On this episode of Return to Base, we talk to Dean Wegner, the founder and CEO of Authentically American, a Veteran-owned, American-made, premium apparel brand.
Dean graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he played hockey before going on to fly helicopters. During his service, Dean did what very few aviation officers get to do: attend and pass the grueling U.S. Army Ranger School, where he learned firsthand that he preferred a life in the sky over an existence in the dirt.
Upon transitioning out of the U.S. Army, Dean did what many junior-grade officers do: He enlisted the help of a JMO headhunter and went to work for a top-tier consulting firm. He quickly realized that consulting meant seeing his family even less than he had become accustomed to. He needed to make a change and soon discovered that entrepreneurship had always been something he subconsciously desired.
In 2017, Dean created Authentically American with a vision to build an iconic American brand that is truly American made. So far, he’s weathered getting out of the starting blocks and a global pandemic; however, Dean and his team continue to work hard to create amazing American-made products.
You can shop for Authentically American products at their website. Be sure to use the coupon code FOUNDER to collect a 25% discount off of your total purchase.
You can also reach Dean at his LinkedIn.
And be sure to follow Authentically American’s socials at the links below.
Check out our last podcast: Return to Base Podcast Ep. #10: Alex Brammer & Bitcoin
Return to Base Podcast Ep. #11: Dean Wegner
Hey! Welcome back to the Return to Base Podcast. Today we welcome Dean Wegner, the founder and CEO of Authentically American, a better known American made premium apparel brand. Dean is a graduate of West Point where he played ice hockey before going on to fly helicopters. Dean left the military prior to 9/11 unlike many other GMOs worked with a Headhunter to land a job as a consultant, having great success at that and many other endeavors eventually Dean decided to try his hand at entrepreneurship and in 2017 founded Authentically American.
I think you’ll really enjoy this conversation and please be sure to stay until the end where we’ll share a discount code where 25% off of Authentically American products from their website. Let’s go…
With me today is Dean Wegner, former Army helicopter pilot and the CEO and founder of Authentically American, you may have seen him on Fox and Friends a couple times, graduated from West Point in 1993.
Dean Wegner 01:30
1993, It is…. Yes.
It seems like I get a lot of so called ring knockers. I run into a lot of ring knockers, and from time to time, just in my everyday business, but I have a lot of respect for folks who attended the Academy. And you know, I’ve served with several them. Some of them suck, if I’m being honest, but most of them are great.
Dean Wegner 01:56
[crosstalk] labeled now, Cliff, so that has me concerned we’re starting off on that. No…
No, no, no, no…
Dean Wegner 02:01
[crosstalk] just like any school. I mean, there’s great people everywhere. And there’s also unfortunately not so many great people. So I’m hoping you keep me in the good list.
Yeah, well, you’re here. So that’s a good start. For the audience out there, Dean and I met right after I transitioned out of the military, I worked in same office complexes him for for a short period of time. And then I moved on to a different company, but we’ve stayed connected. And weirdly enough, I remember the last time I saw you in person, you didn’t see me. But I was at a hockey game and all of a sudden they said your name and I looked down and they’re like waving and you’re on the Jumbotron. And I was like “Hey! I know that guy.”
Dean Wegner 02:11
That brings back great memories pre-COVID. That’s when I was Veteran of the game at the Nashville Predators.
Yeah, pre-COVID, what is that like as a long time ago. Anyway…. So Dean, what type of helicopters did you fly in army?
Dean Wegner 03:00
So Cliff, I last flew Hueys that were visually modified to resemble the Russian hind attack helicopter. I was at the Army’s National Training Center Fort Irwin. Oh, no. Have you ever been to Fort Irwin?
Yeah, [crosstalk] about to talk about it.
Dean Wegner 03:16
Most people don’t have the fondest of memories but it was by far my favorite flying job because I was leading up for opposing forces aviation. And you know, we had the fancy laser tag miles’ system and we would fly around the battlefield, shooting tanks and Bradley’s on the name of training and it was an incredible adrenaline rush, unfortunately there were not real missiles firing back.
Yeah, you know, I’ve served with several people who drew that up for assignment and you know, at first when they get that up for assignment, especially like infantry men and such, Oh man, you know, because it’s kind of takes him out of deployments and stuff. But they all absolutely loved it. They said it was like, the most fun they’ve ever had, and they always win.
Dean Wegner 04:10
There’s something to be said for homefield advantage and you’re fighting a battle, you know, 12 months a year, and you’ve always played on the home field. So, I like others was like, Fort Irwin, where they sent me, that is in the middle of nowhere, and it is in the middle of nowhere. And it’s a phenomenal mountainous desert training environment. But like you’re mentioning the 11th ACR the OP4 [phonetic 04:30], I mean, incredibly high morale, esprit de corps, and the training is just phenomenal.
Yeah, and a lot of those guys come out of there to become really great leaders in the military. And so they’re taking one for the team initially, but we get a really great product out of that. I’ll tell you that.
So what made you decide to go to West Point. I mean, whenever I’d meet somebody who went to West Point, I’m always like, wow, you traded in… You know, maybe partying or less partying and in the rigor of inspections and Academy life.
