Why Bellwether Owner, Joshua Schmitz, Believes in the Power of Fashion

Joshua Schmitz has the energy, passion and dedication it takes to work hard every day and inspire those around him. Schmitz runs both Ruckus Apparel and Bellwether and has created something unique for people to be a part of through a community of empowering individuals. Born and raised in Colorado, Schmitz never thought he’d end up in fashion.

“I went to Wheat Ridge High School, played rugby overseas for a while, then returned stateside to attend the University of Wyoming on a rugby scholarship. I then returned home to Colorado and played for the Glendale Raptors for five years before I eventually retired and transitioned my energy and passion towards fashion and other business ventures,” explained Schmitz.

Furthermore, the idea to start a clothing company in the first place wasn’t the initial goal for Schmitz, but through a natural progression, Ruckus Apparel came to be and has soared into multiple dimensions.

“The big turning point for Ruckus was when we were approached by a buyer from Urban Outfitters. They wanted to place an order with us after he saw our clothing in a fashion show we put on. At the time, we honestly didn’t have a tax ID or anything of the sort. That initial order is what made us realize we needed to get it together and take this company seriously. It had the potential to be something incredible,” explained Schmitz. 
Schmitz in Ruckus tie dye

303 Magazine: What was your initial vision for Ruckus and Bellwether? 

Joshua Schmitz: Ruckus started out of that same inner calling to be unique. I wanted to have pieces for myself that no one else had. In 2009, I had a friend who let me screenprint after hours in exchange for some beers. I hustled and sold them out of the trunk of my car. In the beginning, I could have never imagined it would become what it is today.

Bellwether started in 2015 after we pulled Ruckus out of all our big-box retail accounts. We had a crazy vision of wanting our own flagship store for the brand. From the very beginning, I have always described Bellwether as an experiment. I was reading Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelly, the founders of IDEO, and they had this section about “experiment mentality” that stuck with me. The basis is, if you look at new projects as experiments, instead of life or death/pass or fail scenarios, it opens up your creativity. Then, all the sudden it’s not a huge deal if you fail at something, you just have to try again differently.

That’s where the crazy ideas started coming in. We were like, it would be cool if you could drink whiskey while you shopped. It would be cool if we had a tattoo parlor. It be cool if we had a barbershop. I have friends that don’t drink — what about serving coffee? All these ideas and creativity started flooding in when we removed the idea of “failing.” After four years, Bellwether is still very much that — a crazy experiment and seeing how far we can take it.

303: What is your mission for Ruckus Apparel? What do you hope people take away from it? 

JS: The mission for both Ruckus and Bellwether has been to provide and project hope and confidence in a broken world. Especially within fashion, you have a lot of creeps with other agendas that slime their way around and take advantage of the marketplace and the people in it. From Instagram knockoff brands, creepy photographers, unethical business owners and all sorts of other dark things. I want Ruckus and Bellwether to exist and confront those things head-on. Furthermore, to stay true to ourselves, and give others the hope and confidence to do the same.

What I want people to take away from it — or my prayer for the companies — is that if you’ve ever interacted with me personally, or any of my staff, ever bought from us, attended a party or stepped into Bellwether, you left that experience feeling encouraged, uplifted, included and challenged to be better tomorrow than you are today and begin to live that out.

Schmitz in barbershop

303: What makes Ruckus stand apart from other fashion companies? 

JS: For one, I didn’t go to fashion or business school. I double-majored in sociology and religion and had zero ideas about anything involving the rules of the fashion world. So, in a lot of ways, that helped me a ton because Ruckus was getting a lot of attention for how “out of the box” we were with our marketing, events, photoshoots, etc. The truth is I didn’t even know there was a box to begin with.

I’ve always wanted Ruckus to have a true lifestyle, culture and community feeling attached to it when you wear or interact with us. We are untraditional in our models, shoots, marketing — even our collection releases are unconventional in times and seasons. It’s hard to play by the rules if you never knew there were any and that’s given us a huge advantage.

