Every Square Inch: An Interview with The Encampment Co. Founder Mike Ranta

by Dustin Christensen

the encampment co

Fast fashion brands have mastered the art of inexpensive, quick-to-market apparel, but that’s also led to more textile waste than ever. Brands like The Encampment Co. are here to change that.

Before starting The Encampment Company in 2015, Mike Ranta spent considerable time weighing his potential paths after college.  

“I worked a lot of very different jobs trying to find out what I wanted to do with myself,” Mike says. “I graduated with a degree in biochemistry and worked in various fields before deciding that I didn’t really want to do any of it and I kind of just sold everything I owned and left.”

When he got the idea to start making men’s clothing, he says “it was off to the races.”

Four years later, The Encampment Co.’s line of apparel still reflects Mike’s initial goal to “be proud of everything we produce,” and their move to Phoenix in early 2019 marked the beginning of the brand’s next chapter.

Their focus on sustainable materials, transparent production and making things that last is a small but fierce revolt in an industry that produces billions of pounds of textile waste each year.

We first came across Encampment when we featured their waxed canvas jacket, and recently talked to Mike about the brand’s past, present and future.

Territory Supply: How did the idea for Encampment come about? 

Mike Ranta: After graduating college and working for a while I felt really burnt out. I didn’t like the industries I was working in and the future that I was building for myself so I just decided to not do it anymore.

I used to paint graffiti on freights so I kind of knew how the railroads worked, at least enough to get around, so one day I just hopped on and left.

ridin trains takin names
Photo: The Encampment Co.

For the next year I traveled around on trains and hitchhiked when I needed to. I wasn’t trying to “find myself” or anything like that, I just wanted to keep moving. I lived for a while just traveling around and falling asleep in new places most nights.

One day I decided to take a break and I landed in Wyoming with some old friends and that’s where I started Encampment. It was probably what taught me self-reliance better than anything.

TS: How does being proud about every item Encampment puts out affect the direction of your shop?

MR: That’s a really good question because it’s so easy for that phrase to be a sort of crutch or meaningless tagline. I am proud of the quality of the work that comes out of the Encampment Shop, but pride needs to extend to more than just the construction. It has to apply to the fabric and hardware and whatever other materials I am designing with.

Everything we wear comes from natural resources in one way or another, whether it’s oil, water, leather, wood, cotton, hemp, flax, or wool. It all comes from somewhere, and when we buy those products we are creating more demand.

I take it as a personal responsibility to try and use resources responsibly and as a designer to try and create that demand responsibly.

The easiest way to be better consumers is to create better products, don’t give people a bad option and you eliminate the problem, and that is what I am proud to do. Proud in every sense of the word.

TS: What inspired the beautifully nostalgic feel of Encampment’s logo and branding?

MR: It was the only one I could do by hand! I grew up loving graffiti and script and hang-painted signs so I wanted something that felt really organic so I decided that I had to be able to do it by hand.

TS: What’s your favorite sewing machine to use?

MR: That is a really hard question but I think it would probably be my Osann Union button sewing machine. I believe its from the late 20s and it still sews like a champ. Singer eventually absorbed Osann (who had already absorbed Standard) and bought the patent to the machine and relabeled it the Singer-175.

Osann Union button sewing machine

I’m pretty sure that’s the story at least. I guess that’s why I like it, because that one machine tracks back almost 100 years through invention and innovation in the industry.

TS: What have been your biggest obstacles running the company, and how have you dealt with them?

MR: I have had a lot of problems along the way. I thought I would just make a few things and they would be popular and then — poof — I’m running a business. I was used to being poor and doing everything on a shoe-string so I wasn’t going to let having almost no money stand in my way.

But there were constantly things popping up and the clothing industry was very humbling. I started to get stressed and really negative about the outlook of my business and was getting really overwhelmed, there were just so many things I didn’t know how to do. I was battling depression and stress a lot during the initial phases of company growth and I figured out that I was pouring all of myself into the business and not taking care of me.

Now I realize that if I take the time to take care of myself I’m able to commit wholly to Encampment with the attention it needs.

TS: What’s new about the spring 2019 line that you haven’t done before?

MR: I’m working on expanding my shirting line right now which includes a few short sleeve shirts. Now that I live in a warmer climate I had to offer some different cuts for me to wear as well.

chambray short sleeve shirt
The 2100 Shirt

The shirts all have Encampment-branded buttons and a few added pleats for comfort but I wanted to keep offering the Galaxy Nepp and Organic Canvas shirts because the response to them has been absolutely amazing.

I added some really great tote bags to the lineup that are really amazing, out of everything I’ve made this spring I think the totes and the hemp/linen shirts are what I love the most.

Boxer Bag in Burnt Orange Twill
Boxer Bag in Burnt Orange Twill

TS: How do you see Encampment’s product line expanding in the future? 

MR: Chinos, lined jackets, and jeans: all coming in 2019.

TS: What other brands or entrepreneurs have inspired your journey with Encampment?

MR: Steven at Railcar, Rusty at Mercy Supply, Asher at Grifter, and Shane and Mandy at Smiths Leather Balm just to name a few. Their work ethic and quality is undeniable.

I also look for a lot of inspiration outside of my own market because you can find amazing people behind almost every business like Chloe at SIRENco., Jamie at Rye Jewelry, Emily at Whiskey Dog Wares, and Blaise at Buhlaixe. I have surrounded myself with some really positive people and their support has really made the difference when motivation is low.

TS: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own venture?

MR: Just start already!

You should have started yesterday. Make lists of everything you need to get done and start checking them off. You’ll learn the things you don’t know as you encounter problems but you’ll never start that process if you are busy worrying about all of the things that are standing in your way.

People are capable of so much greatness but they’re just as capable of talking themselves out of great ideas, but if you just start your project it will become easier to just keep going and quitting becomes a smaller and smaller option. Just start.

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