As Jack Weil bumped across the dusty, parched plains of eastern Colorado in 1926 traveling from Chicago, he saw the small silhouette of Denver underneath the snow-laden Rocky Mountains and said to himself he was arriving at someplace special.
Indeed, special things were awaiting him, not the least of which was a business he’d start that would define the look of the West in the minds of millions.
“He was totally independent, a classic entrepreneur, passionate and a workaholic,” says Steve Weil, Jack’s grandson. “A true pioneer.”
Jack, who had previously worked for a clothing wholesaler based in Chicago, fell deeply in love with Colorado and the West—so much so that he felt that those who worked the land deserved a look in clothing that befit the landscape’s rugged beauty. He soon began flirting with designs to give cowboys, ranchers and farmers their own distinctive look.
Yes, they already had jeans, hats and boots, but for Jack, it was first about the shirt.
He designed a better-fitting, slim shirt that accentuated the body and was less likely to get snagged while riding the range. The shirt yokes broadened the shoulders; the flap pockets fastened with snaps that would hold better than buttons. And he eventually developed the signature diamond snaps and sawtooth pockets that defined the entire industry of Western wear.
In 1946 he opened his own wholesale business, Rockmount Ranch Wear, in lower downtown Denver on Wazee Street, and the style swept through the West like a furious wildfire.
“This was a new category in the ’40s,” Steve says. “He also made the first commercially produced bolo ties, and many of his innovations are standards in the industry.”
Steve’s father, Jack B., joined Rockmount in 1954, as demand expanded east of the Mississippi River. Then in 1981, Steve jumped on-board to extend the company’s reach internationally. The family opened the flagship retail store in the same building as its wholesale operation in 2005.
Today Rockmount sells in roughly 2,500 stores. “We’re even in Antarctica,” Steve says. “The other day some Australians came in and said the only reason they came to Denver was to see the store.”
The famous flock to the style, too. “When Ang Lee [movie director] was making ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ he called us wanting our shirts in the film,” Steve says. “I don’t know how he came to know us, but he likes our work and we like his work.”
Eric Stonestreet, who stars in the hit TV show “Modern Family,” is a fan of Rockmount’s apparel, along with Robert Redford, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Anne Hathaway and many others who often stop by the shop.
And Jack, well he never rested on his laurels—or anything else for that matter. He continued working and was believed to be the world’s oldest CEO until his death in 2008 at age 107.
“Some people say he lived so long because of good genes, but I say it was because of good shirts,” Steve says with a smile.