The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
At 52 years old, Trent Bush has founded more than six different brands, many outdoors-related, and worked as a product designer for dozens more. It’s likely no surprise that his latest endeavor, technical adventure apparel brand Artilect, is based in entrepreneur- and recreation-happy Boulder. What does make him different, though, is that he’s actually from the transplant-filled mecca that U.S. News & World Report has twice in recent years named America’s best place to live.
Boulder’s melting pot of forward-thinking industries and outdoor pastimes has certainly influenced Bush’s evolution from running a snowboarding clothing business out of his parents’ house as a Boulder High School student to founding Artilect, which is rapidly growing its international footprint. At just a couple of years old, the sustainability-focused brand has been lauded as an innovator in the outdoor industry, earning awards from Outside Business Journal and Backcountry Magazine and recognition as a finalist in the ISPO Brand New awards at ISPO Munich, the world’s largest sports trade show.
That's only $1 per issue!
Artilect’s early success stems from Bush’s drive to see where boundaries lie and then push past them, a never-satisfied approach to life he learned, in large part, from the town he’s always called home. “Boulder has always been very progressive,” Bush says. “There’s a spirit of place that has always just really felt like it was the right place for me to be.”
The Early Years
In some ways, Bush was destined to build his career in the shadow of the Flatirons. His great-grandparents first arrived in Boulder in the early 1900s. One great-grandfather opened Santarelli’s Corner, a bar later renamed the Lucky Inn, on Pearl Street. His grandfather worked in Boulder County’s hard rock mines before becoming a caretaker for lands that now house Palo Park. His other grandfather and grandmother worked at the Boulder Theater on its opening night before starting a restaurant, Bush’s Drive-In, in a building where Mustard’s Last Stand now sits. “Everybody in my lineage has had to do it for themselves,” Bush says. “It’s just that spirit of doing it your own way.”
In the late 1960s, his father, an avid backpacker and fisherman, became one of the first employees at Boulder-based outdoor brand Frostline. “Our lives revolved around Frostline,” Bush says. When his family wasn’t camping or skiing—and when preteen Bush wasn’t skateboarding with his older brother, Troy—everyone was surrounded by nylon and goose down for the brand’s sew-it-yourself outdoor kits. They also modeled for its catalog. “That’s where I got a glimpse into apparel,” Bush says.
In the early 1980s, another major influence entered his life: snowboarding. The sport was just starting to gain traction on the world stage—the first National Snow Surfing Championship occurred in 1982—and Bush quickly fell in love with the marriage of skiing and skateboarding.
By the time he was in eighth grade, in 1985, Bush had a job working at surf shop Wave Rave, whose owner he and Troy knew and had talked into carrying snowboarding gear. After their mom signed a waiver to allow them to work underage, the two brothers hawked wares in exchange for $2.30 per hour and free skateboard wheels. The gig gave Bush an inside look at the style developing in snowboarding apparel—a neon aesthetic he describes as “clownish.” Bush, his brother, and a friend named Amani King thought a street-chic, skateboarding vibe would better suit the burgeoning sport, so the young entrepreneurs started Twist.
In the summer of 1988, Twist began selling T-shirts screen-printed in the Bushes’ garage. Soon after, the trio bolstered the line with fleece pullovers sewn, with some help from Bush’s mom, in the basement. They sold their gear at Wave Rave, set up tables on the Hill to catch the college crowd, and attended the snowsports industry’s biggest trade show. Over a seven-year period, Twist grew to be one of the biggest snowboard apparel brands globally—second only to Burton Snowboards in specialty store penetration, Bush says.
Despite the outward success, however, the back-end financials were in a rough state. Funding wasn’t easy to come by in that pre-tech era, and there was no family money to lean on. In May 1996, Twist lost its primary backer and went bust. “We went from a sunglasses launch party at the Spy Bar in New York City with Interview Magazine to not having financing two days later,” Bush says. “It was the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.”
The Next Phase
Though Twist had run its course, at just 25 years old (and soon to be married to Stacy, a competitive snowboarder and former Twist-sponsored athlete), Bush was down but far from out. Despite completing just one year of college, his real-world experience and connections meant he had no trouble landing a job as a softgoods creative manager with Burton. Troy went to work for their former competitor too, and there, they helped to create a snowboard and streetwear sub-brand dubbed Analog. Bush also co-designed and patented a then-novel targeted insulation system. “Flying around the world and designing things was cool,” Bush says, but he missed Twist—not so much the company itself, “but everything that came along with founding and running a brand.”
By then, in mid-2001, snowboarding had grown up significantly: It had become an Olympic sport a few years prior, and the Flying Tomato was well on his way to Double McTwisting into snowsports history. Given the sport’s progress, Bush thought the world was ready for a technical performance snowboarding brand. To meet that need, he started Section in 2001 and oversaw product design and development for both softgoods and hardgoods until it was acquired by fellow snowboarding brand Technine in 2007.
Over the next decade, he broadened his professional portfolio to include designing products for the likes of Oakley, Outdoor Research, Fenix Outdoor (Fjällräven’s parent company), Mountain Hardwear, and Black Diamond. Despite these brands having headquarters all over the United States, Bush’s primary residence remained in Boulder, even though it often meant flying to work on Sunday nights and getting home on Friday afternoons. He stayed in part to avoid uprooting his family, which had grown to include two children—“four generations at one high school is kind of cool,” he says—but also because Boulder provided “a certain level of awareness of what people are actually doing outside, [which you need] to be authentic to the products you’re making.”
Come 2019, however, Bush was tired of commuting and once again ready to tap into his entrepreneurial roots. “My ability to work in a capacity for another brand that wasn’t mine, that I didn’t have that total control over—there was an expiration date on that,” he says with a laugh.
The Latest (& Greatest?)
Starting a technical outdoor apparel brand in the middle of a global pandemic wasn’t easy, though it did lend itself to a great rent deal on a Pearl Street headquarters: In December 2020, he launched Artilect from an office that once housed the ballet studio where his mom had practiced her pirouettes as a girl. It also sits kitty-corner from where his great-grandfather’s bar, the Lucky Inn, once stood.
To differentiate its goods, Artilect layers multiple materials (Nuyarn merino and Responsible Down Standard–certified down among them) and technologies like moisture management and thermo-regulation on top of one another for elevated performance. These components work well alone, Bush says, but when worn together, “magic happens.”
That’s largely due to Artilect’s proprietary technologies. Among them is High and Dry, a waterproof, breathable treatment that is accomplished, crucially, without PFAs, the so-called forever chemicals that don’t naturally break down and are thought to cause cancer. “If you’re going to start a car company in 2022 or 2021, you’re not going to start with a gas engine,” he says, emphasizing Artilect’s commitment to environmentally friendly practices. “We can’t wait to make a change. We have to be on the front end.”
Bush says Artilect apparel—which it sells directly on its website as well as through retailers such as Boulder’s Neptune Mountaineering and Bentgate Mountaineering in Golden—is for everyone, from hardcore shredders to outsidesy (in industry parlance) city folk. Yet with signature lines like its Flatiron baselayers and Darkhorse accessories, named after one of Boulder’s iconic dive bars, it’s clear what locale serves as inspiration.
“Boulder is not just a great place to live with great things to do. It’s science and technology and entrepreneurism and frontier spirit and education—all of those things coalescing,” Bush says. “That’s what Boulder has always been to me. It’s been the place where whatever is next would happen.”