Dress for success

MCHS Alumni turn passion for wrestling into 'Warrior' clothing line

In high school, Jeff Barber, Henry Billet and Phil Vallem learned what it took to become warriors on the wrestling mat. The three Moffat County High School wrestling alumni and fellow MCHS graduate Josh McCollum have transformed what it took to be a warrior into one of the top clothing and extreme sport promotion companies in the Rocky Mountain region.

"To become a warrior" was a traditional saying on the Bulldog wrestling team before Billet, Barber and Vallem were there, and the term that meant a wrestler took some hard knocks and kept coming back stuck with Billet and Barber.

"Jeff and I were always talking about how we had made each other warriors in practice," Billet said. "We were sitting on the couch one day and we thought it would be cool to have a hat or shirt that said 'warrior' on it."

After graduating from Moffat County in '97, Barber and Billet went to Grand Junction to attend Mesa State College.

In college, Barber and Billet decided they wanted to put their high school thoughts into action. With the help of McCollum, who Billet knew by working with him at the mine, they designed a Warrior logo and set out to get it on a hat.

"We thought it would be pretty easy," Billet said. "Just go out and buy a few hats and put the logo on it."

But they had to get the logo printed first and the McCollum-designed graphic took a while to be created.

Once they had a couple of items with "warrior" on them, Billet and Barber decided they should try to promote their creation and they quickly learned their first business lesson.

"When we ordered our first bunch of hats we did it from a place in Kansas City," Billet said. "The hats came in the wrong colors and the Ws were backwards."

Since then they have tried to stay as local as possible with production.

In '99 Billet and Barber started to travel around to promote their brand to skate shops and snowboarding shops across Colorado but they didn't have much success.

"There wasn't much interest in it for those two sports," Billet said. "Warrior Wear wasn't catching on."

Around 2001, Barber decided he was going to leave for Kansas City and about that time Phil Vallem, who was going to school in Greeley, came aboard.

Phil connected with them while he was involved with snocross racing.

Warrior Wear had some connections to the Colorado Sport Racing Series, a regional snocross racing circuit.

The people of the CSRS contracted with Warrior Wear to print shirts and in exchange Warrior Wear could put its logo on the shirts and act as a sponsor of the circuit.

The apparel started to catch on with the riders in the series and the group had found its niche.

With Vallem's involvement, the label started to get promoted throughout the series and racers started to want their own Warrior Wear.

With demand more specific to riders in snocross, Warrior Wear became Warrior Competition Apparel and the company's involvement in the winter sport took off.

"We talked about how we would know we had made it when we saw somebody we didn't know with our stuff on," Billet said. "About a year-and-a-half into it I saw somebody I didn't know with a hat and I realized we were starting to get somewhere."

Billet, who went to school to become a chiropractor, Vallem, who wanted to be a teacher and McCollum, who was a mineworker, realized that they were going to go into the business world.

Up until last winter though, the company wasn't busy enough to be a full-time job.

"I would work a full day and then come home and work on Warrior," McCollum said.

But once Warrior found its second calling, event promotion, it has been full time and full speed ahead.

Warrior promoted its first event, a snocross race in Steamboat Springs, in late December last year. It was during that event that Billet realized things were going well.

"I looked up in the stands and there were 1,100 people," he said. "I thought, 'These people all came to something we did.'"

Warrior promoted several other events in the winter, including a couple at the Moffat County Fairgrounds.

"We've had a lot of support locally," Billet said. "There are a lot of fans of the company in Craig and we couldn't have done it without them."

Snocross riders have started to pick up sponsorships from Warrior on a national basis. The company now sponsors 15 riders, including Oksana Burkhardt, a female rider who competes on the national level.

In the spring, Vallem qualified to race hill cross at the Winter X Games VIII this January.

In December, the racing circuit that Warrior broke through with as an apparel sponsor will be taken over by Warrior as WSF or Warrior Snocross Freestyle.

The apparel part of the business also is growing. They have moved into a warehouse in Fruita, Colo., to be able to handle the orders coming in. Last year, the company sold 50 competition coat. This year, they have 200 ordered.

"It really has become something I never would have imagined," McCollum said. "We made some wrong turns here and there but it is going well now."

In the future, the company's founders hope to break more into the summer extreme sports. Last summer, they promoted seven freestyle motorcycle events and hope to do more this summer. They also hope to expand their apparel line nationally.

"The great thing about the term 'warrior' is that anybody can make it what they want to," Billet said. "You can be a warrior in any aspect of life."

The Warrior 'W', which Billet said he saw hundreds of designs from McCollum until they found the right one, has really caught on.

"Everybody likes the 'W'," he said. "Josh did a great job with it."

The local connections to Craig are still visible as several of the wrestlers on last year's state championship team wore Warrior hats. Wrestling coach Roman Gutierrez was one of the original unofficial sponsored members of Warrior Apparel.

"We gave him a sweatshirt pretty early on," Billet said. "Coach and the program's tradition helped create our company."

As the company continues to grow, the first winter promotion will take place in Steamboat Springs Dec. 27 and 28. Warrior also plans to have an event in Craig in January. Vallem will represent Craig and Warrior Competition Apparel Jan. 24-27 in Aspen.

"I don't know if I could have ever imagined that our ideas on the couch in high school could have turned into a business," Billet said. "But after the small victories and ups and downs we're starting to realize a dream."


David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or dpressgrove@craigdailypress.com.

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