Native T-shirt company cracks the Walmart barrier

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, March 7, 2013

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(Courtesy photo)

Native Threads President Randy Bardwell (back) stands with Native Threads models in some of their contemporary native designs.

A process that usually takes three to four years was swept through as a Native American T-shirt company got its product on the shelves of America's largest retailer in less than one year.

Native Threads President Randy Bardwell, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, said his company basically "busted the door down at Walmart" because a process he was told that takes years took Native Threads only six months.

"We did it really fast, and the reason it happened so fast is because we were able to put good information together for Walmart," he said.

Bardwell said the Walmart associate they were working with told them, "You guys must really have something that Walmart wants."

Native Threads' first shipment officially hit the Walmart floor the weekend before Black Friday in 2012 with three original designs.

Bardwell said they had to drive five hours to get to the closest Walmart retailer that sold their product...across the state line in Arizona.

"It's surreal," said Bardwell. "The work that we put in to get it there makes it all worth it. It's really a big sense of accomplishment.

"Not only are they the largest retailer in the world, but also they have so many stores that fit into our population demographic," Bardwell said, noting that they took a lot of things into consideration before proceeding with the process.

"It wasn't a decision that we took lightly. We had to consider what we had built without Walmart, and how we may alienate or affect our core shops - the people that really got us to where we are today," Bardwell said. "We don't want to put them in the same basket as Walmart."

Bardwell said the way they did this was to create new designs specifically for Walmart, and they wouldn't sell those designs through their core shops. It's not only designs that changed, but the weight of the T-shirts as well.

Bardwell said the usual heavyweight T-shirts sold through the website and shops is not what is being sold at Walmart, because Walmart requires a lighter weight shirt, but the print quality is the same for both.

"Choosing Walmart as a partner was the right thing to do, not only from a sales standpoint," Bardwell said, but because through Walmart they are able to sell their products at prices fit for everyone. "Walmart serves our population, and they can buy the quantities that can drive the price range to the 10-dollar range."

Bardwell also believes that this partnership shows everyone that Native Americans are "sophisticated - we're big picture thinkers and we're true Native American entrepreneurs."

Bardwell said that Native Threads can be found in over 120 stores until their spring release in May, when it will be cut back to around 70.

According to the Native Threads Website, Native Threads is one of Indian Country's only Native-owned and operated clothing companies since their development in 1990. Bardwell said when they were first established they sold their products directly in various ways and that is how they started branching out.

"We went from direct retail selling to wholesale selling," he noted.

"Our designs are contemporary, yet the messages are very traditional, cultural, and conscious of the current social, political and economic trends that affect Native peoples," states the Native Threads Web site. "By combining these elements, our clothing helps give Native people clarity about who they are in this place and time. By providing constant reminders about our past, our products help bring to the surface the pride we carry inside of us."


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