Dean Wegner 05:11
Well, Cliff first of all, looking back, you know, I could not be more thankful, more blessed to have had the opportunity to attend West Point for 04 years and graduate. But to your point, it wasn’t always a lot of fun. It was not the traditional estates cool college experience, but I mean, it is just an incredible place to attend school. It’s an incredible education. And you know, the friends and classmates I have are brothers for life. But to your question on where that all started. So when I was in high school, my parents were phenomenal. And we really had two goals for me in college
- I played hockey and I wanted to play division one hockey and
- I wanted to get the best possible education I could, and really was not thinking about West Point until the hockey coach called and said, he saw me play the tournament, Chicago was interested in me joining the team and when I did my research and did my homework, I’m like, What an incredible opportunity. A year that I enrolled, it was the number one ranked college in the US. So it doesn’t get any better education than that.
And then number two, you know, they played a strong division one college hockey program, and it was a program that I could compete and play.
That’s awesome. Where’d you grow up?
Dean Wegner 06:24
Well, I was born in upstate New York near the Canadian border. Sso that’s how hockey started. I played hockey there and then my grown up years 5th grade through high school were in Pittsburgh. So I played for the junior penguins and was a big Pittsburgh Penguins fan growing up and loved now that we’re in Nashville and have the predators [unintelligible]
Yeah, absolutely. It’s good to get to be able to go to those hockey games. The NHL games are really something to see. I’ve never known anything really about hockey. So whenever I go there I’m like, how come everybody knows what to say? Like it’s a very well-coordinated and fanatic experience. I will tell you though, I enjoy minor league hockey better because there’s a lot more fights. And you know, I don’t know anything about tactics or even performance, but I do know about swinging and we used to go to the San Diego goals game when I was a kid and they would just beat the hell out of each other for the entire time.
Dean Wegner 07:26
I will tell you that hockey as a sport is moving away from fighting but you know there is a reason why fighting is allowed because you’re moving at such a high speed such a high velocity and you hit so hard the sport originated saying you need to give you guys an outlook through kind of let things out. That’s why fighting still legal. But it’s such a high speed game. It’s such a sport that so fast. It’s incredible.
So aggressive. Have you ever tried to take off your skate and stab anybody?
Dean Wegner 07:59
I have not. I try to avoid that. I’ve got a family I love and [crosstalk]
Yeah, Happy Gilmore reference, probably trademark, you’ll probably see. Anyhow, so your experience at West Point was fruitful or everybody has one of those stories where they’re like, oh, man, I was a dumb cadet or… So come on, live a [crosstalk}
Dean Wegner 08:24
I resemble all of those remarks. And I got far more trouble than I should have. Because I was in many respects trying to live this state school experience right in a West Point Discipline structure. So if you’ve heard people talk about walk in the area, you know, I had more than 100 hours walk in the area, just back and forth with a rifle on your shoulder. Because, you know, we enjoyed the time there, we probably partied a little bit more than I should have. But I will tell you overall, I look back with just the fondest of memories, because there’s no official Greek system at West Point. But the brotherhood and fraternity it’s got to be the largest one in the world. Because I can’t tell you the number of classmates, a number of fellow grads that have looked out for me that have invested in me and you know, if I call up a fellow grad right now, if I don’t even know, you know, 99% of the time, they’re going to reach back out to me that I’m going to follow up and do anything I can to go and help me out.
That’s amazing. Yeah. And unfortunately this year, the Army Navy game didn’t go well for army. We had like a long drought and then we won 2 years in a row or 3 years in a row, a few years back.
Dean Wegner 09:37
We had a nice run and I was there in person, Cliff. So, it was even more painful.
Ah, yeah. Well, next year be navy. So you served for 1993 to the year 2000, which some people would say were the lean years. Got a whole lot going on in the military. There’s obviously Bosnia Herzegovina, but those are small scale things… Did you get an opportunity to go overseas and fly?
Dean Wegner 10:14
So my last assignment 99 to 2000 Cliff was in Korea. But to your point, if you think back 93 to 2000. I mean, that was a period of relative calm. The first Gulf War was while I was at West Point, and the chaotic post 9/11 world that we live in now was all after I got out, so I was never deployed, never put in harm’s way. And there have been some times when they ask Veterans to stand up and want to acknowledge your Veteran. Sometimes I feel like okay, am I truly worthy of standing up? But you know, the number of people have said, Dean, you’d never want to go to war. I mean, you were trained and ready to do that, and you never want to do it. So it’s not the point that you didn’t go. It’s just that during your time in history, we weren’t in that experience.
Yes, you stood ready to go and in a way that puts you in harm’s way every day that you go to work. So thank you for your service. And, you know, it was an interesting time I remember. So I joined in 1998, and looking back at some of our technology, some of our equipment, even from 1998 to 2002. It’s crazy, like they use this stuff in Vietnam. You know, that ammo pouches, that LBE and we’ve come so far since then, just out of not only necessity, but you know, other companies came in and found they can make a buck off of making better equipment. And I’m thankful that they did but man like laying on your back, trying to get a magazine out of one of those old school LBEs. It was a different experience than what we have now. That’s for sure.
