Active-duty service member builds fitness apparel brand for the driven
While “no pain, no gain” is a well-worn adage among athletes, Born Primitive co-founder and CEO Bear Handlon launched his patriot-inspired fitness apparel company with the opposite goal in mind. Handlon created Born Primitive’s signature Snatch shorts while training for the 2013 Crossfit Games. The purposefully padded compression shorts solved a long-standing problem for weightlifters mastering the snatch that can be described in delicate terms as pain when the barbell meets the hips.
But the active-duty entrepreneur aspired to be more than a one-hit-wonder in the performance apparel space. The Snatch shorts put Born Primitive on the map, but the company became a staple in the Crossfit community after debuting its first sports bra at the 2015 Crossfit Games and then broadening its lineup to include a wide range of functional and stylish athleisure wear.
“We really shifted our focus and put a huge emphasis on building out our performance apparel,” Handlon explained. “With people spending so much time in workout clothes these days, we wanted to develop products that could withstand brutal workouts while also being comfortable enough to wear all day long.”
Mission accomplished. Today, the Virginia Beach, Virginia-based company has a 1,200-item lineup sold online at BornPrimitive.com and through their international affiliates and retailers all over the world. Born Primitive also is a new addition to the GovX catalog of exclusive deals.
“We wanted to add Born Primitive because they’re an active-duty-owned brand with a strong following among our community,” said Brent Hannify with GovX.com, the members-only site for military and first responders. “We have many veteran-owned brands, but Born Primitive is run by an active-duty service member, which we thought was very on-brand for a company devoted to discovering your inner strength and performing at peak physical fitness.”
Born Primitive’s tagline is “The apparel of the DRIVEN,” a reference to their target customers, whom Handlon describes as “modern savages” who reject this generation’s desire for “entitlements, quick thrills and instant gratification” and refuse to accept mediocrity.
“Whether it’s at the gym or in life, our beliefs are simple,” he said. “Set goals, relentlessly strive to achieve them and never make excuses.”
That mentality may help explain how Handlon has successfully combined entrepreneurship with active-duty military service. Handlon, who responded to questions via email while on military deployment, credits his “incredible” 32-member team at Born Primitive, many of whom are veterans or military spouses, for his ability to run a startup while serving on active duty.
“They are able to carry the weight when I’m off at the other job,” he said.
The family-owned business — Handlon’s former spouse Mallory and brothers Matt and Mike are co-founders — was run out of the Handlons’ garage, then house, for the first three years of its existence. Born Primitive’s initial marketing campaign consisted of a pop-up tent pitched at Crossfit events.
“We funded this ourselves from day one and bootstrapped the hell out of it,” Handlon said, noting that Born Primitive’s “scrappy, underdog mentality” has become part of the brand’s identity.
From the start, Born Primitive has pledged to be “more than an apparel company.” Company culture focuses on giving back to the military and first responder communities and to cancer charities. Since 2014, Born Primitive has donated nearly $1 million dollars in cash and apparel to charities, a total that includes a $186,000 contribution during their “Back the Gyms Stimulus” campaign designed for Crossfit gyms struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have to stand for something bigger and we must give back,” Handlon explained. “We won’t ever waiver on this. We want our customers to know their purchases and loyalty are going toward something bigger.”
Born Primitive’s culture is pivotal to the brand’s success.
“Culture is everything,” Handlon contends. “If you don’t have culture, then you don’t have a brand. You just have a product. People want to wear things that inspire them and align with what they stand for. You want your customer base to be proud of what it says across their chest.”
Visit govx.com/m/1405/born-primitive for more information on GovX’s exclusive deals.