Meet Chris Johnson - founder of Zoo City Apparel
Chris started Zoo city Apparel in 2007 as a custom printing and design shop for clothing. He has since expanded his business into reail and wholesale markets that include local hipster fav Betty's Divine.
Chris was also a founding member of the Zootown Arts Community Center (ZACC) that has been an important anchor in the revival and redevelopment of Missoula's Northside district. ZACC, as member Holliday Jeremiassen puts it, "...prides itself on bringing art to the entire community, offering scholorships and other forms of assistance to families in need. Its a great way for emerging artists to learn how to market and sell their items in a local retail outlet."
Chris does just about everything he possibly can on his bike, with the help of a very cool trailer. But I'll let Chris tell it from here.
Why did you chose to be carfree in running your business?
If you do most of your moving about within Missoula, it's a no-brainer. This town is flat, easy to commute around in and has copious bike trails, paths, lanes and secret backways to ride. So there's a common sense aspect to it of course and then there's the moral/ethical reasoning that we all know so well and need not be repeated here. There's also a demonstration or evangelical sort of side to it of "Hey look at all this big, heavy-ass shit I just hauled on this trailer- you can do this too!". But, aside from all that, I just like to ride.
What have been the major obstacles and challenges of operating a business carfree?
It's hard to think of much.... Probably the lack of a vehicle for quick business trips outside of town. That usually requires either a car rental, or a commandeering of a friends truck. I've been working in fits and starts toward a small car share with friends. Typically, I'll help cover some costs of someones vehicle in exchange for getting use of it a few times a year when other options won't work. See that last question for a little more on this.
How did you decide to start your business?
I was a street vendor as a third side-job when I first came to town (another story involving bicycles), distributing a lot of stuff from Microcosm publishing and things like that. Street vending felt right to me so I decided to start printing my own clothing and from that first step the rest of this sprung up. My drive to operate a business stems from my desire to stay in Missoula- I love this place but it's a hard line getting paid enough to survive.
Are you carfree in all aspects of your life?
No. Is anybody? I'm not a hardliner when it comes to this (or much else in life) and I think that sort of attitude can turn people away from it. You have to recognize that a lot of internal combustion takes place to keep your daily American life in motion no matter how much you ride a bike. All the components of my clothes are sourced as close to Missoula as possible for this reason.
While I haven't owned a vehicle for years I do still use them. Cars and especially trucks have an "appropriate use" and I am certainly one to take full advantage of that where I can. I do enjoy getting out of the valley once in a while and a rig can make that happen when time is too short for a little bike tour. That's the main thing I use them for- recreation. And, this might seem paradoxical, but I actually enjoy driving and like cars quite a bit. Were money no object, I'd have a nice greasel rig parked in the yard for getting the really big chores done and for muddin around in. I just don't see where you need a vehicle for the vast majority of your daily tasks.