Dean Wegner 11:58
No doubt about it Cliff and the American soldier, I mean, Diller [phonetic 12:02] deserves absolutely the best, if we’re going to put them in harm’s way, you know, we need to make that investment as a country to make sure that they’re equipped with the best equipment and machinery to go ahead and enable them to have the best battlefield possible. And I’ll tell you, Cliff, even though I was not, you know, put in harm’s way, I think back over those 07 years of the incredible memories I have of the men and women I served with. And I know, we’ll talk more about our business but authentically American, we’re a brand from an eco-standpoint, that honors our American heroes. And very intentionally, we donate 10% of our profits to veteran first responder charities. And that’s a way for us every day, to honor our American heroes. And that was all related to the incredible men and women I served with over those 07 years.
Well, thank you for that. And thank you for being a stand up business with Authentically American and yeah, we’ll get into that soon, for sure. And so you said your last duty station was a Korea? How bad was that experience? Like I never got the opportunity to go to Korea, but I’ve heard some good things, some bad things, were you up near the DMZ. [phonetic 13:13]
Dean Wegner 13:13
So I was right in Yongsan, right in Seoul, and it’s a city of 14 million people. It is massive. And just a short drive away is the DMZ. And sometimes it’s hard when you’re right there in the middle of Seoul to lose sight of why you’re there. That was an incredible experience because I initially thought that assignment, because I made that decision at that point after going to grad school and get my MBA that I wanted to transition after my 07-year commitment was up. And I thought it’s going to be incredibly hard to find a job halfway around the world. But when that assignment came up and was able to bring my wife and my one-year-old daughter with me at that point, it was just an incredible year one, you know, getting to know that Korean people being in an international assignment was incredible. And then we were able to travel throughout Asia, not only the Korean Peninsula, but went to China, both Beijing and Hong Kong, went to Thailand, went to Singapore, and just really opened our eyes to what a big world we live in.
Yeah, that is an interesting experience, there’s one thing that I’ve never really thought of, but you know, in my mind, when I think of assignments to Korea, I look at it from the lens of size and listed. As you know, several of my classmates from advanced individual training went to Korea. And it sounded like it was miserable. They said, You know, they’re like, the DMZ [phonetic 14:39] or whatever, and it didn’t seem like… And by the way, they didn’t have any money to travel. But it sounds like if you’re able to go there and you have a little bit of rain, a little bit of cash. Sounds like it could be a great experience. What’s China like?
Dean Wegner 14:52
So there were two sides of China, and this was back in 2000. So it’s changed a little bit but I remember flying into Hong Kong first. It was like New York City. It was like Las Vegas. I mean, you could literally feel the energy of the city. It was alive. It was vibrant. I mean, it was action 24 hour, 24/7. And then in turn when you fly into Beijing, I felt like we were flying back in the 1950s. I mean, it just had that feel that it was old, it was outdated. And it just had a different feeling. It’s changed from what I’ve heard since then, over the last 20 years. But it was amazing. Just to see the stark contrast between Hong Kong and Beijing.
Yeah, I think I think you’re probably right. It’s definitely gotten a lot modern, thanks to a bunch of our money. And I think that’s one of the reasons why Authentically American is great.
So you had mentioned before we started recording that your transition, you finished West Point, obviously, you went active duty, and then you had an MBA, did you do the MBA full time, I imagine that it had to be a full time program back then…
Dean Wegner 16:08
Actually, it was a part time program, was evenings and weekends. So this one, I was assigned to Fort Irwin, assigned to NTC. So Cal State was either an hour and a half or two-and-a-half-hour drive depending on where my job was. But it was just my wife and I at that point, and y’all wanted to further my education and get my MBA, and you know, went two to four nights a week, and then sometimes on weekends. So it was exhausting from a schedule standpoint. But that reinforced that I love my country. I love the service, love the esprit de corps, but I really have an aptitude, and really have an interest on the business side, that ultimately led to the decision after seven years to pursue a different career field.
Yeah. And you mentioned that you used a JMO…. So Junior Military Officer, recruiter, which one if you want to give a little shout out?
Dean Wegner 17:02
Had an incredible experience with Cameron Brooks.
Dean Wegner 17:06
And they do a phenomenal job, not just with me, but you know, all their candidates they bring through and what makes it so nice Cliff is, you know, they hold conferences, and I was back then I think four per year. They bring in all these companies over the weekend. And I remember over two days, having 15 interviews.
Oh, wow, wow.
Dean Wegner 17:26
So you get all these opportunities, all those offers laid out and then you get to see.
Dean Wegner 17:31
It’s going to be best.
Yeah, [crosstalk] initially.
Dean Wegner 17:35
I was very nice back then Cliff, because I remember at grad school, a lot of my classmates had said, “Hey, Dean, when you are looking at opportunities, I think you would love a big five consulting type job”. Because you work with incredible clients, you have the incredible training and programs in place of these big five consulting firms, and ultimately accepted an offer with KPMG, and it was as advertised. I mean, work with incredible clients had incredible experience. But what I was naive and didn’t realize Cliff was travel. And I love my clients love the work I did, but I love my family more. And I never saw him. It was Monday through Friday, every week. And you know, what’s most important to me is God, family and country. And when I’m away five days a week, I’m not able to be a great husband, I’m not able to be an amazing dad, and that just was not going to work long term.
