One clothing company in Butte is taking apparel design a mile high and a mile deep.
Underground Clothing Co. opened December 2017, and co-founder Shelby Carver says it’s a brand that draws on Montana's sense of hometown pride.
Carver and her husband Robert operate the company from a small retail space at 1120 E. Front St., where they offer apparel printed with in-house designs. But from that modest location the couple has big ideas for their brand.
The company specializes in Montana- and Butte-themed T-shirts, hoodies, tanks, hats and more that sport simple yet evocative prints, capturing everything from the headframes of Butte to the outlines of buffalo. The store offers clothing for men, women and kids, and there’s also a few onesies for the little ones.
Carver said the company got its start when her father, who owned Gillam's Furniture Emporium, located directly next to Underground Clothing Co., was liquidating his store. Her dad had some extra clothing, which Carver thought she could sell from the empty commercial space next to her dad’s shop.
“We really weren’t sure what we were going to open a store as,” explained Carver. “I just always wanted to have a store, so we were cleaning this area and trying to fix it for several months before we figured out what we wanted to do.”
Carver said it was her husband’s idea to start designing T-shirts.
At first she thought it was a terrible idea, but she started to come around.
According to Carver, some of the shop’s most popular designs include their “Butte America” design, which sports a simple logo on the front and the Orphan Girl headframe on the back, “The Sportsman,” “Last Best Place” and their St. Patrick’s Day logo, which features the Travona headframe inside a shamrock.
Incidentally, Carver said the first year they rolled out the St. Pat’s design their first order sold out almost completely in one day. Luckily, they were able to print another order in time for the big day.
Neither Carver nor her husband have long-term design experience, but both liked to draw while they were growing up.
Carver says she used to like to draw cartoon characters and that her mother was very encouraging.
“I would draw these really dorky cartoons and she just loved them so much,” said Carver, laughing. “I made this big, human-sized cutout of a cartoon and she kept that thing forever.”
In her education, Carver has tried on numerous hats.
In college she started out as a business major because she wanted to be an entrepreneur. But what she found at the university she attended was curriculum geared more toward “climbing the corporate ladder,” in her words, rather than how to run a business. Next she majored in art, at which time she did learn a little design, and later she studied education.
Today Carver works full time at Youth Dynamics in Uptown Butte, and she says creating Underground has given her a chance to get back in touch with her artistic sensibilities.
“I’ve never had any job where I got to use my creative side,” she said. “This is a good balance.”
Robert Carver, meanwhile, works full time at FedEx.
He and his wife design the company’s logos together using a combination of computer programs and hand drawing. They don’t always agree on everything, Robert said, but collaborating on the store and coming up with the designs has brought them closer.
“It’s really exciting and we really love seeing people wearing our stuff,” said Robert, describing the experience.
Carver describes herself as the doer in the relationship and often likes to rush ahead, while her husband is more of a perfectionist. It turns out to be a match made in heaven, she said, because they balance each other out.
In addition to their store on Front Street, Underground apparel can be found at Butte Copper Co. and Kidz Klozet in Butte, and at Montana Woolen Shop in Bozeman. Similarly, the Carvers have done a few pop-up shops and have set up booths during Butte’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Although the shop is small, behind its back wall there is plenty of space to expand.
When Carver and her husband started working on the space, which now boasts an outdoorsy vibe, it looked a bit like a giant closet filled with a hodgepodge of stuff. Carver set a goal of opening in December 2017, so they worked nights and weekends to open in time for the holidays. In all, the renovation took 6 months.
Because the couple works, they are open just three days a week with the help of two employees, but they hope to expand their operations.
Robert said one day he’d like to see the store become a full-time business and distribute wholesale throughout Butte and the state. But for now, he said, they’re starting small and hope to build a strong foundation.
When asked to describe their brand, Carver said Underground Clothing Co. is all about Butte and Montana roots.
“My husband and I talked so much about how we’ve lost so many stores in town,” said Carver. “(So) we really just wanted to have clothes that were in town that we wanted to wear.”
“We love Montana and we love the outdoors and we love Butte, so that’s what we’ve been focusing on,” she added.