We Got This America! Meet the CEO and Western Alumnus Who’s Changing the World One T-Shirt at a Time

By Yara Clark (’22)

Brist Manufacturing designs and manufactures apparel for companies and brands around the world. What makes this local, Bellingham-based company unique is that Brist is dedicated to using sustainable systems to create apparel in order to change the textile industry. 

CEO Brendan Pape (’11) is a Western Washington University graduate, donor, and member of the WWU Alumni Association. He credits Western as not only the root of his education, but as the foundation for his company. 

At Western, Pape and his colleagues, who are also Viking alumni, didn’t just learn about running a business, with the help of their faculty and fellow students, they started one.

As a student, Pape worked as an intern at the IDEA lab in downtown Bellingham. “They helped me learn about bylaws, starting a business, and their framework. Being surrounded by professionals to lean on and bounce ideas off of was really a turning point for me,” Pape said. 
When he was a sophomore at Western, he launched a small clothing business called Disidual. Disidual aimed to create textile products in a sustainable way to limit waste. Pape and his peers learned from the IDEA lab and by the experience of selling products to peers and to the university.

“We wanted to help other businesses create brands with the sustainable system we had created.” Pape explained, referring to the need for a sustainable system to create textiles and minimize waste. “The textile industry as a whole is the second biggest polluter next to the oil industry. Over-production is a problem because large brands are required to overbuy which feeds over consumerism.” 

Pape and his colleagues got to work in order to solve this issue together. They designed a system where they develop fewer products with a quicker turnaround time. This allows them to replenish their stocks at a faster rate when needed. 

“Throughout my journey at Western, the school was so supportive. One of our biggest successes was when the school agreed to sell our products in the bookstore. The store manager helped us learn how to nail things down so that we could go out to other businesses and clients and really know what we were doing,” Pape said. 

The faculty at Western also gave Disidual the platform it needed to grow into something bigger, but it was not just faculty members who gave Pape and his peers a boost. The student body provided opportunities for Disidual to sell and test their products, designs, and marketing strategies. 

“The students really helped this take off with their support and resources, and through their articles written in the Western Front,” according to Pape. 

Brist Manufacturing was founded in 2010 with its headquarters located in Bellingham. The company is dedicated to creating sustainable products with a quick turnaround time for other businesses. Pape and his colleagues also assist clients on the creative side, offering product design. 

About one-third of Brist’s employees are Western Washington University graduates. 
“I think just coming out of college, you come with this level of being very unbiased, and I think that has been extremely important to Brist. Experience is important, but inexperience is just as important. It makes you think more openly about how things work and how to solve a problem,” said Pape.

Pape created long-term bonds at Western that he will never forget. He continues to stay in touch with some of his favorite teachers, including marketing professor Dan Purdy, and engineering professor John Musassey. 

“I came out of Western not just with an awesome business, but with a huge community of lifelong friends. It’s cool to see what they are able to accomplish,” Pape said.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brist has been giving back to local businesses. The company started a campaign called “We Got This America.” When businesses sign up, they sell shirts emblazoned with this theme, and then receive 50% of the revenue. 

“The goal was to encourage and remind people that we still have the ability to support local businesses and to remind them that they can be super impactful in their local communities,” said Pape. 

So far, over 150 businesses have signed up for this campaign including Pure Bliss, Red Horn Brewery (located in Austin, TX), and San Juan Seltzer. 

Pape planted his roots at Western and found the support he needed to create a successful company. Now, he gives back to the community in times of need and remains a role model for students today. 

He offered this advice to Western students and alumni as they work through this time: “Think creatively, and move fast. There is always a time to plan, and during times like this, you can’t be overly ‘planful,’ you have to be flexible with all of this uncertainty. Think outside of the box and be agile.” 

Brist is currently partnering with the WWU Alumni Association to manufacture a Paint B’ham Blue welcome kit for new students that will include a neck gaiter, stickers, a coupon book, Viking crowns, and more.