You know, that’s a great point that I think a lot of people still lose sight of, is when we transition into the civilian world, we have an idea of who we are, and we have an idea of how much money we want to make. And then we forget that sometimes there’s a lot of sacrifice. The more money you make, the more sacrifice you’re going to make a lot of times and talk about how coming to that realization. It must have hit you like, wow, okay, so I’m sure you’re making pretty good money. But at the same time, you were like, “Wow! Okay…. Maybe I need to go a different route.”
Dean Wegner 19:18
Well, Cliff, I’ll tell you, there’s a good story behind what really the motivation ended up being. So my wife Kelly, and I, we’ve been married 27 years.
Dean Wegner 19:30
It’s been an incredible experience. And we have four amazing kids. We have two daughters, 23 and 20. We have a 17-year-old son, and we have an 11-year-old son we adopted from Ethiopia. So that’s why after my Christian faith, my family is so incredibly important. But at this point, we’re living in Denver, Colorado, and I was traveling Monday through Friday every week. And I remember coming home Cliff on a Friday night and we had some friends over. And my oldest daughter Carrie [phonetic 19:57], at that point was three, and I was a proud dad. And I wanted to show our friends how smart she was. And she had built this puzzle of the US with all the states. And she’s like, Dad, let me show everybody, she’s like, “Here’s Denver, where we live. Here is California where my cousin lives, and here is Texas where my daddy lives”. Now, I was like, Oh, my goodness, if my daughter thinks I don’t even live with our family and I truly want to be beholden to God, family and country. I mean, I am missing a huge opportunity to be present as a dad that ultimately led the transition and left KPMG and ultimately landed at Procter and Gamble after that.
Nice. So what was that transition period from the time that you realized you needed to make a change? And from the time when you went to P&G How long did that take because I imagine you didn’t just make a call to your boss and say, “Hey, I quit.”
Dean Wegner 20:53
Now, this was a, you know, multi month experience, but one of my favorite mantras Cliff is it’s not what you know. It’s who you know. And over my career, so many people have invested in me and I’ve invested in people and I love that you and I have kept in touch. And ultimately that job opportunity with P&G, this great job, and it coming from a former hockey or [phonetic 21:16] offer representative when I was at West Point, I was now working for the Association of Graduates at West Point. And I reached out to him and shared what I do and what my background once I was interested in and he said, “You know what, Dean? Let me introduce you to P&G.” I mean, they have incredible brands, they have an incredible Veteran training programs. So I think it’d be a great fit for you. And he was right. That was an I spent 06 amazing years there at P&G.
Right on where did you have to move?
Dean Wegner 21:47
It’s funny clip, I’m laughing with you saying that because one of the reasons I got out of the army was to stop moving. [laughter] Yeah, I want to invest in a community. We saved up a lot of money. And we invested in a home with a nice view of the mountains. And we ultimately ended up moving more at P&G than we did in the military. Because it’s 06 years in PNG lived in four different cities.
Wow. Which one?
Dean Wegner 22:13
So we started in Denver, and then went Denver to Philadelphia. Then we went Philadelphia to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and then ultimately landed in the PNG headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Okay, so how did that go over with a family?
Dean Wegner 22:32
It’s funny, because when I was offered my first promotion at P&G, to move from Denver to Philadelphia, my wife was like, “Well, that’s great, honey, congratulations! But how often you going to be able to come home and visit because we kind of like it here”. I mean, Denver is such a beautiful city. It’s 300 days of sunshine a year, you have a beautiful backdrop, and I’m like, Are you serious? And we talked about it, we ultimately Cliff decided that, you know, our home and our family is not tied to an address, right? It’s it for all together. And it was a great opportunity. And not only at P&G, but went to Mars [phonetic 23:09] after that, went from working with brands like Crest and Time [phonetic 23:12] working on brands like M&Ms and Snickers. And, you know, over those 11 years, it was incredible experience. But by the time we arrived here in Nashville, it was moved number 10.
Dean Wegner 23:22
So, we move far more, and we landed here. And you know, what a great city. Nashville is [crosstalk] raised the family. And that was one of the motivations to go down the entrepreneurial path.
Yeah, let’s kind of transition to that. So it sounds like number one. Yeah, you had to move a lot. And that is disruptive, especially as your kids get older. But not tying yourself to one particular address, I think is important. But as your kids get older, they start kind of having a [unintelligible 23:57] right? Or at least some input was it to be able to come to Nashville and establish roots did [phonetic 24:06] the family and say, “Hey, Dad, we don’t want to move anymore.” At that point they had not been in junior high school or high school, right?
