Some people are more interesting than others. Right? They’re the people you don’t easily forget; the ones that leave a mark and make you think differently. When you first meet Brett Richard, founder of Handlebar Mustache, It’s pretty obvious there’s something interesting going on. He’s bald, and yes, he rocks a handlebar mustache. But there’s so much more to Brett than the packaging. Brett’s opinionated, outspoken and witty with all the complexity of a small batch bourbon. Brett has been a Panache ambassador for a little over a year. We sat down with Brett to learn more about the cycling lifestyle company he owns with his wife Ashley and introduce you to someone interesting.
PANACHE: If you could start with helping us understand, what is Handlebar Mustache and who's behind the brand?
BRETT: Ashley and I started the company as a cycling t-shirt brand back in October, 2008. We just weren’t happy with some of the stuff that Ashley had gotten me for Christmas presents and what not. I had a background in apparel. She had some background, but I had done it for 15 years. So we just felt like we could do it better. We started as a t-shirt brand and then we started dabbling with socks in 2012. It was just a fun way to accessorize. And now we’re a sock brand that also makes t-shirts, I would say. It’s been a lot of fun. And truth be told, Ashley is the foundation of our company. She kept us afloat during the toughest times. She's tough as nails, a quick study and an lifelong student. She is the primary designer (self taught), screen printer and our CFO while I handle Marketing/social, fulfillment and some ideation. That’s why it made sense for her to leave her day job first while I worked another year.
PANACHE: What does the Handlebar Mustache brand stand for?
BRETT: When we started, actually when we sat down to do it, we had a different concept in mind. It just didn’t feel right. It just didn’t feel fun. And the reason we fell in love with our bikes when we were kids was because it was fun. And so we just wanted to make a brand that was fun. And we wanted to make t-shirts – we’re not scared to say what’s on our minds. We’re not afraid to drop f-bombs or you know, tease some people. One of the first shirts we made back in the day said “Schleckond’”, and it had a second-place person standing on the podium. We try to have some fun with it.
PANACHE: What is your favorite t-shirt design?
BRETT: I would say, all time, “Belgian the Fuck Up”. That is our all-time best seller. That and ‘Drink coffee, ride bikes, listen to Johnny Cash”. Those two will probably be in the line forever.
PANACHE: What kind of riding do you like to do?
BRETT: I’m a roadie at heart, but you know, I dabble. I’m not a good mountain biker, but I enjoy it. I have a fat bike as well. I really like road bikes on dirt. So, I started doing it, I guess a long time ago. Less cars. Unfortunately, I’ve been hit twice. So I try to stay away from cars as much as I can.
PANACHE: What in your background set you up for Handlebar Mustache? What is your background? Apparel? Retail?
BRETT: Both. I was in retail apparel for 15 years. Retail overall for a little over 20. I grew up working for a company called The Buckle (https://www.buckle.com), worked for them for 13 years. Fascinating organization. And you had access to founders. Because they are a debt-free company, once a year, when we had our big meeting, the founders of big brands — Gene [Montesano] and Barry [Pearlman] who started Lucky Brand, Bob Hurley, who started Hurley, Mark Echo, people like that — would come to the meeting, really to say thank you because they loved being partnered with someone who was debt free. Michael Silver was another one; you could sit there in a bar until 2:30 picking his brain.
I think it was being around founders that were real, and never pretended they were that special. I eventually ended up going to work for Gene and Barry at Lucky Brand for a couple of years. They were just open and honest. I think the one moment, I actually have a photo of it, Gene and Barry were speaking at one of those open meetings. And somebody asked a question about how they started, and we had all heard the answer before, but something clicked, and they kinda went off on this tangent about ‘Listen, we know you guys are all smart business people in this room, we know how you guys get paid because we all get a percentage of the profit of our stores.’ They were like, ‘some of you in this room will start your own brand. We’re not that special. You can make it happen. And some of you guys are meant to do this forever, and some of you guys are meant to do your own thing.’
And, I looked back in the corner, and the CEO of The Buckle, Dennis Nelson, who, I’d follow that guy anywhere, the look on his face, I’ll never forget it. He wasn’t stoked about that message going out to his people. But I couldn’t not hear it. It took seven or eight years for me to flip that entrepreneurial switch. I couldn’t unhear what I had heard. We had another guy that was with us, our friend Erik, when we started Handlebar Mustache. We ended up buying him out, and he has another company now. But he couldn’t unhear it either. So we always go back to that. One of our friends took a picture of that meeting, so I always have this photo of the seed being planted.
