Town Shirt (noun)
1. The cleanest article of clothing that’ll score a thru-hiker a ride to town
2. A startup company creating wild and fun hooded sun shirts designed to connect the hiking community
When Town Shirt Founder Dylan ‘Pickle’ Tonkin was in need of a hitch to the nearest resupply on the Appalachian Trail, donning his ‘town shirt’ was absolutely critical, if he wanted to get picked up, he said.
Two years later, Pickle went on to complete the Pacific Crest Trail too. (Pickle, as in dill pickle, is reminiscent of Dylan’s childhood nickname ‘Dyl’.)
As is common among thru-hikers, the friends Pickle made on the trail quickly became family. “Until I found the hiking community, I struggled to find my people and where I fit in.”
When Dylan left the trail and the community he found there, post-trail blues set in. “This is the community that made me the best version of myself. I wasn’t able to feel connected to the non-hiker community. I would miss that time I spent on the trail.”
In his quest to fill this void and revive this bond, he launched Town Shirt out of his Baltimore, Maryland home.
“It’s always important to remember we get to go hiking,” Dylan said. “It’s hard work, it’s tough, but it is a vacation. Hawaiian shirts fell in line with being on vacation. And while some are great, they never really spoke to the hiking community.”
To accurately embody this hailed hiker vacation, Town Shirt designs one-of-kind, fun and vibrant sun shirts.
“I want them to be true to trail with realistic representations of plants, flowers, animals and trail signs. I want that visual representation to connect the person wearing it, or the person seeing it, with the community. That’s why the designs are all very detailed. It has to be a true representation to make that true connection.”
Dylan extensively researches the images and symbols found on the Town Shirt sun hoodies. “Then I give the designers a 3rd grade diagram of what my vision is, and they run with it,” he laughed. “The designers are the real heroes and heroines. They blow me out of the water with their creativity and talent. I’m just like the ‘support staff’.”
Town Shirt’s first design was an homage to PCT Trail Angels Terrie and Joe Anderson, owners of the popular hiker refuge, Casa de Luna. Dylan said it was a small way of thanking the couple for opening their home to an estimated 20,000 hikers over 20 years.
The design aims to bring back memories of the arid desert and the manzanita forest behind the Anderson’s home. “They helped me pick the print, and with their permission to use the name [Casa de Luna], we agreed a portion of proceeds from this design would go toward protecting the PCT.”
The year after Dylan visited Casa de Luna on his thru-hike, the Andersons shut down their retreat for good. “Town Shirt allowed me the opportunity to keep hikers connected to Casa de Luna. The community is the purpose, and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish through these designs.
The overall construction of the Town Shirt is simple. There is no reason to complicate it, Dylan said. The unisex, hooded sun shirts have a handy kangaroo pocket, thumb hole cuffs, and a graphic print that people can relate to.
When I asked Dylan about the challenges of launching a clothing brand … “Literally every single thing,” he laughed. “I have no fashion or textile experience, no real graphic design experience. It’s really been a problem-solving adventure where I had to know my weaknesses and find the people that can fill in the gaps.”
“I definitely see other small businesses showing support in my success. They’ve been instrumental in giving me an understanding of the way this works and making sure I’m not missing anything.”
Oftentimes, Dylan can’t believe how forthcoming and supportive fellow startups are. “If we don’t look at one another as competition, but instead as family, we will get so much farther. There’s plenty of customers out there, so let’s help each other out.”
Even though the brand is still in its infancy, Dylan already feels successful. “People will say Oh, that shirt reminds me of… and proceed to tell me the story. I’m immediately best friends with that person! That connection I made is the reward, that’s exactly why this is a thing.”
Between owning his own safety consulting company and his new role as Dad, Town Shirt was put on a “very molasses schedule” until recently. “Now we’re full steam ahead.”
Dylan joked he’s holding on for dear life. “But I do have ambition and a very understanding wife who loves the shirts,” he laughed.
Hikers near and far, as well as Dylan’s own trail family, have been encouraging as well. “They think I’m a little crazy and will ask what are you doing in fashion, Pickle? But, they’re very supportive.”
“To be able to look at a mountain laurel print and remember all the time you spent hiking through rain with other soaking wet hikers. Or to see that desert mariposa and remember that much-needed trail magic. Or that manzanita forest behind Casa de Luna where Terrie gives everyone a hug no matter how smelly. That’s my goal. To simply stay connected to the community and the trails we love.”