Not all camouflage is created equal.
Emily Degan (ACCT ’13) was never drawn to the brown-tree camouflage clothing popular with woodsmen and teenage boys, the pixelated tan created for desert troops, or the pink camo for female hunters.
In launching her women’s field apparel company — Saint Hugh, named for the patron saint of hunters — Degan had duck hunters such as herself in mind. And pink just wouldn’t cut it. Ducks, unlike deer, can see in living color.
So the New Orleans native picked up her camera and headed into the Louisiana wetlands. There, she took thousands of photos of marsh grass. She studied the images intensely, and even time-lapsed them to see how the colors changed over the course of the day and seasons. Finally, she came up with a muted herringbone motif of black, russet and golden tan. Meant to emulate blades of marsh grass, her resulting print is attractive while effectively providing camouflage for waterfowlers.
Degan’s hunting experience stretches back into childhood. As a 10-year-old, she was excited to be awakened along with her older sister in what seemed like the middle of the night to go duck hunting. They were the only girls, often the only kids, to be invited along with her lawyer dad and his pals.
“Most of the time we found it to be pretty boring — cold and rainy and terrible conditions,” Degan admits. “But we really liked being included. We felt like we were part of an exclusive club.”
Later, when she was a teenager and received her own shotgun for Christmas, she felt more responsibility to contribute. “That’s when I fell in love with the sport,” she adds. “Being out in nature, foraging for your own food, then taking it home and cleaning and preparing the ducks. On a fundamental level, you really appreciate where your food is coming from. And that gives you a different respect for nature.”
Early on, she wanted to do something about the fieldwear. “My experience with other hunting products on the market was that they just took their men’s patterns and cut them down to fit women. They didn’t think about product specifics that women hunters would need because we have a different anatomy,” she says. For instance, women’s collarbones protrude and they don’t have as much padding at the spot where they hold their shotguns. That tends to leave them with bruising on the upper chest and shoulder.
One of the first things Degan did after taking a deep breath and leaving her partner-track position at Deloitte in Chicago was to research new textile technologies. She found a compressive 3-D fabric that was lightweight, machine-washable and shock-absorbent. She uses it in her jackets and vests to line the upper chest and shoulders. Polartec fleece provides warmth through the rest of the body. Other details include sleeves cut slim to better fit a woman’s arm and an asymmetrical zipper, placed to prevent it from snagging something at an inopportune moment and specific to whether the buyer is right- or left-handed.
She launched her new business last fall, selling her clothing through the Saint Hugh website (www.SaintHugh.co) as well as at pop-ups at events such as the Sheep Show in Reno, Nevada, the Houston Safari Club, and the Colonial Cup equestrian race in Camden, South Carolina. Her family often helps out when she has an event. And best friend Jackie Dai (FIN ’13) is such a big supporter that she has flown in on several occasions from New York, where she works in business development, to assist Degan in the unglamorous, behind-the-scenes work of lugging tubs of clothing, setting up the display, and putting in the long, long sales hours at the booth.
Degan hopes that women hunters find her Saint Hugh apparel stylish enough to wear both in the field and for casual fashion. “I was always frustrated by the fact that the options for women were extremely limited,” she says. “And to the extent that they did exist, it was nothing you’d want to wear for anything but hunting because it was not the most attractive apparel.”
That seemed wasteful to Degan. But she has one more, unexpected, purpose in creating smart-looking attire. She’s hoping also to appeal to non-hunters.
“If we could change the way that people picture hunters by introducing field apparel into the public’s everyday life, perhaps women would feel empowered to go out and hunt,” she says. “Perhaps there are women out there who would otherwise be hunters if they didn’t have this perception of it as being such a man’s sport.”
Call it a (marsh)grass roots movement — changing the culture one jacket at a time.