Activewear
Photo: 1996 Telluride, courtesy of Horny Toad Activewear

Using a new fabric called Polartec that was introduced in 1991, Jessica Nordhaus started making versatile winter toques out of her small Telluride studio and selling them to friends. As people started wearing her stylish hats both on the slopes and in the stores, her custom designs quickly became popular with the mountain town’s thriving outdoors community. Eventually, after adding jackets to her repertoire, Nordhaus considered selling her company so she could become a teacher. That is when she met Gordon Seabury, a college friend of her now husband, who brought a much bigger vision to the table.

 

Jessica in her studio, courtesy of Horny Toad Activewear
Jessica in her studio, courtesy of Horny Toad Activewear

In 1995 Gordon purchased Nordhaus’s clothing line, and with Jessica as interim designer, they launched Horny Toad as a national brand at Outdoor Retailer in 1996. With just six lifestyle apparel items in their first catalogue Horny Toad’s initial presence at the conference resembled a small toad peeking out of a crag at a famous rock climber, like the ones whose faces often marked those technical outdoor brands. Seabury recalls, “The first five years in the industry, no one understood why we were there. I wasn’t a famous climber or mountaineer, and we didn’t sell equipment or technical apparel.” From day one Horny Toad had to map its own route into an industry dominated by technical, seasoned adventurers with no crampons or quickdraws, just outdoor lifestyle inspired clothing.

Winter Toques in action, courtesy of Horny Toad Activewear
Winter Toques in action, courtesy of Horny Toad Activewear

Nearly twenty years later, Horny Toad stands out as an industry leader with the current trends moving toward outdoor lifestyle clothing and a wardrobe that can be worn without sacrificing function or style “from the trail to the tavern.” Yet in the midst of their success as a company, crossover apparel is not the only industry trend they are setting. When he first started the brand with Nordhaus, who is now active in Vermont politics and several not-for-profit organizations, Seabury committed himself to building a socially responsible company. That desire for integrity in the workplace has spread from his living room in Chicago lined with boxes to a full warehouse in Chicago and new Riviera headquarters in Santa Barbara. In 2013, Outside magazine called Horny Toad one of the "100 Best Places to Work” for the 4 th time.

RoganHTHQ1, courtesy of Jack Rogan
RoganHTHQ1, courtesy of Jack Rogan
Horny Toad Headquarters, courtesy of Jack Rogan
Horny Toad Headquarters, courtesy of Jack Rogan

In an industry known for environmentally responsible business, Seabury not only wanted to achieve minimal carbon footprints but also emphasize the importance of social ventures. As a young entrepreneur, Seabury remembers, “my main inspiration was Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream, one of the only companies to implement a successful social venture into their business model.” Since 1988 Ben and Jerry’s has partnered with Greyston bakery in Yonkers, NY, which works to employ former convicts to help them escape the cycles of poverty and crime, for their “Fudge Brownie” and “Half-Baked” flavors. Seabury contacted Search Developmental Center, which provides meaningful life experiences to those with developmental disabilities in the greater Chicago area. He and its Executive Director, John Lipscomb, subsequently co-founded Planet Access in 1997, a social venture partnership providing vocational training for adults with disabilities to manage all warehouse operations. After over 15 years of a fruitful partnership, Seabury says, “Planet Access has been like a second child for both John and I. They have packed and shipped every single Horny Toad package since 1997. That’s nearly 3 million pieces.”

Early shipments, courtesy of Horny Toad Activewear
Early shipments, courtesy of Horny Toad Activewear

But as the saying goes, “what’s work without vacation?” Not only does Planet Access provide opportunity for adults with disabilities to add meaningful work to their lives, but it also sponsors another program called “Search for Adventure.” Every year, proceeds from Horny Toad’s sales and the Planet Access Social Venture fund dream vacations for adults with disabilities. Seabury explains, “Our employees are chaperones for different trips, and we’ve even had customers and some of our independent sales representatives do trips. My first trip was on the Appalachian Trail.” Check out this video to see the incredible impact they have on people’s lives:

Search for Adventure from Horny Toad Activewear on Vimeo.

Recently, Horny Toad joined 1% For the Planet, because the organization agreed to broaden its scope and include social responsibility and the Search for Adventure program for eligibility in their program.

Today, Horny Toad is a thriving brand. That success can be measured in sales, industry leadership, and a demonstrable commitment to social and environmental responsibility. With a story like this, it’s no wonder outdoor enthusiasts wear Horny Toad apparel every day.

Horny Toad Headquarters, courtesy of Jack Rogan
Horny Toad Headquarters, courtesy of Jack Rogan

If you're interested in memorable outdoor experiences & stories from the local outdoor lifestyle, Horny Toad is sponsoring RootsRated's work in Santa Barbara, CA , Austin, TX , and Charleston, SC .

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