The inception of Bearbottom Clothing can be traced back to a transformative high school trip to Bangladesh in 2012, which inspired Felder to create a clothing brand that is not only socially conscious but also actively contributes to global communities.
Today, we are honored to present an exclusive interview with Felder, where he recounts his journey from a high school student’s eye-opening visit to Bangladesh to the establishment of Bearbottom in 2014. He also shares how he leverages his brand to generate quality employment opportunities and provide essential items like clothing to those in need.
This is a rare chance to gain a deeper understanding of a visionary leader who is reshaping the fashion industry through ethical business practices and a steadfast commitment to social responsibility. So, come along as we explore the inspiring narrative of Robert Felder and the extraordinary influence of Bearbottom Clothing.
1. Robert, can you share with us the inspiration behind founding Bearbottom Clothing in 2012?
The first time I went to Bangladesh in high school, I saw the need for quality jobs and basic necessities like clothing. After returning home, I was looking for shorts during the warm Florida winter, but couldn’t find anything I liked. That necessity is what gave me the idea to start selling shorts. This experience inspired me to start a clothing company that could provide jobs and donate clothing to people in Bangladesh.
2. How did your visit to Bangladesh as a high school student shape your vision for Bearbottom?
Visiting Bangladesh allowed me to experience first-hand that not everyone has basic necessities, which motivated me to create something that could help address this need. That was when I started looking into the “buy-one-give-one” model — I wanted to create something that left a positive impact on the people in the regions where we were producing our product by providing them with both jobs and helping provide basic needs.
3. Bearbottom is known for its versatile and comfortable clothing. How do you ensure that these qualities are maintained across all your products?
Everything we make is meticulously wear-tested by our entire team. While we love having a purpose along with having fun, we also take our threads very seriously. We’re all passionate about making clothes that we’re proud to wear every day. We design products that we want to wear and, in doing so, pay attention to every last detail as a result of designing for ourselves.
4. Can you tell us more about the buy-one-give-one model that Bearbottom operates on? How does this contribute to the communities that inspire your brand?
When I first started Bearbottom Clothing, we operated on the buy-one-give-one model. This meant that, for every item sold, we would donate a pair of shorts to a person in need in Bangladesh. In 2021, we re-evaluated our giving program after seeing significant growth — we wanted to ensure we were helping the most people in the most impactful way possible.
The majority of our production was moved to India, which is when we partnered with Akshaya Patra to support their mid-day meal program. We now donate a meal for every item we sell which goes to school children who are most in need, and we expect to pass 1 million meals donated within the next few months which is an exciting milestone for our team.
5. How does Bearbottom ensure the right fit for different body types, considering factors like waist measurements and thigh sizes?
When designing products, we focus on comfort, which often starts with stretch fabric with performance features. All of our shorts and pants also feature an elastic waistband to allow for the ups and downs people have in weight which really adds to the comfort, and we have multiple people on our team try on all of the samples we get. We have a wide range of body types here, and doing this allows us to make adjustments for the diversity of shapes you referenced.
We also read every customer review and take our customers’ feedback seriously. When developing new styles, we will aggregate the feedback from these reviews so we can design products addressing what customers do and don’t like about certain products. This process has allowed us to have an industry-leading return rate of less than 50% of the benchmark for our industry.
6. How does Bearbottom balance its commitment to sustainability with the need to produce high-performance, durable fabric?
High-performance and durable fabric doesn’t have to be in juxtaposition to sustainability. We are using fabric with recycled polyester as well as finding more innovative ways to reduce our environmental impact.
We have found ways that actually reduce environmental impact while adding more performance than typical fabric. An example is a graphene treatment we have started using on most of our polyester products, which provides features like cool to touch, quick drying, antimicrobial, UPF 50+, and more. This treatment uses less water than a typical treatment as well, and is just one example of the ways we are working with our production partners to continue to limit our environmental impact.
7. Josh Firestone joined Bearbottom in 2016 and has played a significant role in the brand’s growth. Can you share how his passion and creativity have contributed to the brand’s success?
Josh has been an amazing team member since our early days at the University of Florida. He has taken ownership of our marketing efforts and helped to shape our brand. He is someone who is willing to get his hands dirty to figure anything out, and has a super optimistic outlook and always wants to find ways to improve. His work ethic and passion help to elevate everyone around him.
Josh now leads our amazing marketing team in a way that encourages them to make an immediate impact through their work. The more our team can learn about their role and expand their abilities the more our business benefits as a whole and Josh does a great job leading his team in this way.
8. Lastly, Can you share some insights into Bearbottom’s future plans, particularly regarding sustainability and product development?
Absolutely! Our future plans include the following:
We have many new styles in the pipeline, and we plan on enhancing existing ones based on consumer feedback.
We’re constantly looking for ways to build products more sustainably, such as using post-consumer recycled materials and less water during the production process.
We plan on implementing even more sustainable practices to help further minimize our carbon footprint, including living by our Vendor Code of Ethics for all of our products and each segment of our supply chain.
Ultimately, we want to continue to serve our customers as best as we can. Doing this includes making great products, working to lead the industry in sustainability, providing a great experience led by our Customer Experience and warehouse teams, as well as supporting our production partners to continue to grow and improve with us.