Fox turns love of the sea into successful business model

Brandon Fox, a Tivy High graduate, left, has traded his Hill Country roots for his business Sea Level Apparel that lets him fish nearly as often as he likes, and provide t-shirts, caps and other items to the Sporting Goods department at the local Gibson's store.

Brandon Fox may have grown up here and graduated from Tivy High School, but was introduced early by his father to the love of the Texas coast and salt water angling for fish that don’t live in the Guadalupe River.

Fox carried that interest in salt water fishing away from the Hill Country, to found a new company called “Sea Level Apparel.”

Fox graduated from Tivy in Kerrville in 2012, and said while he was a student there, he played tennis and golf.

Fox said he moved out of state after high school for a brief period.

“I had plans to attend the University of West Florida. After living in Florida for a while, I found that living on the beach and trying to be a good student was a very difficult thing for me… the temptation to fish and skip class and work was just too great as an 18-year-old.

“I did a lot of growing and maturing during that time, though, and it was a good life experience,” he said. “I ended up moving back to Kerrville for about two years, and in that time of ‘in-between’ deciding what I wanted to do with my life, Sea Level was created.

“After a couple of years, we were starting to pick up some traction, and getting some attention from potential investors to come on board.

“My now business partner, Kyle, became a part of the company in early 2015, and we moved our inventory and screen printing presses to his property just outside of Austin,” Fox said. “We no longer screen-print our merchandise in-house anymore, but I am glad we had that period of time to be able to work closely together and be able to further grow the company.”

Love of the sea

Asked where his love of fishing and the sea came from, when he grew up in Kerrville, Fox said, “My earliest (and best) memories from my childhood are from trips to the coast with my family. My dad was and still is a huge fisherman, so of course he started taking me along with him as soon as I was old enough to go.

“He would load up the truck and drive us to Port Aransas or South Padre Island most weekends during the summer. We still try to get down there together every so often when our schedules allow.” Fox said.

Before he started in business for himself, Fox said he worked several jobs while growing up here - everything from mowing lawns, to being a cashier at H-E-B in high school.

“Sea Level started in the Fall of 2012, though, to be honest, it was a slow start, and we did not really begin doing much business until 2014. Of course we still have a long way to go, and every day we strive to do better than the last.”

Fox describes his company this way. “We specialize in simple, but quality outdoor lifestyle apparel - comfortable shirts, hats, and performance fishing gear that you can wear on the water that day, and at the bar that night. That is what we do best.

“We do runs of specialized accessories too – dog collars and leashes, candles, chapstick, pint glasses, etc. We always like to keep things fresh, and have new products circulating each season.”

Fox said this love of the sea came from spending time away from the Hill Country to be on the Gulf Coast water, leading up to this.

Asked if he usually went alone, or with family or buddies, he said, “Honestly it was a little of both. Some of my favorite trips that I wouldn’t trade for the world have been those with my dad, or several fishing buddies. But there also is something special about completely getting away from life and the stresses that go with it, by taking a solo boat ride down the coast with no one around. It really helps re-set and ease the mind sometimes.”

When he takes these trips, he has a favorite quarry.

“Tarpon will always be at the top of the list,” Fox said. “I’ve actually only landed a handful – maybe seven or eight. You base a good day tarpon fishing on how many you hook, not how many you land, just because they are extremely difficult to get to the boat.

“They grow upwards of 200 pounds; can fight for hours; and only migrate through Texas for about five to six months a year. So I guess that is what makes them so alluring – the whole challenge of it all.”

Pathway to business

Fox said there was a learning curve in some areas when he started his business – partly because he started younger than most.

“Growing up, I was absolutely not artistically or creatively inclined in any way. Actually, I still struggle with it on a daily basis,” he said. “But having great parents, and several great role models throughout my schooling in Kerrville definitely play a part in ‘getting me by.’ I was definitely not an A+ student, but Mrs. Putnam and Mrs. Sprado pushing me to be more creative every day in Tivy High School, to Mr. Houghton helping me figure out ‘real world’ economics, absolutely helped me later on down the road.”

Fox said Kyle Park, his business partner came on board in 2015.

“He was able to bring a lot of knowledge to the table as far as running a real company, and expanding our audience reach.”

Merchandise at local Gibson’s

Fox said he’s was especially pleased to have his Sea Level Apparel products added to the store inventory at Kerrville’s own Gibson’s, in addition to the items shoppers can find at his online site, www.sealevelapparel. com.

At Gibson’s, staffer Thomas Breeze is Fox’s contact there, in the sporting goods department.

Breeze said Brandon’s mother acquainted him with her son’s products, when she was helping Brandon with a trade show in 2019.

“She’s also my landlord,” Breeze said. “And once I saw his designs, it was an absolute ‘yes’ on my part. We’ve had his items in Gibson’s for six or eight months now. He’s done very well here with his styles and designs.”

Fox said, “I spent too much of my time and money at that store, growing up.”

Gibson’s in Kerrville most recently was offering Fox’s short-sleeved t-shirts, long-sleeved pull-over shirts, and adjustable-size ball caps, each with Fox’s sailfish “fin design” logo in various color choices.

Breeze said one of the best sellers among them is a large logo of the outline of Texas with just the word “Hunt” inside the state’s outline. The “partner” t-shirt has just the word “Fish” on it, representative of Fox’s favorite activity, but Breeze said with the small town of Hunt just west of here in Kerr County, there’s extra local interest in the Hunt shirt.

On the company website, his statement says, “Sea level. Why are we continually drawn here? Our story is a lot like yours; we’re people who feel at home on the ocean. We weren’t born in an office. We don’t make decisions in a boardroom. We do our work on the water. Whether it’s laying out the perfect loop to a tailing redfish, dreaming about the perfect wave, or simply enjoying a day on the sand, we always find ourselves at Sea Level.

“Founded in 2012, we’re proud to be a native Texas company. What started out as an idea tossed around while waiting for the next fish, tugging at uncomfortable clothing, turned out to be a life-changing decision. Living close to some of the best fishing in the world, we strive to provide quality lifestyle apparel and gear.

“Sea Level Apparel is influenced by our passion for fishing and conservation of our coastal waters. Along with top design artists and high-end manufacturers, we provide durable, yet breathable, coastal clothing for anglers, as well as surfers and other athletes, on and off the water.

“Get on our level. Get on Sea Level.”

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