The retail experience and experiment that is Bellwether is truly unlike anything else. It’s not only a boutique and flagship store for the brand, but also inside our walls there is a barbershop, a coffee house where we offer up over five different unique roasts of Ruckus coffee, a full bar experience with some of the best cocktails and beer selections in Denver, a private tattoo parlor, art space and concert venue that’s been host to some of the coolest and most unique concerts in Colorado — Noah Gundersen, Gothboi Clique, Crywolf, Beartooth, Vanna, Being As An Ocean, Anberlin, Movements and more to name a few.

We want Bellwether to feel like a living room as opposed to just a boutique. We want you to feel safe, at home, comfortable and confident to be creative, vulnerable, meet new people and have a great time.

303: Can you explain what Death Crew is?

JS: We believe that when dissected, life really only boils down to a few key elements and it’s outside of morality and religion. It really comes down to what you value and time management. We maintain that values and time management are the absolute defining characteristics that we as humans have. You see, time is the most precious commodity that we own. It’s more precious than gold, or oil, or water or any other thing we possess. Time is the one thing money can’t buy, and the one thing we can never get back.

Many people search endlessly for some complex magical formula to understand why some people are successful, and why others are not. However, it’s really not complex at all, it boils down to the concept of productivity — the ideology behind Death Crew. The amount of productivity can be simply measured when you apply the most amount of effort by the best of your abilities by the allotted time that you have. It’s about starting to look at your heartbeats as currency and starting to really judge yourself on how you’re spending them.

Death Crew is the belief that you have to give it your all. You have to pour your heart and soul into each task, no matter how big or how small it is. We believe that you have to make a commitment to yourself that you are going to do it right. Death Crew is a belief system that says, if my time here is limited, I need to live my life in a way where not a single heartbeat is wasted. It’s about investing that time wisely, it’s about spending that time right.

A lot of people trick themselves into thinking that what they do in life is beneficial, but then they get so frustrated when they don’t see the results that they want. You know you can say, “Oh, I went to the gym today and I’m better off because of it.” But the real question you have to ask yourself is, “What did I do in the gym today? What did I really do and how did I do it?” Honestly, it doesn’t matter that you were there, there is no credit for just showing up. It’s about your effort and doing the activity right.

Death Crew is about leaving a legacy when we’re dead that says, I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t even close, but at least I tried.

Schmitz in black shirt

303: Do you have any upcoming projects/events you can tell us about? 

JS: We just dropped the new Ruckus SS19 collection, as well as our official merch collaboration with Pabst Blue Ribbon. Both of those collections I am super proud of. The rest of August is pretty gnarly with events as well. We are hosting the Bellwether Four Year Anniversary Party on August 16. Man, time flies. I can’t believe it’s gonna be four years old already.

In addition, I partnered with my great friend, Liezyl, and her organization, Strength In The City. We are hosting a health and wellness festival in Sculpture Park on August 18, which benefits the non-profit Run Against Traffic.

Then, the secret of the year that’s been so hard to keep but much fun to plan. For the Ruckus 10 Year Anniversary Party on August 24, we are hosting a secret pool party and house show with Mad Decent. We are dropping secrets to the location all month. It might be the craziest and most fun event and celebration we have ever had.

Finally, I’m a sucker for love — we partnered with Dining Out, Jeff Suskin, Shalisa Pouw, and Ben Higgins from The Bachelor to present The Wedding Party. Going down on September 1. It’s 10 couples getting married at once, with one giant party.

303: What is something you want the Denver community to know about you that they might not already? 

JS: Key lime pie is my favorite breakfast food. I just started eating seafood less than a year ago. I think Lakeview Lounge is the best bar in Denver. Also, I hate wearing sunglasses and I think Nirvana is extremely overrated. Outside of that, I would just want people to know that I think love is the hope of the world. Furthermore, never lose your childlike wonder in new experiences, curiosity and risk-taking.

Schmitz in Bellwether

All Photography by Bridget Burnett.