All Sarah Calhoun wanted was a pair of durable work pants for curvy women. In the early 2000s she worked for Outward Bound and then on trail crews. To find work pants that fit her hips, she had to buy size up in men’s clothing; then they didn’t fit in the waist.
Sarah reached out to apparel companies asking them to design a woman’s work pant. Most politely rebuffed her request, but one executive told her she should design it herself.
So she did.
That pant is the center of Red Ants Pants, the company Sarah started. She sold her first pair of women’s work pants in 2006.
Today, the company has grown to include a philanthropic foundation, a music festival, sweatshirts and shorts. But the cotton canvas duck pants, with a double-enforced knee and seat, remain at the center of the colony Sarah has built in a small Montana town.
Work pants for curvy women, and so much more
Red Ants pants come in 74 sizes to help women get the perfect fit. Sizing includes waist, inseam and length. Each waist size has multiple inseam option. And there is a straight leg and curvy cut to make sure every woman looks flattering.
“But the function is most important,” Sarah said. “And that comes from the fit.”
The pants have become more than just a pair of pants.
One woman told her of working as the only female under a sexist boss on a logging crew in Maine. She’d often cry after work, feeling so alone.
Sarah’s pants offered something designed for women in her line of work. It made her feel less like there was something wrong with a woman doing a job that required work pants.
Another woman wrote Sarah about wearing her pants before a scary surgery. The pants made her feel stronger.
The patterns are made in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, and then sewn in Seattle. Made in America is important to Sarah.
Launching Red Ants Pants
“I didn’t even know what a business plan was,” she said.
She bought “Small Business for Dummies,” and while reading it in a coffee shop in Bozeman, Montana, a stranger approached and the two began to chat.
The stranger was Richard Siberell who had worked for Patagonia in production and design and thought Sarah’s idea was a good one. He became, and still is, her mentor.
Sarah set out to learn as much as she could about designing pants, sourcing textiles, financing a business, marketing and U.S. manufacturing.
“If I knew how hard it was then, I might not have done it,” Sarah said.
In 2005, Sarah moved to the small town of White Sulphur Springs, looking for a more authentic Montana lifestyle. She was inspired by Ivan Doig’s book “This House of Sky.” Plus the real estate was more affordable.
The name Red Ants Pants popped into her head one day and she liked it, especially because in an ant colony it is the women who do all the work.
Like Sarah’s work pants for curvy women, we’re noticing a new crop of companies emerging around the idea that women can giggle and wear pig tales while getting grimy and going big in the outdoors. We’re working on a story around this idea and want to know what other brands you love that celebrate this idea.