I’ll admit it, lately I’ve had a really difficult time having any sort of faith in humanity. Well, actually that’s not completely true. I shouldn’t lump all of humanity into one category. I have little faith in our political system, in our mainstream news media–hell even the smaller news outlets, because, sadly, the newspaper and print journalism entities are dying off, our country’s lack of concern for our global environment (I live right outside of Glacier National Park and in less then 10 years, it’s predicted all the glaciers will melt which not only means a loss of the glaciers but will have serious detrimental effects on wildlife and water quality.), that a major, catastrophic oil spill went on for countless days on end, with no real resolution in sight and instead of the focus being on the clean up, or assessing the environmental damage, it turned into another arena for political figures and pundits to host a boxing match. And don’t even get me started on education, the alarming disparity between the rich and the poor, bank bailouts, a war with no premise that’s resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths, population control, and the loss of human connection because everyone is too busy viewing their reality through a screen. Ok, it’s not even 8 in the morning on this rainy Saturday morning in October and I don’t really mean to ruin everyone else’s day by throwing the world’s problems on their lap in between the pages of their book as they curl up in bed with a few hours in the morning darkness to read a few pages before going about their Halloween weekend.
It’s just, well, I worry about all of this, and honestly, I don’t know how to change it.
But, there’s been a few sources of solace in the last two years of my life–and when I turn off the news, stop reading the newspaper, and enjoy my hike in the mountains and express my gratitude to the lingering glaciers, I find myself looking toward the goodness in humanity. The stories and the people who aren’t yelling and screaming at protest rallies, who aren’t on reality television lowering the standards for basic common decency or intelligence, who are actually taking what they have in this life (albeit brief, hurried and at times incredibly beautiful) and making it into something they’ve dared to dream are what helps with the restoration process, but those stories don’t always make headline news or a recent Twitter feed.
I found a way to hear those stories, firsthand.
It’s all because of a pair of pants that I’ve been able to travel this country, thousands and thousands of highway miles to meet so many different people: young and old, who are really, really doing something good and kind with their lives. And because of a pair of pants, my faith has been restored in humanity. And really, there’s one person, one woman who decided at 25 years old that she was going to do something that hadn’t been done before, do it in a way that many others weren’t doing (and it certainly wasn’t the easy or cheap way either), and start something that included women, honored women, and celebrated women. All in a pair of workpants.
Meet Sarah Calhoun and Red Ants Pants. Sarah’s now 31, and her small, rural Montana business is going against the grain of how to start a small clothing company, but how to do it right. Can you believe that up until 2006, no one made workpants just for women? That until 2006 working women–whether they were farmers, electricians, trail crew workers, biologists, ranchers, potters, gardeners, pile drivers, artists–had to resort to wearing men’s pants that didn’t exactly fit curves or hips. According to Calhoun, women had to resort to men’s pants since the Gold Rush when they needed to get serious work done. She thought it was high time to change that. And thus, finally, Red Ants Pants started.
Red Ants Pants is based in White Sulphur Springs, Montana–a very small rural ranching town in the central part of the state. Bordered by mountains on either side of the town, cattle fields spread across the flanks of the peaks and rolling hills in either direction. The landscape is stunning but also harsh. It’s remote and there aren’t many people in this town and those people don’t have much money either. But Sarah, who’s originally from a dairy farm in Connecticut, fell in love in the area and her historic storefront and home when she visited White Sulphur Springs and decided it was there, among the other closed storefronts, she’d house her new business. The workpants are made in America by a mother-daughter owned factory. Pay a visit to the Red Ants Pants website and you can actually read about each factory worker.
I dare Nike to do that.
Unlike most clothing companies that tailor their pants to fit just a narrow change of sizes–including the smaller end sizes–Sarah wanted a company that could fit all types of women’s bodies–curves and hips and all. There are 70 sizes. Seriously. With two cuts-a straight to fit a more linear body type and a curvy cut to accommodate hips-there are also 3-4 inseam options in each pair of pants. It’s close to a near-custom fit. The pants are well made, are sturdy (which means they actually hold up to actual work), and actually flatter.
Not only are the pants revolutionary but also result in many a women declaring: “They fit! They actually fit! They fit ME!.” How Sarah sells her pants is also breaking any sort of business model. She decided to take the pants on the road, cleverly known as Tour de Pants, the grassroots traveling component to Red Ants Pants. Sarah had a storefront, launched her online website to for sales, but needed a way to get her pants out in the public, to connect with her customers and to tell her story. Sarah didn’t have much money to buy a glossy advertisement in a magazine. And she really wanted to meet all of her customers, hear their perspectives on the pants, and well, honestly, to make pants fun, to make it a celebration. So she purchased a 1964 Airstream, adorned it with red ant decals and the company logo, got her friend to pack her bags and join her, and they spent the winter of 2008 touring across the west for six weeks, hosting house parties (the new school version of a Tupperware party) and promotional events. Sarah even obtained a beer sponsor! Missoula, Montana’s Big Sky Brewery discovered her YouTube commercial and contacted Sarah about helping with her new business. She told them about Tour de Pants and Big Sky gave her cases of their beer to take on the road to give to customers at house parties. Great pants and great beer? It doesn’t even sound true, does it?