Dean Wegner 24:15
Because my oldest daughter at that point was 7th getting ready to go into 8th grade. And we had always promised her that, you’re bearing the brunt of it. Because a year and a half, we were moving. And we had made a promise to her. That by the time she gets to high school, so before high school, we would plant roots and no matter where the careers were going to stop moving, so she could have stability through high school. And this was a test of faith with and it was a test of my commitment and my wife’s commitment because you had mentioned Korea and we’ve traveled internationally love this a lot. And we have not been long before this and made that commitment to my daughter when I got a call from Mars asking if I wanted to be the country manager for New Zealand. My wife and I were like, We were incredibly excited and fired up. And we went to my daughter and said, “Hey, would you think about this?” And she said, “you know, what? Are you going to keep your promise?
Dean Wegner 25:18
You promised me that I would be in one place. And that means 8th, 9th, 10th grade, I would be moving again. And my wife and I prayed about it and said, “You know, what? We need to be men and women of character, we need to keep our word”, and ultimately said, “Okay, we’re gonna decline that offer and ultimately after that is when the opportunity came to move to Nashville.”
Nice. What did you move to Nashville for a different position with Mars or?
Dean Wegner 25:44
Yep, so it was with Mars. So I was in Minneapolis prior to that [crosstalk] hours to manage all of our business with target. So, moving from subzero temperatures all winter to Nashville, and that was now moving to the North American headquarters for pet care for Mars.
Okay, great. Yeah, Mars is a great company, especially I know that they have a lot of Veteran programs and Veterans working for Mars. And we really appreciate companies who can do that.
But I’m guessing one day you wake up and go, You know what I’d like to be an entrepreneur, it sounds like the bug has been there in your head for a while. Probably. Cooking up different ideas, ways to go out on your own. What was that? How did you decide that entrepreneurship was what it was going to be? And how did you come up with the idea? And also was Authentically American, your first venture?
Dean Wegner 26:43
Well, Cliff, I’ll share this because I didn’t know this. But that entrepreneurial bug was always there. Have you heard the term entrepreneur?
Dean Wegner 26:52
So that was something I was not familiar with. But looking back, you know, I really was an entrepreneur. You know, I had that entrepreneurial spirit that you unique, creative, problem solving, ideal. And the most common phrase I heard at P&G. And at Mars was “Dean, what are you doing?”
Dean Wegner 27:13
Like, what do you mean, they’re like, well, that’s not how we do it. That’s not the proper way. Or that’s not the Martian way. And I never did things just to do them differently. But always try to think creatively, always try to think innovatively on how to solve problems. And I would hear things like, well, that’s how we did it 10 years ago, that’s why we’re not doing it. So it doesn’t work. I’m like, well, it’s 10 years later. And here’s a little different way we can do it. And I didn’t know back then Cliff, but that was that entrepreneurial spirit within me then okay. You know, I want to do things a little bit differently. And, ultimately, the first motivation to go down the entrepreneurial path was family related. Because when I was at Mars it was moved number 10 when we arrived here in Nashville, and I knew if move number 11 was coming. I was going by myself. But he was going with me.
So the first foray into the entrepreneurial path was in 2012, bought my first business. And this was a business that had a great 18-year history. And if you remember the old army trousers that used to wear, that was one of our contracts. So the old trousers I used to wear, it was one of our contracts. So we had 1000s of uniforms for Army, Navy, Air Force Marines that we produced every week. And I’m like, this is really cool, you know, I’m producing something that I used to wear is connected me back with the military. And at that point Cliff, I also learned the history around the apparel industry. And to give everybody some context, when I graduated from West Point 93, over 50% of the apparel in the US was not made in the US today, it’s less than three. Wow, that is all that’s made here. And Cliff, my initial thinking was, I want us to win more contracts, because I’m passionate about job creation. And I thought, if we win more contracts, will create more jobs. But as I really started to understand this government contracting business, we don’t actually create jobs, it’s more of a job transfer. So if you and I are bidding on a contract, and you had the contract before, and I ultimately outbid you, your jobs now transferred to me. So net, no job creation, but it’s a job transfer. And that’s to me when the wheels started turning, because I thought, “What if?” What if, instead of what…. 97% of companies do, what if we made an intentional choice to go ahead and produce everything here in the US? And what if instead of being a government contractor, what if we built a brand? And I thought back to the days at P&G and Mars and working with Crest and Tide [phonetic 29:48] and M&Ms, and I thought, what if it’s only American made and we’re building this iconic brand thinking the incredible difference we could make? Think of the jobs we create and ultimately delivered on our vision to build this iconic American brand, with the same visual recognition of Nike or Polo Under Armour, think of the incredible legacy we could leave. And that’s where it started in 2017 from a blank sheet of paper.
Wow, nice. So Authentically American makes apparel. You explain the business, explain what Authentically American is. I know what it is, but you’d obviously be better suited to explain.
Dean Wegner 30:31
So Authentically American, we’re a Veteran-owned, American made premium apparel brand. We have absolutely amazing product, but it’s all made here in the US. And there are three segments of our business. So where we started was on the client side. So I’m assuming Cliff your business like most businesses, have t shirts, have polos, have jackets, things that are branded with your company logo. And that’s where we started. And our businesses in that client more of a b2b side our businesses, charities, other organizations that want to choose American made.
