Desert buttes, rolling plains of sagebrush, confident stalks of cacti, and the hidden desert oasis, Americana style is often inspired by the enduring beauty of the West.
For a long time, I’ve understood the appeal of the American West, with its open spaces, rugged utilitarianism, and perpetual call of the wild. But it wasn’t until I moved out West as a young adult that I truly began to appreciate the rugged authenticity that is Americana.
As digital entrepreneurs, we’re glued to our screens and maintain a constant pulse on current events, social media updates, and trying to stay on top of email inboxes. It makes sense that we yearn for the simplicity of small-town living as our world becomes increasingly complex.
The pull of the American West has attracted dreamers and creatives alike since the Gold Rush of the 1800s, but around the world, design movements often shift from periods of decadence towards rural simplicity and homegrown craftsmanship.
I want to explore what’s at the heart of Americana style and how you can implement the beauty of the open West for your own brand.
A Historic Movement Ahead of Its Time
Americana is a term that represents any style or trend that is directly associated with America. But as a newly established country, American culture is an evolution of civilizations that have come before our own. From British-influenced East Coast formality to the Native American cowboys and Polynesian surfers of the American West, the United States is a conglomerate of diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
One thing we all share is a pursuit of freedom, a desire for simplicity, and a love of the natural outdoors.
Elements of Americana style can be found in Britain’s Arts and Crafts movement. What started as a design reform in the fine arts spread from the British Isles to the rest of Europe and eventually found its way to American settlements. The movement was a response to the overly excessive, ornate, and artificial items presented at The Great Exhibition of 1851. This design reform led to a push for more craftsmanship and artistic novelty, and less industrialized, cheap, and tacky products.
As many of today’s brands focus on improved business practices – sourcing local materials and manufacturing, implementing sustainable production practices, and supporting other small and local businesses – I can’t help but notice a correlation between these present-day principles and the ideas behind the Arts and Crafts Movement that paved the way for Americana to thrive.
Consumers are becoming more and more aware of what they’re buying and where it’s coming from. We realize that higher-priced items typically aren’t over-priced but an indication of better quality, and cheaply-made items are actually just underpriced and reflect cut corners somewhere in the process. Think about where a five-dollar piece of clothing has come from – the low wage workers and environmentally-damaging factories, cheap materials and “borrowed” design. You may not be paying a high price, but someone, somewhere is.
Today’s sustainability efforts are focused on reversing the damage we’ve already done. But I can’t help but wonder what our world might look like had our society maintained the ideas presented back in the 1800s when the trend towards homegrown, handcrafted, and locally made actually began.
Most people associate America with our fast-paced society, in which you can buy anything, do anything, and go anywhere. We’re the country of Silicon Valley, Tesla, and the Apple empire. But resting just under the radar are many Americana brands that have been ahead of their time implementing sustainable business practices before it became popular, and represent much more than just traditional craftsmanship.
As I’ve begun to see it, an Americana business is one in which the maker takes true pleasure in their work, because they’re doing more than just selling a product — they’re also serving the community as a whole. In this spirit, Americana extends beyond the borders of the United States and can represent a value system that any brand in any corner of the world can emulate.
Take Levi’s and Wrangler for example (although their manufacturing practices have changed over time) – from their inception, they’ve always represented more than just denim. They’re a staple of the American West and represent what it really means to be a cowboy, needing staple clothing that’s both durable and comfortable. And Converse wasn’t just created to be stylish, everyday shoes either… Their non-skid design was made to benefit basketball players and represent the emergence of black basketball communities.
These brands entered the scene with more than just fashion in mind. They helped solve a present need, rooting themselves in our country’s history and culture. To this day, Americana is still about being in tune with the world around you, really understanding what your customers need, and uniquely positioning yourself to meet those needs and more than just cute shoes or a pair of good ole’ jeans. In other words, become a brand that stands for more than just a product.
My Favorite Modern Americana Brands
After 120 years of being in business, Filson’s promise for quality still holds true. Filson started making outdoor items for miners and lumbermen back in the 1800s, during the Klondike Gold Rush, and has continued to meet their customer’s needs with durable products that truly work the way they’re supposed to, to this day.
2. Imogene & Willie
Imogene & Willie offers a modern representation of what Americana means – true craftsmanship, quality goods, family values passed down for generations, and of course, denim. Imogene & Willie started in Nashville, setting out to create the perfectly fitting pair of jeans. The founders drew inspiration from the valuable life lessons they gained from their grandparents, and strive to pass the same lessons down to their own children.
Shinola is a Detroit-based brand that originally started as a watch manufacturer and now brings consumers high-quality leather goods and bicycles as well. Their
products are handmade on-site by locally employed workers. Shinola helped generate revenue and bring jobs back to Detroit during a time when the city filed for bankruptcy and most of the community was facing financial hardship.
Adding the Spirit of Americana To Your Brand
Try incorporating American-inspired imagery into your brand. Think rural, Western imagery that idealizes life on the ranch and small-town living. Aim for photography that captures hard work, ruggedness, durability, and authenticity. You can even opt for golden hour photography and desert vibes.
An Americana color palette is typically going to be earthy, muted, natural, and soft. However, you can also pull from traditionally patriotic, East-coast tones that have a slightly British ring to them. Both of these colorways can infuse a nostalgic and authentic feeling that captures the essence of America.
Authenticity is at the heart of Americana style, so easily the most important aspect of incorporating the heart of Americana into your brand is sustainable practices and an honest desire to meet your customer’s needs. Consider where your materials are sourced, who your employees are, and how you can best help your community. Try sourcing materials locally and making products within your community. And never try to create an image or borrow a design that isn’t legitimate.
Utilize storytelling to give context to your brand. You can share personal mementos through a blog, or incorporate family stories into your website’s about page. By adding in these aspects of your own heritage, you’ll help your customers or clients understand more of who you are and where the services or products you offer are coming from.
Incorporating Americana style into your brand might just be the push you need to really connect with your customers. The American spirit is truly iconic. It’s classic, timeless, and a part of our history and culture. By supporting local communities, you can make a true impact through your work and build a loyal customer base.
But I do want to add an additional note. American history has not always favored human rights or fairly treated indiginous or minority cultures. My challenge to you as you find inspiration in the American spirit and seek to capture the beautiful parts of its style, is to also create an inclusive environment to uplift native and minority communities and be a part of moving towards progressive patriotism.
May our next chapter of American history be one of gracious healing and understanding as we embrace the things that make us unique and celebrate the similarities that connect us all.