Southern Style: Duo seeks to rebrand ‘Bluegrass State’

Columbia junior Will Hixson started Bluegrass Lore his freshman year at WKU. Hixson, an elementary education major, got into t-shirt printing as a hobby, and now has a fully fledged business built around it. “Sororities are definitely my most stressful clients,” said Hixson. Josh Newell/HERALD


It was spring 2014 when Adair County High School senior Ethan Brown approached Columbia freshman Will Hixson with the idea of creating a design for his Southern prep T-shirt company.

Starting with nothing but Hixson’s experience in graphic design, the two partnered to create a clothing business.

“I never really thought about owning my own business up until this point,” Brown, Columbia native and 20-year-old sophomore at WKU, said. “It was something that I was interested in as a hobby.”

With limited ideas for what to name the business, Hixson used Google to mine for ideas.

“Ethan didn’t know what to call it,” Hixson, now a 20-year-old junior at WKU, said while snickering. “I wanted it to have the word ‘bluegrass’ in it, and I knew I didn’t want to use the word ‘Southern,’ so I Googled synonyms and found ‘lore.’”

After officially establishing Bluegrass Lore, Brown and Hixson began producing their ideas and designs for affordable Southern prep clothing despite starting without funds.

Brown said he reasoned that if he was going to spend $40 on a shirt, he would want to spend it on something he would wear. He ran with this idea to make sure Bluegrass Lore merchandise was both affordable and desirable.

Completing their first order among friends and family, Brown and Hixson decided to expand to an online store with the help of Fremont, New Hampshire photojournalism junior Leah Johnson. “I thought their business was cool because I’m so used to hearing the stereotype about broke college students, and it was interesting to see two college students producing something they were passionate about,” Johnson said. “They were so different from typical people our age.”

Originally planning to do just a photo story on Bluegrass Lore for her photojournalism class, Johnson eventually found herself traveling to Columbia with Brown on her own time to shoot pictures for the company’s website on his family’s farm.

Johnson said she was willing to help in any way she could and that she enjoyed taking time to express something Brown and Hixson were passionate about through her own work.

With their store’s website up and running, Brown and Hixson started visiting different businesses and promoting Bluegrass Lore on social media. Through social media, they made contact with Bluetique, a Bowling Green boutique that became the first vendor willing to sell their merchandise. 

“When it comes to owning a business, you can’t be afraid to fail,” Brown said. “We had Bluetique follow us on social media so we decided to message them, and it turned into us selling our product in their store.”

From there, Brown and Hixson watched as their business began to expand from Southern Threads in Bowling Green to Hallmark in Campbellsville and Glasgow.

“At one point, Ethan and I had never seen so much money in a bank account,” Hixson said.

Hixson also recalled the day they visited Southern Threads to meet with the manager, and there was an entire setup dedicated to Bluegrass Lore merchandise.

Among their memorable moments, Brown and Hixson agreed one of their favorites was when the lead singer of Sundy Best, a country music band, posted a photo wearing a Bluegrass Lore shirt.

“It’s so surreal, honestly,” Brown said. “To see someone wearing your shirt and knowing they would pay money to wear something you created is such an amazing feeling.”

After the original establishment of Bluegrass Lore in 2014, the business underwent changes in fall 2015 when Brown decided to split from the company due to personal reasons.

“It was never anything Will did; I just lost passion,” Brown said. “When I don’t feel something anymore, it’s really hard for me to fake it.

Although Hixson is now on his own, he has continued to run the business in his free time and has even designed some T-shirts for sororities and fraternities at WKU recently.

“I hope to get back on track with pursuing stores and getting more involved since it’s hard with school,” he said. “I really want to continue building online and in retail.”

As Bluegrass Lore progresses, Brown has high hopes for Hixson as his former partner runs Bluegrass Lore independently.

“I felt comfortable leaving it to Will since he was the backbone to it. I was always the face of marketing, but he was the person who made it happen,” Brown said. “I think it would be cool if it got big and took off one day because then I could say that I started it.”

The story incorrectly referred to Brown as a “Columbia High School senior.” Brown attended Adair County High School which is located in Columbia. The Herald regrets the error.