So instead of a Nike or Lands and Polo, they can choose Authentically American. We also have collegiate licenses. So we’re about the Army Navy game. So the collegiate license for Army, Navy, Air Force, we have all the military schools. We have local Nashville schools like Vanderbilt, Belmont and MTSU. You know, Monday’s a big night, because it’s the national championship, Alabama, is one of our Collegiate licenses. So we have 12 licenses, and we want to keep expanding that side. But then the third segment of our business is our consumer brands. So things that I’m wearing, you know, that have the Authentically American Vintage US flag logo. That’s the third segment. So Cliff, whether you’re a business owner, whether you lead a charity, whether you’re a passionate college fan, or whether you just are looking for something that’s your new favorite t shirt or your new favorite quarter zone [phonetic 31:59], you know, we’ve got a solution for you.
Yeah, and I love it when I’m shopping especially in Nashville. And I’ll see the Black Knight logo, and I look [crosstalk] Authentically American, I get pretty excited for your success. And congratulations on landing those and you’ve come such a long way in just a short amount of time. I’m sure there’s been a lot of challenges along the way. But what would you say is your biggest success with Authentically American thus far?
Dean Wegner 32:36
Well, let me just start with the biggest challenge because it has been incredible the challenges because you and I were talking a little bit earlier, we launched in 2017. So we’re in our 4th year going on your five, almost half of our existence, almost 50% of our existence as a business has been under COVID.
And number one, I’m just thankful as a small business to survive, because do not have the resources, do not have the cash reserves, like I had it P&G and Mars that were at our disposal. So one, I’m just thankful that we survived. And I tell everybody with a global pandemic, you think of all the headlines about ships being stuck at Portland, Long [phonetic 3319] Beach, it is an incredible time to be American made.
Dean Wegner 33:23
But it’s never been harder. Because the other national headline has been labor shortage. And we have not been immune to the national labor shortage. And it has impacted every step of our supply chain, from sourcing raw materials to the production, to decorating, to shipping. I mean, it’s been impacted. So it’s not been easy. It’s not been challenging. But I will tell you, you’ve met some of my team, and we continue to grow. And as exhausted as we are, we are incredibly energized. Because back to that vision to build that iconic American brand, back to our mission around creating American jobs. All of us here are just incredibly passionate about what we do the opportunity to make a difference and deliver our vision and ultimately leave a legacy.
Yeah, and I think that’s…. I love that vision of trying to leave a legacy and you mentioned the challenge, but also the opportunity with the supply chain issues. Obviously, yeah, bunch of ships second port… Explained to me what American made needs. So in my mind, I’m thinking, well, everything, that shirt you’re wearing, for instance that has a zipper, has fiber or textiles or does everything come from the United States is in…. You know, I can’t tell, I can’t touch it. But is it synthetic or is it natural and and what does it mean to be American-made?
Dean Wegner 34:58
Cliff, it is a Great question. And to give you an idea of our supply chain, just to give a little context to my answer, you know, the most common business model from an apparel standpoint is contract and manufacturing. So we have 12 US states that we produce. So we have amazing T shirts that we produce in Texas, socks are one of our best sellers. We produce those in North Carolina. We have, like the Polo and outerwear that I’m wearing we make in California. So it’s all across U.S in 12 states and has contracted and the answer your question on what’s it means to be American made?
I will put it in this slide, there’s really two definitions;
Number one is to meet the legal requirements. And everything from Authentically American can probably have that made in USA tag because we meet the legal requirements. But that’s not good enough, because to be truly authentic, is for 100% of our raw materials, 100% of everything to be sourced produced here in the US. So everything is cut and sewn [phonetic 35:59] and manufactured in the US. And about 90% of our raw materials are also American. But only 3% Cliff is made here, there’s just some things that aren’t available, there’s just somethings that are viable. So ultimately, our vision is that if it’s at 90% now, in 3, 5 years, it’s 91, 92. As we build scale to get more people to support American made, you know, ultimately, that goal to be truly Authentically American is 100% of every raw material is sourced here. 100% of the production, which is already that case now is all here in the US. So that hopefully gave you some context on where we are or where we’re going.
Yeah, absolutely. In 100%, hopefully that… Or I 100% hope that eventually we’re able to get to that point where we’re more self-sustainable, because if COVID has taught us anything is we’re actually very vulnerable to global pandemics or even global political issues, especially with places like China. And let me ask you a question. This is kind of a tangent, right? But yeah, I remember reading something a while back that it doesn’t some company have some like zipper monopoly. I look at almost all my zippers and they all have the same like three letters on there. Not this one. This one has a lucky symbol. But where do you get zippers from? I know this is a silly question. But
Dean Wegner 37:29
So I believe and I’m not as close to that level of detail right now. But I believe it’s YKK…
That is a company here, that has those zippers but you bring up a great point, Cliff. And I guess one thing to highlight is kind of a major shift we’ve made in our brand positioning, because in 2017, we were a blank sheet of paper. My assumption, my thought was everyone was like you, my thought was everyone was like me, my thought was everyone was like most of the listeners on this call, you know, very patriotic, that served our country. And my thinking was that with such a large audience like that, and it being so rare that 3% is all that’s American made. My thinking was, we’re gonna leave with being made in USA. And people are going to love our brand just because we’re American made.