PANACHE: On your website, you talk about a moral obligation to help others. Expand on that. In what ways do you help others?
BRETT: During the time period we started Handlebar Mustache my best friend’s mother died of cancer. And that’s where the FU Cancer product came from. The Livestrong message was great, the resources were great, but it wasn’t quite strong enough to hit the note the way everybody was feeling about it at that point. And we just started at day one, and that was one of the things that I really saw with Gene and Barry. They were huge philanthropists; they believed in giving back from day one. So if we were going to start a company, and I really looked up to those guys, then we were going to do it. Even if we’re not making much, we’re still going to give some. I just think that we’re really blessed to be healthy enough to do what we do, and we just feel like it’s right to give back. Over the years the cause has changed a little bit. We’re big into animal rescue, so we love Best Friends. That’s a great group in Utah. We’re also friends with people like Shannon Galpin, at Mountain to Mountain. She does amazing things empowering women in conflict zones. Obviously, different cancer organizations over time we’ve been involved with as well. At the end of the year we try to look at who are the people doing a really good job, and have a good track record. And those are the people we contribute to.
PANACHE: You’re a vegan, what challenges does that pose for an endurance athlete?
BRETT: None on the nutritional side. Socks were actually a challenge before some of the different Thermolite product came out. So wool was the standard. And that’s a whole rabbit trail people can Google if they want about wool. But it just wasn’t in us to use it.
PANACHE: So you practice veganism as an individual, and your company practices it from a professional standpoint?
BRETT: Yeah. That goes back to a belief of if I won’t wear it, I won’t make it. We won’t wear leather; we won’t wear wool. And so we won’t sell it. As far as the nutritional side of it, no challenges, really. I mean, I can eat from a gas station just like anybody else on a long ride. I’ll just hit the nuts and somebody else can eat the corn dog.
PANACHE: I think there are people who don’t quite understand that. Say you’re going to do a seven-hour ride on a Saturday. What do the 24 hours before, the nutrition during, and the recovery after look like?
BRETT: It’s changed a lot. We were lacto-veggie for five years before being vegan. So it’s been almost a decade for us. The market has changed a ton. There is big money being put towards that now for environmental reasons. I think at one point the animal rights organizations were the ones screaming it. Now you have the UN Commission on Climate Change, people like that talking about it. You have countries like China telling their people to reduce their use of meat and animal products. So as the world is shifting in that way, the Silicon Valley money is seeing it as well, so you have companies like Beyond Meat putting some really amazing alternative products out there. And even if you look at that dairy aisle now, what used to be one or two brands of alternative milks has now grown to 25 different brands. So I think what I could eat is not that different from what a lot of people would eat, but I would sub in almond milk for someone else’s dairy milk or something like that. I might start the day with a smoothie. There’s a ton of really good plant-based powders out there. So maybe one scoop of that, some frozen bananas, frozen raspberries, some almond butter. Before that, I would do some wheat grass juice. Then smoothie. Then go out on my ride. As for pocket food, raw almonds are really easy to carry. I can find my goodies from a gas station. Especially living in Boulder, it’s easy to find at Mary’s Market, Bobo’s Oat Bars, things like that. But even Clif Bars you can find at almost any 7-Eleven in the world. Maybe not what I want to eat in a packaged food, but definitely something I can eat. And then if we can hit a grocery store in a small town, an avocado has saved my life on many an epic ride. An according to Bear Grills, it is basically his perfect food. If he was going to take one thing into survival situations, he’d take an avocado
PANACHE: Of all the bikes you’ve owned — I’m sure you’ve had a few in your lifetime — which one stands out? What’s your favorite? Is there a special something to it?
BRETT: I would say, favorite bike ever, is the bike I’m on right now: my Mosaic RT1. It’s a custom bike. It just fits me perfectly. And ti is just interesting. We spent time in Tennessee before moving to Colorado, and at that point I would have told you ti bikes were like my dentist’s bikes, right? They were all skinny tubed. Really a lot of stack. And stickers as logos. I was just like, ‘eww, not my jam’. But getting to know Aaron and seeing his work, and then getting to test ride one, I was like, ‘oh, this is different, but in a good way’. I’ve had that Mosaic for a couple of years now. Taken it back and forth to Belgium, and ridden Roubaix on it. It’s just different. It takes out some of the vibration in the middle of it, which is a little different than carbon.