In the spring of 2009, just as ski season was finishing up, my life was falling apart. I left my boyfriend of a year, needed a new place to live and made on the most difficult and painful decisions of my life: give up my dog of four years. Reilly was a black lab mutt, adopted from an animal shelter and had a lot more baggage then her owner. Fun, adventurous and loving, Reilly was also very needy and didn’t like to be separated from me for any length of time. She also had a tendency to growl and bark at any one, including kids. She needed a home of stability, security and not to be around children. Most of my jobs involved kids and I was expected to live on-site at the summer camp. Reilly couldn’t be trusted.
Sarah and I met in December of 2008 at a house party. I was unemployed and couldn’t afford her pants at the time. I did put one of her stickers on my water bottle and then in late December, when I was working, my boss at the ski bar where I waited tables noticed the sticker and wanted to know what the heck Red Ants Pants was all about. I gave my boss the run down and by the end of the week, had Sarah on the phone and talked about hosting a fashion show–on the bar (family friendly, of course) at the infamous Hellroaring Saloon. The event was silly, fun, and was even filmed for Red Ants Pants’ second commercial.
Then Sarah asked if I had any spring plans. My job at Hellroaring was ending soon and my summer job didn’t start until mid-May. I was free, actually. She asked if I’d accompany her on her spring tour through Oregon, California and Idaho. I’m really not well traveled and while I’m prone to impulsive decisions, travel wasn’t one of them (which was weird and something I desperately wanted to change) but with no boyfriend, no housing and no dog, I needed to get out of town. I agreed and in April, we hitched up the Airstream, dubbed the Anthill, and we headed west.
Since that first journey west in the spring, bearing witness to the west in first blossom, taking in the rush of the winds in the Columbia River Gorge, and battling the manic rush hour traffic in Los Angeles (yes, L.A. We drove all the way from Montana to L.A. It was nuts.) Sarah and I’ve done a few tours since then. Last fall we crossed the Mississippi and ventured into my home region, the Midwest and sold pants to grandmothers, EMT’s, teachers, and woodworkers. We had a party in a field in northern Wisconsin with a giant bonfire and genuine talks that lasted most of the night. The Anthill crossed the Mackinac Bridge and rolled south to Chicago where one party host forgot to invite guests to her wine store and we luckily had three friends show up. The three friends were men. They all tried on the pants and then we feasted and drank in Greektown until the whee hours of the morning. And again last spring, we once again touched the west coast and then danced until 3 in the morning in Dillon, Montana. Turns out our party host plays the stand-up bass in a band. And just a week ago, I returned from ten days in the Denver area, culminating with a party back in Montana. We hit a deer, driving north of Sheridan, Wyoming and thankfully there was little damage to the truck but there was a lengthy discussion on field dressing the road kill and taking the meat. We opted not to, with semi’s charging north on I-25.
I’ve put on a lot of road miles since that first April.
Sure, you could call me a traveling saleswoman. A ‘rep’. But honestly, I’m a grateful co-pilot (finding good music and locating directions are just two of my tasks) to embark on a journey with a beautiful, fun, and creative woman who’s dared to dream and then put that dream into a pair of chocolate brown pants. I’m a grateful stranger in Ann’s Wisconsin home, where, when we first pulled into her farmhouse, this woman greeted us with a hug and immediately urged us into the woods for a long walk. Stretch our legs, see the northern countryside, and spend a time connecting in the woods before our party would commence. I’m a grateful feaster, shoving wood-fired pizza into my mouth before the cheese drops onto my chin. These farmers, who lost most of their fall crop due to spotting, still invite us into their home, give us their friends so that we, for a few hours, can tell our story, share our pictures of life in Montana, and share the stories of our customers–friends and women spread from Greenland to Antarctica–who love the pants and what Sarah’s done. They made pizzas in their wood fired oven in their backyard, crops failing behind them, mountains aglow in the setting sun.
I’ve met mothers who’ve adopted children in their community and given them a home and a family. I’ve shared a beer with a woman who lost her leg to cancer but it hasn’t stopped her from wandering in the mountains as a biologist. I’ve met young women, farming and growing food to feed their community–and frankly they look pretty darn cool steering the tractors in the fields. I’ve connected with women, who at first, seem to different to me, to my life in the mountains. Women who’ve entered the trades, who’s arms are the size of my legs from a career as a pile driver and have many years of taking shit from men for working on the same job site as them.
Women and men, at least in the places where I’ve traveled to, are creating, are welcoming their neighbors and connecting with strangers in their daily lives. They raise their children, care about the world around them, are kind, beautiful, and choosing to live a life that they’ve always wanted–whether that’s taking their two small daughters and bicycle touring across the west or making documentary films.
While the media broadcasts the ugly and the scary, I look to the miles I’ve traveled in an old Airstream (who really needs water, heat or electricity when you’re on a roadtrip?) and remember the many people–both women and men are getting into Sarah’s Red Ants Pants and they’re making a good strong go at this life–current politics, economic recessions be damned. They’re not blind to these issues. They don’t run and hide into the television screen but focus on what they can do, in their own lives, to make a difference with their children, their spouses, their friends, and with the goodness within themselves.
It’s been an incredible adventure to join Tour de Pants and I’m thankful for all the new connections, the late night conversations, the roar of laughter of trying on pants, and the inspiration to do what is good for me: to write. To garden and to embrace my inner-need to want to be crafty. To hike and climb mountains and take on new challenges, with the help of some really wonderful workpants.
I didn’t find faith in a church or by reading any book. I found it out on the road and by connecting with people, all connected together by a pair of pants.