Sarah Calhoun’s name is likely praised multiple times a day by women across the nation whose lives include a mix of work and play that requires a rugged pair of work pants. Calhoun is the founder of Red Ants Pants - the only work pants designed specifically to fit a woman’s body.
“ I was young and naive - and probably strong willed - enough to say ‘I will’ and just jumped in.”
Calhoun has been no stranger to hard work since her early childhood. She grew up raising llamas with her parents on a working farm in rural Connecticut. After graduating from Gettysburg College, she went to work as an Outward Bound Instructor teaching young people leadership skills in an outdoor setting, and as a trail crew member, spending weeks at a time performing physically demanding labor in a wilderness area. Inspired to move to Montana by Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky, Sarah also spent some time peeling logs in a lumber yard and grooming ski trails outside Bozeman. Throughout all of her jobs, she loved the work. She also got incredibly sick of wearing men’s work pants - so she designed pants that would fit, function and flatter working women:
“Women have hips and thighs. I have those hips and thighs. I was just never comfortable working in pants that were designed for a man’s body and were only marginally functional for me - and I knew other women felt the same way.”
Calhoun began approaching major work wear manufacturers about the possibility of coming out with a line of women’s work pants designed for form AND function: the response was lackluster.
“Finally one guy said ‘if you’re really serious about it, start your own thing.’ I was young and naive - and probably strong willed - enough to say ‘I will’ and just jumped in.”
And jump in she did. In 2006, Red Ants Pants was officially founded in White Sulphur Springs, Montana where the storefront, distribution center, and international headquarters all reside in an historic saddle shop. Known for their grass roots marketing efforts, including ‘Tour de Pants,’ the direct sales business model has proven effective, even in tough economic times.
Calhoun’s hard work has brought her national recognition as the 2012 National Women in Business Champion for the Small Business Association. In 2011 she was invited by President Obama to attend a White House forum on jobs and economic development after serving as a US Delegate to the APEC Women in Business Summit hosted by Secretary Hillary Clinton in San Francisco. Closer to home, she was honored when Governor Schweitzer named her the 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year for the State of Montana. Calhoun and her company have been featured in many national publications including Entrepreneur, National Geographic, Delta Sky, Country Woman, Sunset, and Airstream Life.
Calhoun has been called a “revolutionary figure in rural business today” and a “powerhouse of inspiration for women in business.” Her dynamic style and inspiring experiences as an entrepreneur make her a highly sought after keynote speaker. She has given two TEDx talks, dozens of keynote addresses, and has been featured on national television programs such as CNBC, CNN, and Bloomberg.
In 2011, Calhoun’s creative mind needed more exercise and thus was born the first annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival, where 6,000 fans converge in a pasture outside White Sulphur Springs to celebrate rural Montana and all its glory. Over the years, festival attendees have enjoyed headliners including Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, and Charley Pride. The Red Ants Pants Foundation was formed as the non-profit branch of the project, in support of women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and rural communities. The festival continues its success into its fifth year this July 23-26, 2015 with hopes to exceed the record-setting 11,000 attendees of 2014.
Calhoun’s entrepreneurial savvy and success has attracted notice nationwide - most recently she was one of 100 business leaders invited to the White House for a small business summit in May 2015. But, while she has risen to the top echelons of success as a rural entrepreneur, Calhoun is paying it forward by actively encouraging and mentoring other women starting their own businesses.