Favorite production bike ever? Hands down the Ritte Bosberg. I had the first year of the Ritte Bosberg and actually that bike fit me out of the box almost perfectly. So my Mosaic is almost the identical geometry to that Ritte Bosberg.
PANACHE: You’ve got some tattoos. Let me ask you this, same question as the bike: which one is your favorite?
BRETT: I guess my first one. Ashley and I both got tattoos late in life. So we didn’t start at 18 with a kissing dolphin being ridden by Taz or anything. I have a Pearl Jam lyric on the inside of my left arm that says ‘I escaped it, a life wasted. I’m never going back again.’ I had a pretty horrific childhood. And as I had not dealt with it forever, and had to deal with it when it came at me and unearthed, there was something about that song Wasted Reprise that I was just like, ‘Yeah, man. I’ll get through this. I’ll figure it out’. So that one was my first and it was there for a reason. It’s still there for a reason. But I would say the most fun tattoo, I have is the Muur tattooed on my forearm. We go to Belgium – this will be the fifth or sixth year that we go – and it is fascinating when people see it. The Belgies go crazy on it. And I didn’t know. I guess I would trip out, being from Kansas City if I met a Norwegian who had Arrowhead Stadium tattooed on his forearm. I guess I would freak out too. But I have ended up in a newspaper in Belgium, standing in front of the Muur having my photo taken. And I have ended up in the weirdest amount of selfies. People will just stop me when we stayed at the Park Hotel a couple years ago and people would be like, ‘Can I get a photo of you? Of your arm?’ And I’d be like, ‘Okay’. So that one is a lot of fun. But I think it is the most beautiful thing in cycling. So as we were finishing up my sleeve I was like, ‘This has to go in there’.
PANACHE: What would you do, if you woke up tomorrow, and your mustache was gone forever?
BRETT: Oh, that’s tough. And I can’t regrow it? It’s gone… I guess I would have to get a Ben Berden-style mustache tattooed on the inside of my finger and just hold my finger on my upper lip a lot. Actually, here’s a trivia question: When we started the company, I did not have a handlebar mustache. The funny story on that was, as we were sitting down and planning out the company, as I said, when we started we had a different concept, and it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel fun. And my buddy Eric had worn a t-shirt to our house. And I said, ‘Hey, go upstairs and grab that t-shirt you wore when you came over to the house’. And he was like, ‘Okay’. And so he brings it down, and I just said, ‘Why do you have a mustache?’ He had had it done at some screen-print shop. And I was like, ‘Let’s call it Handlebar Mustache’. And I sketched out the logo. And so it was fun. And then we went to Interbike, and people were like, ‘Where’s the dude with the handlebar mustache?’ And so, you know, if you’re going to start a diner named Fat Phil’s Diner and you’re a thin guy named Robert, I think you’re swimming upstream. So I had to grow the mustache. Thanks God I can! I would have been in trouble if I couldn’t grow a mustache. Uh, yeah – I’d get a tattoo on my finger.
PANACHE: A lot of successful cyclists and business owners live by a certain mantra. Do you have any wisdom to impart on us?
BRETT: Um. I guess, don’t ride like a douche. I think we are seen as one tribe, period, by people in cars. It’s a controversial topic. I’ve been hit twice, so I’m not speaking from a place where I don’t understand what that’s like. But I think that there are very few people that have a desire to harm us, who go out of their way with intent to do it. But I think, a lot of times, our actions as a group — and that can be a college kid just commuting and doing something that none of us in our right mind would do, it could be someone on a BMX bike doing something — if we are not obeying laws, stuff like that, I think it is tough for them to want to respect us or share the road. I don’t think people a lot of times go out of their way to harm us but they just do things they think will mess with us, and it ends up because they are not cyclists they don’t understand that throwing something at a cyclist could cause them to go off the road and hit something. I guess it would just say, try not ride like a douche. It’s not that hard.
Founders Brett and Ashley Richard
The open meeting where Gene Montesano and Barry Perlman inspire Brett to launch Handlebar Mustache.
Tattoo of the Muur van Geraardsbergen.
Brett's firs tattoo. A lyric from Wasted Reprise by Pearl Jam.
A collection of Handlebar Mustache socks.
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