CMU student runs own lifestyle apparel brand from his Pinconning home

Kicking around the college dorm with roommates, spitballing ideas for a company, turning it into a success.

It may sound like of one of those entrepreneur origin stories straight out of Hollywood, but that’s just what Derek LaBean is attempting to do.

At just 21 years old, Pinconning’s LaBean is the owner of Smoky Ridge Outfitters, his own brand of lifestyle wear, which includes everything from beanies to hoodies to jogging pants to t-shirts.

Inspired by Mike Smith’s fitness and apparel business, but just as much by his social media presence, LaBean dreamed up his own fashion line from his room in Campbell Hall on the campus of Central Michigan University. Drumming up ways to make his own money while making an impact, Smoky Ridge was it.

LaBean, currently a junior at CMU majoring in marketing with a concentration in professional sales, began to come up with designs in late 2018. He started making online sales through his website within less than a year. In August 2019, Karry Osier of More of Michigan asked LaBean to come be a vendor at his market. That was the first physical presence of LaBean’s creation.

"Success has been great and steady, a lot better than I anticipated. Personally I believe I just pushed and pushed and pushed," he says.

"It’s very fortunate to be what it is right now. And I know it’s very difficult to get out of the first growing stage."

Up until now, LaBean has done everything on his own, coming up with designs and selecting fabrics and running an ambitious social media campaign. He runs inventory from the basement of his Pinconning home, fulfilling e-commerce orders and stocking the More of Michigan space.

It’s that push he mentions that defines the brand. Smoky represents adversity. Ridge represents fighting through it and standing atop the peak.

"I’m just like anyone. I’ve struggled at times," says LaBean.

"Smoky Ridge is about staying mentally strong."

Find Smoky Ridge Outfitters online and at More of Michigan in Pinconning.

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