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Bucking the Trend

With success sparked by an unconventional product, Cowbucker now wants to build on its momentum.

By Michael Quirk, Associate Editor
November 9, 2016

363x277Oregon_BothBoonsSports fans display their allegiances in a variety of ways, especially on game days: T-shirts with their favorite teams’ logos, face paint, jerseys and, of course, hats.

Hats — whether they’re ball caps, visors or the occasional cowboy hat — have traditionally been a staple item worn by fans. One Oregon company is hoping to buck that trend with a new line of alternative headgear.

Cowbucker was launched in 2014 in Eugene, Ore., by its three co-founders, who met while they were graduate students at The University of Oregon. According to co-founder Whitney Alexander, the three bonded over craft beer, ping pong, the outdoors and their mutual love for the Ducks.

“It all started because we are fans,” she says. “We thought there needs to be an innovative headwear market for the 18- to 25-year-old market.”

Just six months before graduation, the friends developed an idea: a ball cap that provided the breathability of “trucker hats,” but with a full 360-degree brim. That idea blossomed from a cardboard prototype into the Bucker, now the company’s flagship product. It features Hybrid FlexWire, a one-size-fits-most elastic sweatband and floats if dropped in water. Customers can choose from a variety of styles: state flags, Doug the Cow originals or more than 70 different colleges.

Licensing
Cowbucker’s first acquired license was that of the hometown Ducks. It now offers 13 different Oregon hats, including six Bucker variations.

The company expanded by 25 collegiate licenses in 2015 and has added more than 50 so far in 2016. Now, Cowbucker sports products featuring the logos of local PAC-12 teams like The University of Utah and California University, as well as other conference teams, like The University of South Carolina and Florida State University. Alexander says the company is riding momentum from its customers and the market to expand its offerings.

“[Earlier this year] we did a Kickstarter campaign for unlicensed expansions, and we’re working on promotional products like Little League and craft breweries,” she says.

Alexander adds that the company is strategically expanding its college space and has gotten into the professional ranks with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League (CFL). Cowbucker currently is exploring more CFL opportunities, and also did a promotion with its local Chicago Cubs minor league affiliate, the Eugene Emeralds.

Marketing and Manufacturing
The aforementioned Kickstarter campaign showed the true rabidness of the company’s clients and market demands. After setting a fundraising goal of $35,000, 249 people combined to pledge $37,698 to support the company. Given the product’s uniqueness and targeted age range of the consumers, it should come as no surprise how Cowbucker operates its marketing.

“Strictly social [media],” Alexander says of the company’s marketing strategies. “We like to work with our retailers and come up with marketing materials that we can send to them.”

As for manufacturing, Cowbucker product is made overseas through Pacific Headwear & Promotions, a company in nearby Coburg whose owner Alexander describes as “a great mentor to us.” She cited the importance of The University of Oregon and the Eugene business community on the company’s early stages. As a means of giving back to the local business ecosystem, Cowbucker employees routinely mentor various south Willamette Valley startups. They also volunteer and participate in Eugene’s ID8 Pre-Accelerator, the Regional Accelerator Innovation Network (RAIN) Eugene, Fertilab Thinkubator and Starve Ups Eugene.

What’s Next?
Since the Bucker’s inception, the company has released additional styles. The Fiver is a lightweight cotton twill, five-panel hat with a snapback closure. It has mesh side panels that, according to the company, allow for a nice breeze and enable it to fit snugly under a bike helmet.

Cowbucker also has released a children’s version of the Bucker staple, the Buckeroo. It features a foam front panel, an EVA foam brim and an elastic sweatband. The company recently released The Oregon Reign products, waterproof rain hats that use Taslam 330D as a protective coating, with an adjustable nylon cord and breathable side panels.

The product that has ignited the most excitement is the Boon, which is similar to the Bucker but is intended for more occasions than just game days. So far, it has performed well at all five campuses it is sold: Oregon, the University of Miami (Fla.), University of Louisville, University of Hawaii and University of Tennessee.

“The Boon is Cowbucker’s slightly more traditional followup to the Bucker, using design and materials to create a licensed ‘boonie’ hat that fans want to wear,” Alexander says. “We wanted to build a hat that’s both package and ultra-lightweight — perfect for lazy days on the river or a day at the stadium. With an attention to detail and design, this hat has vented panels, lightweight construction and fully-customizable materials down to the stitch color. We asked students what they wanted and the Boon was born.”

Cowbucker was started when three entrepreneurs wanted to reinvent traditional headwear for a younger generation. According to Alexander, that intent remains the same as the company moves forward.

“We’ve had success with the Bucker, but it’s a game day hat and we want to expand our product lines to the everyday consumer,” she says. “We’re looking at the market for what needs a redesign. We’re building a brand they can relate to and can get products they want and need.” — M.Q.