Dean Wegner 38:18
Sadly, Cliff what I found out was, most people don’t care.
Yeah, we’re consuming…
Dean Wegner 38:24
I think part of it is they don’t care. But part of it, they don’t even think about it. Our tagline is where’s US [phonetic 38:31] made. And it’s designed to be provocative, we want to go ahead and look at the tag, I want people to look at the tag and see made in China, and want them to vote with their wallet next time and make a choice for American made, not just in apparel, but in other categories. But here’s one story to highlight kind of that shift Branding, because we don’t leave with American made anymore. You know, we lead with an amazing product experience. And that ultimately, is what it needs to be all about. Because Cliff if you are one of your listeners bought something from Authentically American, you said, “Well, this stuff stinks”. I mean, who cares where it’s made? I mean, it doesn’t really matter, because there’s no buying it again. But you had mentioned about Fox and Friends. I mean, we have been so blessed with some incredible national TV exposure. We were just on for the holidays. So just a few weeks ago, and it was the 17th time. We’ve been on national TV 17 times. And the very first time Cliff was on Fox and Friends and this was pre-COVID. So it was in studio.
Yeah, I remember watching it.
Dean Wegner 39:31
Yeah. And it was surreal. I mean, it was an incredible experience, I was able to meet a lot of people and one of the people I met was a fellow Army veteran Pete Hegseth.
Dean Wegner 39:40
So he’s not only an Army veteran, but he’s the host of Fox and Friends Weekend. So I actually gave Pete this pair of socks right? Here’s a pair of our consumer brand socks. They’re on their patriotic one since people may not be able to see this as one sock has the red and white stripes. The other sock it’s a mismatch is the Blue and white stars, and Pete loved them.
And the second time Cliff, I came back, you know, Pete was interviewing me. And to get some context. Are you familiar with Shopify Ecommerce [crosstalk]?
Dean Wegner 40:13
So to get people who are not just a quick overview, so it’s almost like a game. Because live over time, you can track the number of people going to your website, you can track live the number of purchases, and from a marketing standpoint, we’re always trying to see okay, what is it that’s driving that little blip? Why are more people going to our website? Why are more people making purchases? And that second time I was back in the Fox News studio, when Pete was interviewing, he is like, “Dean, so great to see you again. I still have the socks you gave me, I wear them all the time. They’re my favorite pair.” I said, “You’ve got to say that on national TV”, and Cliff he did. Yeah. And it was like an earthquake hit just the spike in traffic, spike in purchases, and Pete didn’t say, “Hey, I love them. Because they’re American made”. He’s like, “They’re so soft. They’re so comfortable. They have this fun, patriotic design. They’re my favorite pair, I wear them all the time.” And almost as a secondary benefit as American made, because if you can see the fine print here. It says designed in Nashville, you know, made in North Carolina. But if you wear them and they’re not comfortable, they fall down. They don’t have a fun design. You never read the fine print.
Dean Wegner 41:26
And that’s what we lead with. Now. It’s all about an incredible product experience. I mean, another example is, you know, our sweat-activated print innovation and it’s
I love that stuff. Explain this.
Dean Wegner 41:41
So this has really been a hero product for us. And they will do this. We’ll do a quick show and tell a Kindergarten Stylish Show and [crosstalk 41:52], because I am holding up. You know, my favorite t shirt, it’s the Go Army, one of our Collegiate licenses, [crosstalk 42:00] Army license. And Cliff, I love that you and I can see each other but I wish we were in person. Because if you were to feel this shirt, you’d be like, Damn, that’s incredibly soft. [crosstalk]
I have a shirt like that.
Dean Wegner 42:14
And who doesn’t love a good soft t shirt?
Dean Wegner 42:17
And the other piece Cliff if you remember, you see the print here where it says ‘Go Army’, you tried to feel it, you can hardly feel it. Because very intentionally we use a soft hand water based ink and think a lot of the T shirts in your closet, they have that heavy plastisol ink on a hot summer National Day.
It’s hotter where the ink is, it’s disgusting.
Dean Wegner 42:38
It’s awful. And we want our shirts to be incredibly soft across the board. And that’s the way all of our T shirts are they’re incredibly soft. The Prince is soft, and everything is tagless. But we have this new innovation, this sweat activated print innovation. So when you sweat, magically, this hidden message appears. So here’s what happens. I’m going to hold it up and spray it.
When you sweat, it says beat Navy all over it.
Dean Wegner 43:08
I love it. And Cliff, here’s why I love to highlight this because people will say Dean, no offense, I don’t care where it’s made. The shirt is just incredibly soft. I can’t even feel the print and wow, this technology. I’ve never seen anything like that. And then after that they have that type of experience. And they see on the tag that it’s made in USA and they think back to that 3% number, right? That’s when they want to learn more. Yeah, that’s when they go to our website. That’s what I want to learn the story and ethos behind our brand. But if they don’t have an incredible product experience, they don’t care about learning more.
Yeah, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. Dean, I know we have just about 7 minutes left before you got to get going. So, as always, I want to transition into just what your service meant, or means as you are an entrepreneur and successful businessman. How did that sense of service in the lessons that you learned in the army? Inform your success and your drive?
