In an exclusive interview, the co-founders of Girls with Guns, Jenn O'Hara and Norissa Harman discuss how they empower and serve one of the most overlooked populations of outdoors enthusiasts: women.
After realizing they were part of a much larger, under-served population, best friends Jen O'Hara and Norissa Harman, started an outdoor lifestyle apparel company out of their garage in Northern California. Since 2008, Girls with Guns Clothing has provided a way for women to share their love for hunting and shooting in an edgy way.
More than seven years later, in addition to fashion apparel and accessories Girls with Guns now offers performance hunting gear and footwear by Muck Boots®. On a break from filming their television series Universal Huntress (on The Pursuit Channel), the girls behind Girls with Guns Clothing were gracious enough to answer a few questions about the company and what we can expect from them next.
WIDE OPEN SPACES: The two of you started Girls with Guns in your spare time out of your garage seven years ago. How far into the business were you when realized this thing might go big time?
NORISSA HARMAN: We started out in my garage using an embroidery machine to make t-shirts and hats. It wasn't until maybe three or four years into it that I realized the long-term potential of Girls with Guns Clothing.
JEN O'HARA: For me I saw the potential as soon as we started with the tradeshows and the women began flocking to our booth very excited for anything and everything in camo and bling. I owned my own successful real estate business at the time so it took me several years before I would quit it to run GWG full time.
WOS: How many retail stores now carry GWG products?
JO: Between big box stores and smaller local retailers, GWG Clothing is carried in roughly 1,000 stores. We're really excited to have a few retailers in Canada, and we have just recently launched our hunting and fashion line in Europe and South Africa.
WOS: The success of GWG is largely due to the fact that females are one of the fastest growing demographics of hunters. What factors do you think this growth is attributed to?
NH: I think women in the industry are becoming more respected. I also think the empowerment by other women has been a big factor.
JO: Hunting used to be largely a mans sport. I remember as a kid, my dad took my brother hunting, but never me or my sister. That has changed over the past 10 years and we are seeing the interest in our youth as well. I believe that GWG's success stems from the fact that we field test each and every piece ourselves. We listen to our customers and we've learned from our mistakes along the way. On top of that, we offer high-quality products at a competitive price point (and there is no one else who's brand is lifestyle and hunting and focused solely on woman).
WOS: Girls with Guns began as a fashion apparel brand for women who love the outdoors. Tell me about the decision to grow the line to including performance apparel for the field. What was the process like to merge fashion and function?
JO: I grew up in a hunting family, and Norissa grew up fishing. We started hunting together, so it was a natural progression for our company. It actually isn't as easy as it looks to develop technical gear. We did a lot of research to seek out the best partners in the industry. We launched our first technical gear line in the fall of 2014. This fall, we're introducing a mid-weight line and the first ever rain gear products available in Mossy Oak Country camouflage for women. The layering system we have created will be quiet enough for a whitetail hunt, but tough enough to perform on a back country hunt.
WOS: In the beginning, all of your products were hand pressed and embroidered in your garage. With the growth GWG has experienced, production has been outsourced. What measures do you take to ensure quality?
NH: We had to move our manufacturing overseas, but we jump on a plane to make site visits several times each year.
JO: We have people in place to check our production and quality control the products as they are produced. Also, Norissa and I both wear GWG every single day. We're wearing products for 8-9 months before they ever go into production. If it doesn't meet our standards, we make improvements until it does.
WOS: What is your favorite GWG item and why?
NH: I love the reversible puff jacket. One side is Mossy Oak Breakup Country camouflage and the other is charcoal grey with GWG Buck detail. It's lightweight and packable. It also has Primaloft insulation and is an important part of our layering system for our hunting line.
JO: Waterfowl hunting is a tradition in my family, so I would have to say the GWG Waterfowl Jacket in Mossy Oak Blades. I created this jacket with feedback from men in my family who I grew up hunting with. The jacket has the right amount of Primaloft insulation, shell pockets and chest pockets, neoprene cuffs and an adjustable, removable hood. Most importantly, it is reasonably priced at $199 (MSRP), which is $100 less than the only other women's waterfowl jacket on the market.
WOS: Tell me about your show Universal Huntress. How did it come about? What can we expect from the new season and where can we watch it?
JO: We were approached at a tradeshow in Portland by Emanuel Kapp, the owner of Universal Hunter Magazine, with the idea of doing a tv show around Norissa and myself. It was a great way for us to promote GWG and for them to promote the magazine. Kappie has been producing television shows in the outdoor industry for 10 years.
On UHTV, we've done everything from jump out of an airplane, to bungee jumping in New Zealand and even ride hot air balloons over Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa. We travel to exotic and local destinations to hunt. Season 3 premiered on April 2 at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Standard time on the Pursuit Channel. This season, you can also stream the show live at www.vidillion.tv. We're fortunate to have some really incredible sponsors that make it all possible including Reuger, Mossy Oak, Kershaw Knives, Montana Silversmith, Hornady, Lansky Sharpeners, Muck Boots, Swarovski Optic and Sportman's Warehouse.
WOS: How do you find time to balance running a business, starring in a television show, spending time with your families and still find time to hunt?
NH: You really can't find "balance." It's a similar lifestyle to a professional athlete. We have to juggle a lot, but it's fun and it's a part of the job.
WOS: Girls with Guns has opened many doors for you, including unique hunting opportunities. Of all the places you've hunted, where would you say is your favorite?
NH: New Zealand is a magical place. It's green, lush and the people are really great. I like New Zealand for hunting red stag and chamois.
JO: South Africa is my favorite. The people are incredible and there's such a plethora of animals. I've been nine times so far and have even learned part of the their language. I can say "I am a country girl" in Afrikaans.
WOS: What are some life lessons you've learned, as a woman, from hunting? Both from the sport, and the act of being a woman in a male-geared market.
JO: I'm a perfectionist, and hunting is never perfect. Mistakes are made and you learn to deal with them and become better because of them. You have to be willing to work as hard as any man would and NEVER complain. That's my biggest thing when I hunt, no complaining. It's about being one with nature and leaving wifi and the rest of the world behind. It's a time for me to be closer to God as well. s
NH: Every hunt is it's own life lesson; From making ethical shots and learning shot placement, there's always a lesson to be learned. It's an incredibly powerful feeling to be able to share the meat with your family from an animal you harvested yourself.
WOS: Lastly, do you have any advice for other female hunters?
JO: I would say to take the time to mentor a few children and to find a mentor that will share the proper and ethical ways to hunt. Conservation and teaching future generations is key. Also, don't be intimidated. Hunting isn't a man's sport. In fact, most women shoot better than men.
NH: My advice would be to find a hunting buddy. Not only do Jen and I have fun together, but we push one another to go out of our comfort zones. The best part of GWG and all that has come with it, is that I've been able to travel and experience it all with my best friend.