The Reel Deal: Tanner Sutton of Free Fly Apparel’s 5 Tips for Building an Authentic Outdoor Lifestyle Brand

June 19, 2024

Tanner Sutton, founder of Free Fly Apparel, has always been drawn to the outdoors. With a background in his family's clothing business and a passion for fly fishing, Tanner's journey as an entrepreneur began when he least expected it - while working as a fishing guide in Montana. Today, Free Fly Apparel is known for its comfortable, versatile bamboo-based clothing designed for those who love to embrace the outdoors.

In this episode of The Marketing Factor, I sat down with Tanner to dive into his entrepreneurial journey and the lessons he's learned along the way. From the initial lightbulb moment that sparked the idea for Free Fly Apparel to the challenges of scaling a business while staying true to its core values, Tanner shares his insights on building an authentic outdoor lifestyle brand that resonates with customers.

Tune in to the full episode to hear Tanner's story and how he built Free Fly Apparel into what it is today:

Here are five tips from Tanner that may just help you build a successful and authentic brand:

1. Solving a Personal Problem Can Lead to a Successful Business Idea

For Tanner, the idea for Free Fly Apparel struck him right on the job as a fishing guide:

"It was a light bulb moment for me of two worlds colliding - growing up in this family clothing business and then rowing people down the Missouri river. I loved what I did, but the one thing that was holding me back was the shirt on my back. At the end of every day, I'd be sticky, sweaty, and uncomfortable. That was the original idea of solving a personal problem for me of trying to build something that performed well in the water, but was really comfortable and simply designed."

Tanner saw a problem that was messing with his own experience, and he set out to find a solution. By merging his background in the family clothing business with his practical knowledge from the river, he set the stage for what would become Free Fly Apparel. Often, when you recognize a personal challenge and work to address it, you uncover an idea that resonates with many others facing similar issues.

2. Authenticity Is Key in Building a Strong Brand Identity

Throughout the conversation, Tanner emphasized the significance of staying true to oneself and the brand's core values:

"I think in any industry, especially ours, people can suss out when you're pretending to be someone you're not. And we want to make sure that we remain true to that."

In today's world, consumers are constantly bombarded with brand messages. That's why authenticity has become so valuable. By remaining genuine and maintaining a sincere connection with their customers, Free Fly Apparel has succeeded in building a strong, relatable brand identity. When you're authentic, you foster trust and loyalty among your target audience, setting yourself apart from competitors who might appear insincere or disconnected from their customers' needs and values.

3. Leveraging Customer Feedback for Product Development and Storytelling

Tanner and his team at Free Fly Apparel place a premium on customer feedback, using it to guide their product development and shape their brand narrative:

"We do a lot of consumer groups, focus groups, and surveys to pinpoint our best customers. I want to know everything about your life. You like to fish, but what else do you like to do? And what are the products we can make for those other activities that you like to do outside?"

By actively seeking out and listening to customer insights, Free Fly Apparel can create products that not only meet their customers' needs but also align with their larger lifestyles and aspirations. This approach allows the brand to tell authentic, relatable stories that resonate with their target audience, creating a deep sense of connection and community around their products.

4. Balancing Family Life and Business Growth as a Founder

As a founder and family man, Tanner knows the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance while growing Free Fly Apparel:

"It does drive me and gets me excited beyond just selling t-shirts as a living, trying to pass on what it means to have a balance in life to my own kids and practice what you preach - get outside, get off the tablets, and have fun."

Tanner's commitment to leading by example and prioritizing family time alongside business growth not only aligns with his personal values but also reinforces Free Fly Apparel's core principles of enjoying the outdoors and living an authentic lifestyle. By openly sharing his own experiences and challenges, Tanner creates a relatable and inspiring narrative for other entrepreneurs and customers alike.

5. Staying Humble and Collaborative as the Company Scales

Despite Free Fly Apparel's success and growth, Tanner and his team remain grounded and receptive to feedback:

"We always have that underdog mindset to try to say like we're not too big to sit down and have a conversation of how we can quickly change something to improve it."

This humble, collaborative approach allows Free Fly Apparel to remain agile and adaptable in a changing market. By cultivating an environment where everyone's ideas and opinions are valued, the company can continuously innovate and refine its products and processes. This mindset not only contributes to the brand's success but also builds a positive, inclusive company culture that attracts and retains talented team members.

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