Born Primitive and Black Rifle Coffee Company have a lot in common; both were founded in 2014 and got their start as garage-based passion projects. They were also both founded by veterans. BRCC was founded by Evan Hafer, a former Green Beret, while Born Primitive CEO Bear Handlon is a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant.
Both companies also donate heavily to a variety of charities that support their brand ethos, including those that support the military and first responders, and neither is afraid to declare their patriotism. Born Primitive’s mantra is: “Athlete Driven, Patriot Inspired.” BRCC’s mission is to “serve coffee and culture to people who love America.”
With so much in common, it should be no surprise that the two companies teamed up to design a killer T-shirt that will hit the mailboxes of BRCC Shirt Club subscribers this month. The shirt design features a snarling bear in front of a trio of primitive feather-fletched, flint-knapped arrows as a hat-tip to Handlon’s nickname (his given name is Timothy).
The Birth of the Born Primitive Brand
Handlon is a former Yale football player, a former Naval officer, and the co-founder and CEO of Born Primitive, one of the hottest brands in the fitness, athleisure, and outdoor apparel space.
He launched the company almost 10 years ago while competing in CrossFit and preparing physically for the military.
Born Primitive started with a single offering — a pair of custom compression shorts. The shorts were very user-specific, designed with CrossFitters and Olympic lifters in mind.
“The Olympic lift is called snatch, and there’s a portion of the lift where the bar can make contact with your pubic bone to the point where some guys in competition were fracturing that bone,” Handlon said.
“I was doing a lot of training for CrossFit, and that was one of the lifts we were doing. So I took an old football girdle from the Yale days, cut out the quad pad, and took it over to my neighbor who was a seamstress, and she stitched in the padding in another area of the shorts.
“That was the first prototype.”
While Handlon designed that first pair of compression shorts for personal use, the offering piqued the interest of his gym buds, who suggested he market the product.
“I did some market research and realized I wasn’t the only guy experiencing [the problem that my shorts solved],” Handlon said. “I read some books on overseas sourcing, kind of schooled myself up, got an Alibaba, put out tons of feelers, and whittled it down to a couple of suppliers.”
Handlon ordered 200 units of his original “Snatch Shorts” just before he shipped off to Officer Candidate School. And because Handlon is a badass, he built the brand out of his garage while on active duty with the help of his former spouse, Mallory.
Handlon didn’t want the company to be a one-hit wonder, so he expanded the lineup to include screen-printed T-shirts and hoodies and eventually broadened the catalog to include functional fitness wear.
“We funded this ourselves from day one and bootstrapped the hell out of it,” Handlon said.
The duo would tote products to every CrossFit event they could get to, selling them from a card table under a crappy little tent.
“We were just super scrappy,” he said. “There was no marketing plan. There were just two of us, and we’d work all weekend.”
That hard-nosed, underdog mentality became part of the brand’s identity, which includes “working your ass off, being relentless, and never making excuses,” according to Handlon.
Handlon’s no-excuses work ethic has really paid off. Today, Born Primitive is a “nine-figure apparel company” with over 75 employees and distribution centers speckling the globe. The company also has an almost cult-like following with over 357,000 Instagram followers and a brand-spanking new podcast.
What’s In a Name?
The OG name of Handlon’s company was Snatch Shorts, LLC. Not wanting the brand to get pigeonholed into one very niche product, he changed the name early on to Born Primitive. Probably a good move, considering sporting a Snatch Shorts hoodie at the local farmers market around folks who don’t know might get a little weird.
“The origins of the name ‘Born Primitive’ come from the idea that we all possess an innate, savage-like instinct that has mostly been silenced in our modern society,” Handlon said. “In nature, we have predator and prey. Every morning, the lion wakes up, and it has to find its food, or it dies. For the gazelle, it has to outrun the lion, or it dies. And that mindset is what we’re all about.”
Born Primitive calls itself “the apparel of the DRIVEN.” The company’s target customers are what Handlon describes as “modern savages,” the kind of people who refuse society’s lust for “entitlements, quick thrills, and instant gratification.” In other words, the badasses you see donning Born Primitive apparel in earnest are the kind of people who refuse to accept mediocrity.
“We’re against the grain a little bit, and we’re proud to be that way,” Handlon explains in one of the company’s videos.
“Anyone can [make] a clothing company. We’re not just making apparel. It’s the mindset that when you put this shirt on and go to the gym, what are you embracing?,” he said. “It’s about the pursuit of our aspirations and our goals. Will you take the easy way out, or will you take the hard road and get after it?”
Born Primitive Heads Outdoors
In September 2022, the company jumped into the outdoor apparel arena with the launch of Born Primitive Outdoor.
“We’re kind of targeting the hunting audience, but it’s for anyone in the outdoors,” Handlon said. “It’s a layering system from a base all the way out to your top layer jackets and stuff.”
The company’s outdoor gear is as rugged and performance-driven as its gym attire.
“Born Primitive has ‘the right people on the bus,’” the company’s social media manager, Michael Herne, told Free Range American. “It’s evident in all that they do. Everyone believes in the brand and its mission and lives the ethos.
“The people who work for the brand are doers. If you look at the folks working in each segment, Born Primitive has some of the best and brightest in the field. Notice that I said, ‘in the field.’ We’re out here living and partaking in the activities the brand represents every single day. We live for them.”
Herne recently put Born Primitive’s outdoor gear through a serious stress test, and while he loves the entire line-up, the Ridgeline Half Zip Hoodie earned major respect.
“It kills stink and wicks sweat really well,” he said. “I got to put it through its paces during the last week of August and the first week of September. I sat for five days in an antelope blind in scorching heat and then hiked into a pinion pine and juniper desert in Colorado, killed my best bull elk, and packed him out in 95-degree heat. That top kicks ass!”
Although Born Primitive has experienced explosive growth, Handlon and the company are not easing up on the grind. They are getting into a new space by launching a training shoe, the Savage 1, in September. The shoe is designed to be an “all-in-one solution for athletes seeking versatile and high-performing footwear.”
The idea was to create a shoe that could function regardless of what any given training session throws your way, Handlon said. If you’re transitioning from cardio to deadlifts, you don’t have to swap out your shoes in the middle of the workout.
Handlon thinks they nailed the design, although he acknowledges expanding into footwear is a bit of a gamble.
“Is it a big financial risk? Yes. It is. There’s a lot of human capital time that goes into it, and there are huge minimum orders, which is why we were so methodical,” Handlon said of the new venture. “But if you want to win, you have to play hard, so we’re not afraid to take a little risk and keep our foot on the gas.”