A West End clothing startup wants to see more men in bamboo.
Natural Border Co., a manufacturer and online retailer of menswear made of bamboo fiber, launched this summer out of a 600-square-foot office and showroom at 2901 Hungary Spring Road.
Founder and owner Brandon Kline said the idea for his company came from wanting to make a new kind of Western-style shirt for people concerned about buying environmentally friendly and local products.
“I wanted to take what I was seeing in cowboy Western wear but make it a completely different kind of shirt,” he said. “I was watching the movement going organic and I was thinking clothing was going to be the next trend.”
Natural Border sells a short-sleeve button-down that comes in sky blue and light green and a long-sleeve button-down in white. The short-sleeve shirt retails for $108 and the long-sleeve sells for $148.
Kline contracts a Brooks Brothers factory near Wilmington, N.C., to make the shirts using bamboo fiber imported from China. Over the last six months, he has built up his inventory to 1,000 shirts.
“The price point is being determined by small-scale production runs, eco-friendly material and domestic labor,” Kline said. “The niche I’m going after is high-end beachwear.”
Kline, 33, first learned about bamboo fiber while visiting a history museum in Savannah, Ga., He said bamboo fiber is softer than cotton, water absorbent, quick-drying and resistant to static.
“Bamboo fabric has primarily been used in sheets and towels but has seldom been used in shirts,” he said.
Kline said he also decided to use bamboo fiber because it seemed more logistically efficient and environmentally sustainable than using cotton.
“Most of the cotton in this country comes from Texas and goes overseas to be processed and then comes back here for sale,” Kline said. “Cotton is a water-intensive crop. I was thinking maybe there’s a more streamlined supply chain.”
Kline’s environmental focus extends all the way to the packaging he uses to mail Natural Border shirts. The envelopes are made of paper from ground stone that require less bleach than traditional paper, Kline said.
Kline grew up in Richmond and attended Elon University in North Carolina. He bartended in Scotland before getting a job with John Deere in Richmond. His work for the tractor company took him to Dallas for three years where he was exposed to the popularity of Western-style shirts with pearl snaps.
Kline opens his shop on Wednesdays for potential customers to come and try the feel of bamboo fiber for themselves and said he has no plans to open a traditional brick-and-mortar storefront.
“I’d like to focus on online retail,” Kline said. “I think there is lower overhead, so it will allow me flexibility and I can reach a wider audience.”