This week we dive deep into the “life at the lake” vibe with Spencer Barrett, co-founder of Great Lakes Northern Outfitter and Apparel. We get a look at what it is like to begin an amazing business with some great memories, a lot of hard work and a dream!

Spencer Barrett, co-founder of Great Lakes

Many of us in the Great Lakes region have grown up either near a lake, or have spent a lot of time in a lake. Fond memories of campfires, boating, swimming and spending time with our toes in the sand carry with us throughout our lives, and get is through those colder months!

Spencer Barret and co-founder, David Burke, were childhood friends and “basically raised at the lake,”. Equipped with those fond memories of time at the lake and a bold idea, this pair of amazing entrepreneurs have been able to create a thriving business from one simple premise: life is better at the lake!

David Burke (right) and Spencer Barret (left) co-founders of Great Lakes Northern Outfitter

They began a little over six years ago in early 2012, selling t-shirts from their cars, working hard toward their goal and never giving up. Since then, they’ve been able to create something worth mentioning – so we did!

How did it all start?

Spencer grew up spending summers at his cabin on Round Lake in Hayward, Wisconsin where spent nights around the campfire, swam, counted stars and spent time with family and friends. Now, years later, he, David and the whole Great Lakes team are bringing that amazing “lake culture” to all of us!

“We really saw an opportunity to create a company that represented this lifestyle, this kind of lake culture. We felt that we wanted to be different from other brands out there that didn’t have the same connection and spirit that we did, being raised in that kind of culture. We wanted to take a different approach and create high-quality, timeless apparel that people could be proud to wear, and that really resonated with the lake culture lifestyle.”

Beginning as a pair of seniors in college around the fourth of July, Spencer and David created their initial design, started a facebook page, “literally sold out of our cars”, and hand-delivered their orders to customers. After graduation, they created a website, expanded their collection and have been working hard ever since!

How would you Describe Lake Culture?

“Lake Culture is this “Escape to the Lake” mentality, a reliever of stressors from everyday life. A place to get away, to focus on what is really important – family, friends and personal health.”

For Spencer this was really about getting away from technology, enjoying nature and having those values from childhood to adulthood. The importance of getting away from it all is apparent in this amazing Lake Culture apparel, as the designs and graphics all depict the dazzling and stunning imagery of sailboats, canoeing, pine trees, and the Great Lakes signature, the Loon bird.

Minnesota genuine leather coaster from Great Lakes, featuring a Loon!

“The Loon is our logo, it is Minnesota’s state bird. It’s one of the most iconic birds in the Midwest. Any time you go up to the cabin, the Loon call is one of those noises that you don’t forget. It’s one of those sounds that we would often hear at the cabin at night. It makes you stop and pay attention, and we like to think that our clothes can do the same. The Loon was a no-brainer for us.”

Share your Story with Great Lakes!

On Great Lakes’ website, you can read about Spencer and David’s stories and what inspires them in their apparel line. You can also share your own story to the Great Lakes community!

“We started this brand to create a community of what we call “lake-minded” people. Those who have that shared experience of growing up around the lake and those good times that they have had. We really look internally at Great Lakes and what we like, what we want to see and what resonates with us to inspire our clothing, but we love to hear from other people about those things that they remember. What are the things that we can reflect those moments or help others resonate with us and what we’re trying to do.”

Some adorable and gorgeous stickers inspired by life at the lake!
A Lake-Inspired 4th of July print (available in 8×10, 16×20, 24×32, 36×48 and note card A6)
16oz Great Lakes Tervis Tumbler

What do YOU love about the lake?

Tell us more about the Freshwater Initiative?

Great Lakes’ Freshwater Initiative is “an ongoing and collaborative campaign to partner with various organizations tackling different issues that ultimately help preserve our beautiful lakes,” – Great Lakes Collection

“It is new as of this year,” says Spencer. “It is our give-back program that we’ve wanted to launch for a long time. We’re really excited about it! Each yeah we will pick a different organization focused on lake preservation or conservation, and then we will create a different product for that initiative. Then we donate a percentage of our proceeds to that organization.”

This year, Great Lakes has partnered with Save the Boundary Waters based in Minnesota. At the time of this article, they have been able to raise around $5,000.00 for Save the Boundary Waters’ organization!

You go Great Lakes and Save the Boundary Waters!

“This year we will be launching a sweatshirt and winter hat for Save the Boundary Waters,” says Spencer. “We want to push their message along and help make a difference.”

Swimming into Summertime

New to the Great Lakes Collection is their handsome line of men’s swimwear!

“Our newly launched line of men’s swimsuits are made entirely out of recycled water bottles, so that is a process that we are trying to replicate into other categories. This adds a whole new level to our goal for sustainable apparel. Being able to turn waste into wearables is a fun new initiative that we are really excited about!”

A whole new take on swim and sustainability!

What’s Next for Great Lakes?

“The sustainability side of our business is something we’re really excited about, August third we’re hosting a big cleanup on the North Shore in Duluth, on Lake Superior,”.

We’re teaming up with the GroundsKeepers to clean up Lake Superior, and we need your help to remove all the trash we possibly can! We’ll have the gloves, bags, water, snacks, raffle prizes and a free limited edition tote so all you’ll need to bring is some friends and a sturdy pair of shoes.

– Great Lakes’ Summer Events Calendar

Sign up to help clean up the lake HERE!

At the time of this interview, Great Lakes has around one-hundred participants signed up to come out and help clean up the lake. “We’re going to walk the shores and pick up trash. We can even send the plastic that we find back to our manufacturers that we can repurpose into apparel or other gear.”


You may also be able to go into a Great Lakes store very soon, as Spencer and the Great Lakes team will work to expand and grow their amazing business.

“We will be working on our presence in retail stores, and then also on our first flagship store based here initially in Minnesota. We also hope to expand into other states as well.”

Thanks, Great Lakes and Spencer Barrett for spending some time with us here at Great Lakes Made!



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