First Look: Near North Co.

Call it home-state pride. After founding apparel brand Sota Clothing in Duluth in 2012, founder Spencer Johnson is onto his next venture: Near North Co. While Sota Clothing lets you wear your Minnesota pride on your sleeve—literally—Near North is inspired by the one-time 32 Under 32 winner’s love of Minnesota’s great outdoors, with a mission of bringing “high-quality goods to those with a passion for exploration.” The clothing and outdoor gear brand is a collective effort from Johnson, who has a background in product development and photography, business partner/digital strategist Garrio Harrison, and Ryan Martínez, who handles the company’s PR. So far, the new company has a handful of products available for pre-order on its website,, including flat-brim ball caps, camera straps (which are crafted in collaboration with fellow Minnesota manufacturers Superior Bound Goods and Solid Manufacturing Co.), a nylon kit bag, T-shirts, and a tank top.

I chatted with Martínez about the new venture, which officially launches on Friday.

Q: What’s the story behind Near North Co.?

A: Near North Co. is a Minnesota-based company dedicated to bringing high quality goods to those with a passion for exploration. It is made for those who strive to find their own path, take risks and share their journey—no matter how they choose to define it. Whether you like to explore the Boundary Waters in the North, take adventures to the ocean or simply check out a new spot in your city, these types of simple discoveries is what Near North is made for. Aesthetically, it could be defined as urban stylings with outdoor interest.

Q: Do you have any plans to expand the shop goods beyond what’s currently available on the store’s site?

A: Absolutely. These are just some initial launch products to get a feel for our brand. We are looking to expand our clothing options, like introducing tees and tanks specifically for women, as well as expand our “gear” section. Some of these, like women’s options, are coming very soon.

The Makr apron at Dunn Bros. Coffee

Courtesy Near North Co.

Q: I’ve seen your “Makr” apron being tested out by employees at 612Brew and Dunn Brothers. Why testing out samples important to Near North? Is this something you plan to continue to do moving forward with new products?

A: The Makr apron is a bit of a one-off specialty product that was sort of the birth and inspiration of Near North. It was created for the hands-on craftsman. We wanted to give people at local businesses a product that would be a tool for the “hands-on” individual. Near North may be for the explorer in you, but it also represents those who explore their world in other ways—whether making things by hand or specializing in a craft. There was the idea of an apron to cover those who get their hands dirty for the greater good. That apron, specifically, is water resistant and it was created for the brewers and baristas of 612Brew and Dunn Bros. It could be great for people in leather works, sculpting, etc. It is a bit of a one-off, specialty product, and we wanted opinion from the front lines. We haven’t made it for mass distribution at this time, but it was a model in creation that we have carried over to others. For example, our camera straps, in prototype staging, were given to influential photographers to get a feel for it and bring back feedback.

Q: Do you have any plans to open a brick-and-mortar shop, be carried at any local retailers, or host any pop-up shops?

At the current time, Near North Co. doesn’t have plans to be a brick-and-mortar shop. Although we do have aspirations to be national in scope, we want to start as a grassroots brand for our community—what shaped the direction and mission of our brand. Local retailers and hosting pop-ups is certainly things being considered. We feel we can offer up high quality products aligned with a mindset that the local Twin Cities will enjoy seeing grow.

Launches Fri. Preview and pre-order the goods now @ and visit them on Instagram @nearnorthco to see behind-the-scenes photos and vote for new product designs.

Check out a selection of goods for sale now on

Near North Co. Basecamp Graphic Tee

Courtesy Near North Co.

Near North Co. City Wrist Strap

Courtesy Near North Co.

Near North Co. Basecamp Graphic Tank

Courtesy Near North Co.

Near North Co. Basecamp Kit Bag

Courtesy Near North Co.

Near North Co. City Neck Strap

Courtesy Near North Co.

Near North Co. Pioneer Panel Cap

Courtesy Near North Co.

Near North Co. Brushscript Tee

Courtesy Near North Co.