Dean Wegner 44:15
Yeah. Well, Cliff, I’ll highlight two things.
- We already touched on was the intentional choice to donate 10% of our profits to veteran first responder charities as a way to honor our American heroes. So that’s one, one that was very intentional and something I love to honor you and to honor all of our brothers and sisters who have served.
- But the second one, I didn’t know this back then. But you know, after flight school had a unique opportunity to go to Ranger School.
Oh, yes, I didn’t mention that. A very rare opportunity. By the way, not a whole lot of pilots get to go to Ranger School.
Dean Wegner 44:48
And I was really torn because your senior year at West Point Cliff you make a choice of which branch you want to choose. And I didn’t realize. There were 18 different choices and I was really torn between infantry, the heart and soul of the army, and aviation. You remember that movie ‘Top Gun’?
Dean Wegner 45:12
And I’m like, that’s the kind of lifestyle I want to wear. And I want to be in that lifestyle, and ultimately chose the aviation route. But you’d be in Special Forces, you’d be in infantry, you can relate to what I was wrestling with, because I’m like, did I make the right choice? And it is so rare. But at flight school, they made an announcement said, Hey, guys, once in a lifetime opportunity, we’re going to have a competition and send one of you to Ranger School. And Cliff, I thought, well, here’s my chance to go and see the other half lives. And I was very fortunate won this competition, went to Ranger School and found out just how miserable. It was one of those experiences that was so awful, so terrible that looked back with the fondest of memories.
Yeah, we talked about that a lot on this podcast.
Dean Wegner 45:58
And Cliff, I didn’t know it back then. But it was such great training for leading a startup because you’re familiar with that type of experience. I mean, you’ve lived in [crosstalk] a few things, because when I reported day one, you know, there were 340 of us. And if you make it straight through in 72 days, you’re living on one meal a day..
Dean Wegner 46:19
And 2 to 3 hours sleep a night. And they then put you in incredibly stressful situations. And there’s a lot of attrition. So we started with 340, over 72 days, we lost over 80% of our class, and there are only 70 of us on graduation day. And again, I didn’t know back then. But it was such great training for leading a startup because Ranger School was all about incredible stress, and kind of no sleep. And that’s the life I’m living now as an entrepreneur, I mean, no sleep and incredible stress. And that is one thing that I look back, you say, “Hey, what was some of the experience in the military that trains you?” I mean, Ranger School is one of them, because I’m at least eating now. I don’t have ever skip any meals. But I mean, it’s been some long, sleepless nights. But when you are energized, when you are passionate, when you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work. And I’m home for dinner every night. I’m home to take our kids to practice, take them to school and do different things, but oftentimes will get sacrificed asleep.
Yeah, for sure. And not to mention about Ranger School and in schools like that drilled into your head are operation orders, [unintelligible 47:36] procedures, contingency planning. If you have a good basis of that and you’re able to make decisions with a level head based on some process, you can actually go quite a long way. But you also have to be able to think innovatively, and Ranger School makes you do that. Because when you get the sadistic platoon leader or the sadistic patrol leader or cadre. They make sure everything that can go wrong will go wrong, right?
Dean Wegner 48:07
I live that firsthand, because every curveball imaginal came my way. And it was just, one of those experiences like I said it was awful. It was terrible. It was completely miserable. Which is why I look back now with the fondest of memories.
So we always say, Have you heard that there’s a song of what you’re going to do PL?
Dean Wegner 48:28
I don’t remember that.
I’m going to send you this song, and you’re going to have a flashback. It’s hilarious. Well, Dean, I appreciate you joining us on the podcast. And I want to congratulate you on your success and wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. What’s in the future? You’re very well spoken, and you have a very well, good message. Are you politics in your future?
Dean Wegner 48:55
I would never roll that out Cliff, I want to continue to give back and serve. And that could be something in the future. But right now we have so much going on with our business. And we’ve got such an opportunity to grow and make a difference that would be something long term in the future. But that’s a whole potential other segments on kind of the frustrations on how we as a country have lost the common decency and that respect for others and treating each other with dignity, even the face of disagreement.
Yeah, I agree. I think both sides can agree that there needs to be more civility in our country and how we treat each other. So again, Dean Wegner, thank you for your service. Thank you for joining us, and hope to see you soon, man. Maybe at a hockey game.
Dean Wegner 49:44
Absolutely. And I won’t be on the Jumbo Tron this time but I’m so glad you and I met, we’ve stayed connected and I am honored to be your guest.
Everybody thanks for listening to this episode of Return to Base. Really appreciate your continued patronage and I really hope you enjoyed the conversation we had with Dean Wegner, the founder and CEO of Authentically American.
As promised, Dean has given us a discount code worth 25% off of a total order at Authentically Americans website, that website is authenticallyamericanbrand.us, that is A-U-T-H-E-N-T-I-C-A-L-L-Y-A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N-B-R-A-N-D.US. We will leave that link in the show notes to be sure. And the discount code is Founder, F-O-U-N-D-E-R. Be sure to use that discount code to receive 25% off your total order at authenticallyamericanbrand.us.
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This is RTB signing off.