Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen introduces the latest installment of the Montana Business Spotlight series recognizing and highlighting local businesses across the Treasure State. This feature introduces Montanans to Red Ants Pants, Red Ants Pants Foundation, and the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs. Click the play button on the featured image above to watch the Red Ants Pants Montana Business Spotlight.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, Mont. — It’s arguably one of the most recognizable local businesses in the state of Montana, but drive too quickly down Main Street in White Sulphur Springs and you just might miss the sign – the yellow rectangle with the funky font and the five red insects crawling along the bottom border.
“We’re Red Ants Pants, we’re based here in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, and this is our international headquarters,” said Sarah Calhoun. “Founded in 2006, we make workwear for women, and everything is made in America right here.”
Calhoun, the founder and owner, beamed with pride as she described the key factors that make up the business … an international headquarters in small-town White Sulphur Springs, population roughly 1,000; and custom-designed workwear for women, always made in the United States. Red Ants Pants is certainly a Montana success story.
“Slow growth is our goal here. We’re adding a lot of new products and bringing on some additional production facilities, and maybe some additional pop-up shops around the country,” explained Calhoun. “The demand is there and there’s so many more women working in the nontraditional trades and really needing a good pair of work pants that fit.”
The Red Ants Pants offerings have expanded from the original work pants to shorts and shirts, hoodies and hats, belt buckles and more. Calhoun and her staff are proud to let customers know that all products “are designed to fit, function, and flatter … and they are all made in the USA.”
But Calhoun also had ideas beyond clothing. She believed her community of White Sulphur Springs was a great location to attract tourists near and far, and what better way to bring them to town than music, food, drinks, and fun?
“After about five years in business, we wanted to do some bigger marketing and branding for the pants company, but also certainly wanted to bring people together on a larger scale to connect and celebrate. So we decided to have a music festival in a cow pasture here in White Sulphur Springs, and it blew up in a much bigger way than we expected,” recalled Calhoun. “That first year we had 6,000 fans, and over the years the highest we’ve had is up to 18,000 folks come to our little community here. We have about 900 people in town and 2,000 in the whole county, so it’s definitely a big, big celebration.”
“We see so much great tourism here in town with the new brewery and all the different restaurants and gear stores and new things to attract folks to town; we have a bakery and a spa and all the good things,” Calhoun continued. “So, folks have seen a lot of growth and economic development here, which is wonderful.”
Calhoun and Red Ants Pants have played a key role in that economic growth and some well-deserved recognition has been handed out over the years. Calhoun has been named Montana’s Entrepreneur of the Year, a National Women in Business Champion for the Small Business Administration, and in 2018, she was named to the Montana Business Hall of Fame.
Through it all, Calhoun’s core values remain the same – providing great products to her customers, inspiring and mentoring other small business owners, and supporting and promoting her community and fellow businesses in White Sulphur Springs.
“On the festival front, we are certainly working really hard to make it a better experience, not a bigger experience. We think we’ve reached a really good carrying capacity and we want to make sure it stays a safe, family-friendly environment that does well for our community and for our mission, which is in support of women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and rural communities,” said Calhoun. “So, with our programs, we are expanding and have a lot of demand for additional girls’ leadership programming. We have these four-day timber skill courses where we teach women how to run chainsaws and do carpentry skills. The demand for all of that is increasing, we’re just trying to figure out how to manage it so it’s sustainable.”
As Red Ants Pants nears its 20th birthday, Calhoun often thinks back to the days that led to its beginnings, providing the same advice that helped launch her spectacular success.
“I would say, number one, do your homework, understand what you’re up against, and then ask for help because there are people that will assist and would love to,” she explained. “And then go for it. There are lots of good opportunities out there, and I think the sky’s the limit.”
“I would not have been able to predict all of this excitement,” she continued, explaining how Red Ants Pants has rocketed beyond her wildest dreams. “But it’s really fun to see what’s possible, especially in rural Montana. When you have a lot of good people working toward the common goal, it can work.”