CASSELTON, N.D. — Mallory Vorwerk was watching the Philadelphia Eagles battle the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football Oct. 23, 2017, when she heard a phrase that would change her life.
Analyst Jon Gruden had just described Carson Wentz, the Eagles quarterback and former North Dakota State University standout, as being “North Dakota tough.”
“He’s not just tough, he’s North Dakota tough,” Vorwerk recalled him as saying Saturday, Dec. 15. “And I remember thinking, ‘Someone really needs to put this on a shirt.’” (It's the same concept that prompted Forum sportswriter Jeff Kolpack to write his book "North Dakota Tough: Unknown and Forgotten Stories from a Rural State." Kolpack's book was released last month.)
Over the next three days, Vorwerk signed up for a website domain, registered the business with the state of North Dakota and got busy designing ND Tough logos.
She quickly built an online following for her ND Tough sweatshirts, T-shirts, tank tops and other merchandise for men, women and children. A sought-after item she didn’t carry led to her first business expansion.
“I had customers ask for leggings. You can really only buy leggings through wholesalers, so I started looking around,” she said.
After learning more about the world of wholesale, Vorwerk decided to assemble and sell her own line of women’s clothing called ND Tough Lifestyles. She debuted her clothing online in April and opened a brick-and-mortar store in a former dance studio above Dusty’s Tavern in Casselton last month.
Vorwerk emphasizes the quality and affordability of her clothes — there’s nothing in her store priced over $40 — but her ultimate goal is to “put the ‘fun’ in functional fashion.”
Meghan Finch, a co-worker of Vorwerk's at Peterson Farm Seed in Harwood, N.D., is a big fan of both Vorwerk and her clothes.
“I don’t know how she does it, but everything she buys feels like the softest thing I’ve ever felt in my life. There’s been more than one I’ve bought where I’ve said, 'OK, bring me one of these in every color,'” Finch gushed. “But also, I’m a working mom and I can’t help but admire how hard she works to do this as well as her full-time job and raising a little boy. She’s tireless, and I’m just so inspired by that.”
Vorwerk continues to sell online and operates her retail store Saturdays and one or two nights a week. She keeps shoppers informed of her store hours through her social media accounts.
Business has been steady, Vorwerk said, with customers coming in from Casselton, Fargo and the surrounding community.
“My first 10 customers in the door today (Dec. 15) were from Kindred. It’s really cool to see that support from another small town,” she said.
Vorwerk donates a percentage of all sales of merchandise with the ND Tough image to the Carson Wentz AO1 Foundation.
“He obviously inspired the company, so I had to think of a way to give back to him,” Vorwerk said.
She’s given over $1,000 to the foundation to date. Vorwerk has also partnered with the family of Lukas Kusters to sell Dutch Destroyer apparel. Kusters became well-known for his relationship with Wentz before succumbing to stomach cancer in 2017 at age 10.
Vorwerk said giving back is what motivates her.
“The whole reason I’m doing this is to give back. I’m not in it to be a millionaire. I’m doing it to give people clothes that are affordable and that look good,” she said.
What: ND Tough Gear and ND Tough Lifestyles
Where: 620 Front St., Casselton, N.D.
Online: www.ndtough.co and www.ndtoughlifestyles.co