Phoenix native Nick Wetta has always had a fondness for the desert Southwest aesthetic, including Western shirts. But it wasn’t just cowboys and cactus that hooked him.
“I didn’t grow up on a ranch; I don’t know how to ride a horse,” he says in an interview with Phoenix New Times on September 15 at Cave + Post Trading Co. “I grew up playing music.”
After starting to play drums as a kid and getting into classic rock, he noticed a lot of the musicians wore Western shirts. “George Harrison on Abbey Road wore a Western shirt,” Wetta notes of the late Beatles guitarist.
When Wetta tried to emulate his idols, though, it wasn’t easy.
“I’d find these great vintage shirts in these thrift shops from the '70s,” he says, “but I felt like there weren’t any brands today making them with the same look and vibe and style as these old vintage shirts. So that was the seed of the idea.”
Wetta adds, “These are such cool shirts and they originate from the culture here," though he was disappointed that it's rare to find any made in the U.S.
The love of the Western look and the goal of preserving iconic American fashion led Wetta to start his own company, West Major, in 2019. The shirts are cut and sewn in the U.S. with top-quality fabric imported from around the world.
“There are virtually no fabric mills left” in this country, Wetta explains. "The long-long-term pipe dream vision is to build our own factory here in the Southwest and eventually mill our own fabric, too. There’s all this cotton grown here. So I think it’s doable.”
He adds, "This is Arizona — shouldn't there be some Western brands here?"
The shirts are understated and contemporary, not flashy, with a classic Western cut. West Major sells online and in a handful of stores in Arizona and Texas, including Cave + Post and Grass Clippings in Phoenix, and Rooster Bus in Scottsdale.
Patrick Burch, who owns Cave + Post with his wife Mary, says the fact that West Major shirts are designed in Phoenix and made in America “fits perfectly with the style of our aesthetic in the store,” which hews toward classic Americana.
Patrick Burch adds, “They’re kind of timeless, but at the same time, fit into what’s cutting edge right now. Chambray, denim, pearl snaps are always a timeless look, whether it be Western or hip and new and current."
Wetta partially attributes the success of his brand to the resurgence in the past few years of “great alternative country, folk music, blues,” he says. West Major references both Western culture and the musical scale, making a harmonious connection to Western wear.
Classic country music has been reaching new audiences with younger artists like Tyler Childers, Luke Combs, Carly Pearce, Colter Wall, and many more. This year’s release of Wilco’s Cruel Country is another nod to the growing interest in the genre.
Then again, West Major’s shirts appeal to a wide demographic. “Rock bands, metal bands, rap artists all wear Western wear today,” Wetta notes. “I think Western shirts and Western wear and the West as a theme in general represent freedom, freedom of expression, self-reliance, individuality.”
Also, Wetta admits, “I’m not into super-loud stuff, and I think some of the Western wear out there can look a bit tacky.” His shirts, on the other hand, are “very wearable for the average guy.”
One loyal customer, Alex Johnson of Phoenix, says, “You literally can’t leave the house with that shirt on without getting a compliment.”
Johnson says the versatility is a draw: “I like to wear things that I can wear to work that I can wear to dinner with my wife on the weekend.” He adds that the shirts are "visually appealing, it fits well; the fabric and materials are so comfortable, so thoughtful.”
Despite his devotion to apparel, Wetta has no background in fashion. He graduated from Arcadia High School in Phoenix, and attended San Diego State University, earning a business degree in 2012. Initially, he worked in software sales, then moved to Los Angeles with the goal of getting into documentary filmmaking, but ended up working in reality television. Wetta worked for a company that was involved in shows like Chasing Destiny, Greatest Party Story Ever, and This Is Mike Stud.
"By the time I was in my late 20s, I was getting burned out on that and wanted to start my own business, and the Western shirt thing was still top of mind for me," Wetta says.
His friend Steven Borrelli had just started Cuts Clothing and gave Wetta guidance, telling him to hire a pattern maker. He worked with a contact on the fit and design, and she helped him source fabric. "One of the places I got fabric from said, 'Hey, I know a factory,'" Wetta recalls. “One connection led to the next to the next.”
At age 29, Wetta began working as a barback at The Misfit in Santa Monica, California, so he could earn money at night and pursue his passion for Western wear during the day. After nine months, he moved back home on his 30th birthday (September 15, 2019), “which was a terrifying experience,” he concedes. “Not really what you want to be doing at 30.”
After selling all of his inventory in 2019, Wetta ordered a bunch of fabric, expecting to have another huge year. Then COVID-19 hit and he “pretty much had to close and hang on,” says Wetta, now 33.
Although Wetta lost money in 2021, his gross sales hit six figures, and he quit his job at The Vig Fillmore restaurant this June to work on West Major full-time.
At $130 to $150, the shirts don’t come cheap, but Wetta explains, “They’re all made here and we do free shipping, returns, exchanges, and repairs. It’s more expensive, but you can buy it with confidence knowing if something happens to this, this company will take care of me.”
And the shirts are made to last, according to Wetta. “You could wear it today or 50 years from now, and it’ll still look good with a pair of jeans,” he says. “I want this stuff to end up in a thrift shop when people are done with it.”
Wetta adds, “Every guy has a favorite shirt. That’s what we’re trying to do is create your next favorite Western shirt."