After quitting the track and cross country teams his freshman year, junior Connor Buck wanted to find another passion to occupy his time.
As a result, he and a group of friends started a clothing company called The Forest Co., whose mission statement is to “take in the beauty of the environment around us, while also trying to play our part in conserving it.”
The Forest Co.’s website features Buck’s photos of people wearing the company’s products in beautiful natural settings. In addition, 10 percent of the company’s proceeds are donated to The Puerta Project, which will buy supplies to build stoves and hire people in Puerta Abajo, Guatemala to install them in their homes.
So, when did your idea for The Forest Co. come about?
Towards the end of freshman year.
I read on your “story” page of your website that the idea was created in a dorm room. What was that moment like?
So we were in Bostwick.
All good stories start in Bostwick.
Exactly — and one of my friends was like, “Guys, I’ve had this idea to start a clothing company for so long.” And we were like, “What would you call it?” And at first he said “Forestry” and we got behind that really quickly. And then we did some homework and saw that someone had already created a “Forestry” company.
So I was like, what about “The Forest Co.”? It’s pretty similar but also different. And it was literally just an overnight kind of thing. It went from an idea to something we thought we should actually do.
How does photography fit in the mix of all of it?
So after I quit the [track and cross country] team, I was trying to figure out what else I enjoyed. Because probably from middle school up until that moment that was all I did. So, after I quit I was forced to wonder — what do I enjoy? What are my passions? I always enjoyed being out in nature, like going on hikes and things like that.
So one day I was like maybe I should take up photography? You know, I thought that would be a cool thing to do — to be able to capture nature and things when I go out. And I think that was a big part of us continuing with this. Because both me and my friend are huge on nature and we go out and do new things as much as we can. And I think the photography aspect was helpful just to be able to document what we were doing. And not have our iPhones be the only thing we had to do that with.
What’s been one of your favorite moments on one of the trips you’ve had?
Ironically enough, usually my favorite trips are when we don’t bring our cameras and stuff like that. We kind of just go out and hope we find the place we’re looking for. And then we just hang out and enjoy the day there. And not worry about any technology at all. Those are usually the best days that we have because we can always just sit down, hang out, set aside everything else and talk about whatever comes to mind.
I feel like there’s also something to be said for not taking pictures of a place that you come across, because for that moment it’s yours. You’re truly there in that space by yourself.
Yeah, over the summer our big thing was trying to find waterfalls — because up in New York there’s a ton of waterfalls everywhere. We’d been to a bunch before but we wanted to try and find all the ones we hadn’t been to. And so, in those moments when we didn’t bring our cameras and we got there we were like, “Okay, this is our waterfall for the day. We’re going to name it. This is ours, no one can take this away from us.”
What else were you up to this summer?
I actually had a night shift job at a wine and liquor factory. It was the hardest job I’ve ever had.
Wow, that sounds so difficult. I would ask what a typical day is like, but what is a typical night like there?
So you start at 7:30 p.m. And probably for an hour you’re making boxes because they have the cases of wine and liquor but they also have separate bottles. But that isn’t that bad, it’s actually pretty easy.
And then after that you go to your loading dock and then literally from about 8:30 p.m. until you’re done with the work for that day you’re just loading trucks. From the ground usually higher than my head. So probably six to six and a half feet up that you’re stacking. It’s supposed to only be 7:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. but it could be anywhere from 6 a.m. that you get out to 10 a.m.
What is something you think you learned through that job?
Just that hard work pays off really. I hated the job because it was so hard. But it was one of those things where I wasn’t going to earn that type of money anywhere else. None of my friends were.
So it was one of those things where I just had to swallow my pride and focus on the fact that I just had to make money to have something for when I went back to school. There were only a few other college kids working there, and only one other one that stayed the whole summer with me.
But there were people from the age of 19 to 50 or 60 and most of the people there didn’t have a college education. But since you’re working with someone new pretty much every shift, pretty much every person I talked to was like, “Stay in college, get a degree.”It’s definitely eye opening.
Sorry to rewind, but I have another question about the Forest Co. When you started with the first idea of Forestry, was it intended to be about Wake Forest or the forest in general?
It was a mixture of both, yeah. When we started with the idea of it we were really hoping to do some things that pertained to the school. But then we realized how hard that actually is.
My dad is a businessman and so I talked to him quite a lot about it. And he pointed out that if we wanted to do a lot of stuff, like have Wake Forest on our shirts or if you wanted to sell it on campus, there are a lot of hoops you’ll have to go through to get to that point.
So we kind of dropped that idea of Wake Forest for a while and then made it solely about the forest and being out in nature. But we’re definitely hoping that one day we can bring it full circle because this is where it started. So it’d be really nice to be able to do something like that.
How do you see The Forest Co. differentiating itself from other companies and filling in the “white space” in the clothing industry?
I think the big thing is something that we started over the summer. One of my good friends here, John Nagell, has a sister who goes to Davidson. And she started her own nonprofit organization called Puerta Project. So me, John and Matt went to Davidson one day just to go hang out with Blair.
She and I just got to talking and we were like, “What if we teamed up? What if every sale that we made, we had a certain percentage go to your organization?” Because I saw what she was doing, I really liked what she was doing — I thought it was brilliant. I really wanted to get her organization’s name out there a little bit more, and at the same time get our stuff out there too.
What exactly does the Puerta Project do?
Well once they raise enough money, they will go to Puerta Abajo, Guatemala. What they do is they buy supplies to build stoves in all of the homes. But instead of building the stoves in the homes for everyone, they actually pay the people of the town to build them themselves. A lot of organizations go in there and just do things for the people of a community without empowering them.
So she’s helping teach them how to make the stoves. It’s all about a healthy lifestyle and being able to progress there. So not only is she doing that, but she’s trying her best to give jobs to the people there. So I saw that and I was like, “I want to be able to help with her project.”
Where do you see The Forest Co. heading in the future? Would you want to pursue it after graduation?
I think I do. I know that the road to success is quite a long one. I remember freshman year when we came up with the idea we were like, “We want to be the next Patagonia or North Face.”
But we realized very quickly that it’s quite hard to actually do that. You just have to be patient. We’re really trying to find that balance where we’re really giving our all to it, but not putting all our eggs in that basket.
I think if we just try and keep that going, continue slowly growing and keep trying to continue coming out with more and more and more, that’s all I can ask for.