Meet Your Merchant: BigTruck – sewing together a local legacy
December 19, 2011
TRUCKEE, Calif. – The Tahoe basin arguably breeds some of the most creative people out there. Olympians are born here; environmentalists take refuge here as stewards of the land; singers, songwriters, authors and actors find inspiration through the organic beauty of Tahoe’s unparalleled landscape. And somewhere in an attic in Truckee, two born and bred Tahoans are climbing the ranks as visionaries and innovators in this competitive world of Tahoe masterminds.A mere few months ago, Kelsen Thompson and Galen Gifford did what every 9-to-5 cut and paste person dreams of doing – they quit their jobs to pursue their real passion: making custom, one-of-a-kind hats for the masses.”The passion behind the plunge is what will drive you, and it all depends on whether you’re willing to take the hardships that come with it, but if the passion is there and you want your dreams bad enough, there’s no way you’re going to stop,” Thompson said while taking a time out from his sewing machine station, located in an attic above the Full Belly Deli in Truckee’s Pioneer Center.Thompson and Gifford are the co-founders of BigTruck, a local-based company specializing in hats and beanies. It’s a lifestyle brand. It’s a business partnership founded upon a lifelong friendship. Most importantly, it’s a company that believes in giving back to their community and paying it forward in every way.”The community nurtured this business and made it what it is today, and because of that, we are selling in Italy, France, Switzerland, and all over Europe,” Gifford said. “We are forever indebted to this community and we hope they will continue to support us so we can continue to grow.”
The BigTruck label began popping up on bill caps around Tahoe City in 1975 when Thompson’s father owned and operated a locally based garbage collection company.At an early age, Thompson – the “creative resident genius,” as Gifford calls him – helped his father sew the logo onto headwear, and the quirky trend started to catch on.”People kept wanting to buy them because of the big truck on front, and so that’s when Galen and I really started working together in this business,” Thompson said. “We always had a sewing machine plugged in and we were always sewing things for birthdays, presents for grandpa, Christmas gifts – it was mostly hats, but we did a little bit of everything.”The duo kept plugging away at their other careers, but their passion for sewing hats started to unravel an epic, new life journey.
The momentum behind BigTruck intensified approximately one year ago when people outside of Gifford’s and Thompson’s regular crew of clientele started to pursue the headwear.The Tahoe City locals were spending all their spare time in an outdoor shed-turned-sewing-shop in Lake Forest where they created, sewed and managed their brand.Longtime friend and ambassador of the brand, Julia Mancuso, had been rocking the BigTruck label from Tahoe to Torino and it wasn’t long before the European market took notice. In 2010, Gifford and Thompson launched their BigTruck headwear website, and Internet sales exploded, particularly overseas.That same year, Thompson and Gifford were also approached by the High Fives Foundation and the Shane McConkey Foundation, who each commissioned the company to create custom-made, private-label headwear to benefit the nonprofit sector. The development in Internet sales combined with regional support generated a buzz about the brand, provoking Gifford and Thompson to pursue their craft full-time.”We started to realize this is our future and this is what we’ve chosen to do with our lives and our career,” Gifford said. “We wanted to invest ourselves completely to keep growing our business and building upon BigTruck so we could continue to make people happy because it’s all about what the people want.”And the people followed.When Squaw Valley president and CEO Andy Wirth requested a custom-made line for the resort, so did other big names like Volkl Ski Gear, GoPro, Marker Apparel and locally-based TahoeMade Attire. The co-founders could no longer keep up with the supply and demand and began searching for an upgraded production space.”It’s incredible what they’ve done with Squaw, it’s been a complete turnaround,” Thompson said. “To have this big resort giving the local community a chance to do business with them is awesome and we give it our all. If you’re going to give us a shot, we’re going to see it through to the end.”In August, the hatmakers relocated their sewing equipment to the attic space in Truckee to accommodate their growth in business, and they began cultivating their brand from dawn till dusk, seven days a week.
The growth in business, profits and popularity also meant expanding the fleet of BigTruck employees, so Gifford and Thompson called upon some lifelong friends, as well as a few newcomers to the crew to lend a helping hand.Longtime local Dugan McLoughlin of Dugan McLoughlin Construction in Tahoe City has been helping the guys build hat racks and display boards. David Topol – another childhood friend – works full-time with the BigTruck team as director of design. Newbie to the neighborhood clan, Sean Korinek, was hired on in August as chief financial officer, overseeing the financial risks, planning and record-keeping for the company.”There is something so cool about creating a brand – it’s one of the things that intrigued me a lot when I got on board with BigTruck, and it’s why I left the financial business I was in before this,” Korinek said. “I was behind the desk for too long and I had this desire to make something and get out there and interact with people again.”While Thompson and Gifford continue to thread the needle for their one-of-a-kind designs, they are looking for some qualified seamstresses and tailors to join the company.Patrons can purchase headwear at local retail shops like Fine ‘N’ Funky in Tahoe City, Tahoe Dave’s Skis & Boards, Squaw Valley retail shops, Start Haus in Truckee and online at BigTruckHeadwear.com. And anyone can swing by the attic for an original design as well. “We are super focused and we have a bunch of products in our minds that we want to release, but we want to do it proper,” Gifford said. “We want to continue to ride our passion and we don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be as big as we possibly want it to be.”