WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, Mont. — Whether working on her family's farm as a kid in Connecticut or leading trail crews in the backcountry after college, Sarah Calhoun always struggled to find comfortable work clothes.
The work pants she found were designed for men, not women. So she decided to design her own line of pants.
Today, she sells her Red Ants Pants to working women all over the world.
She's doing it in the small town of White Sulphur Springs, a farming and ranching community of about 900 people.
Her shop is a converted saddle shop on Main Street.
"This is our international headquarters right here," said Calhoun, of the small brick building with the Red Ants Pants sign above it.
Underneath the logo it says "workwear for women."
Customers who come to the store in White Sulphur Springs can buy clothes off the rack. All other sales are sold directly online, mostly to women who want no-frills work clothes.
"These aren't fashion pants," said Calhoun. "These are work pants."
For years, Calhoun said women who did hard, physical work have had to wear men's pants.
"Women are certainly shaped differently from men," she said. "There's a lot more curves, and squeezing curvy women into square men's pants don't fit."
"I recognized there was a lot of demand from a lot of other women of needing pants that fit," she said.
Calhoun reached out to big workwear companies to start a line for women.
"No one really jumped at it," she said. "But one guy said, 'If you're serious about it, why don't you start your own company?'"
So she bought a book called "Small Business for Dummies."
While reading it in Bozeman one day she met a man who did production and design for Patagonia.
"That was a very fateful day," she said, "And he brought me to his shop a week later and said, 'Sarah, I think you're onto something big. I think you need to move onto this now.'"
She took his advice and started learning how to make it happen from the ground up.
"How to design the pants," said Calhoun, "and how to find good U.S. manufacturing. That's a cornerstone for us to have everything made in America. "
She pulls two pairs of the signature dark brown pants from their hangers and explains what makes them so appealing to women,
"We finally got the right fit, " she said. "We've got a straight cut and a curvy cut."
A mother-daughter team in Seattle cuts and sews the pants.
Finding fabric from an American mill has been difficult. But cotton fabric is now coming from the United States.
"We work with a very reputable company out of India," she said, "but we're now working with a U.S. mill out of Georgia."
She's branched out to include other items of apparel, including work shirts, hoodies, vests and T-shirts.
"We've added belts," said Calhoun, "which are a big seller. All the leather work is done right here in White Sulphur Springs."
The buckles are made in Colorado.
White Sulphur Springs seamstress Carol Berg sews Red Ants Pants work aprons for women.
NBC Montana met Berg at her shop as she put finishing touches on the denim apron.
"It's for (women) in construction, gardening or cutting wood for heating or logging," she said.
It has pockets for tools but can also be used as a kitchen apron.
The little town with the big Montana landscape couldn't have been a better fit for Calhoun. She is a big believer in being self-reliant.
White Sulphur Springs and its surrounding area are filled with women who work cattle, drive tractor and run their own businesses.
Berg is such a woman. Besides sewing she's also a hairdresser. She does upholstery work and has helped her contractor husband in his jobs.
"I've done siding and concrete," she said, "and foundations and roofing."
Just outside town, we met Laurie Auger at Crazy Mountain Veterinary Service, where she works as a veterinary assistant and office manager.
Auger wears Red Ants Pants.
"I do," she said. "I wear them here, and I also wear them on the ranch where I live with my husband."
As Auger sorted and packed veterinary tools for an upcoming animal surgery, the couple's new baby, Ellie, rested nearby.
Auger then packed up Ellie and took us out to the veterinary barn.
As a barn cat sauntered by, she held baby Ellie, who will also grow up knowing a rural life.
"We have to be tough," said Auger, as she rocked Ellie in her arms.
"We're just two Montana girls, doing what we do best," she said, "trying to survive out here."
So what does Red Ants Pants mean?
"In an ant colony," laughed Calhoun, "it's the female ants that do all of the work."
Calhoun's business is versatile. When COVID-19 hit, the company started making masks and hospital gowns.
On the day we visited the shop, Kami Freeze was sewing masks when she wasn't filling orders and placing workwear items into boxes for shipping.
Music fans across the country know Red Ants Pants for its annual music festival. For years, it's brought top name entertainers to a cow pasture just outside White Sulphur Springs.
Thousands of music fans converge there for concerts that have included big names like Dwight Yoakam, Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis.
Because of the pandemic, the Red Ants Pants Music Festival was canceled this year. But Calhoun said there are plans to host the festival again next year. It's a fundraiser for the nonprofit Red Ants Pants Foundation.
"These projects parallel our mission of women's leadership," said Calhoun, "for working farms and ranches and rural communities."
"We're heading into the third season," she said, "for a girls leadership program for junior year high school girls from rural Montana."
All this work may be testimony to Calhoun's commitment to Montana and especially to White Sulphur Springs.
She moved to town and started her company here because "I wanted to be in a small ag town," she said.
She was also influenced by the famous writer and White Sulphur Springs native son Ivan Doig. They were good friends.
Calhouncarries copies of Doig's books in her shop, including her favorite -- "This House of Sky." It was his memoir of growing up in White Sulphur Springs.
Calhoun said it was influential in her decision to make the little town her home.
"It inspired me to want to live in a community where it feels authentic," she said.
"He tells the truth about this place," she said. "Certainly, it's a beautiful landscape, but there's a lot of grit, sagebrush and wind as well."
"I think the thing about Montana that gets me," she said, "is that there's so much possibility to dream big."
Today, some working men are even wearing the straight-cut Red Ants Pants.
Calhoun thinks it may be a reflection of the rural people and the landscape they live in, that anything is possible.