By Dillon Mullan
Photos by Lauren Wood
At first glance, Knotted Pine Trading company is nothing new. The Fulton-based business that sells shirts, hats and stickers has plenty of market competition from well-established national stores and other outdoor apparel companies. But a closer look at the rugged Jeeps, wild bears and scenic sunsets on its merchandise reveals why Knotted Pine is special.
Johnathon Burns draws each design by hand. His creations often start on a Post-It note before moving to paper. Then they’re digitized on his tablet before finally being printed on a shirt. With attention to detail and hand-drawn originality, Burns and his wife Hannah are growing their trading company from a doodler’s day dream into a recognizable brand with a consistent presence in stores, on the back of cars and with outdoor lovers across the region.
“The thing that sets us apart is that he hand draws everything before it goes on the shirt. That says a lot. There’s a lot of companies that don’t go that far into it or spend that much time on it,” Hannah Burns said. “He does a lot that I think are great, but he’ll be like ‘oh, no no, we can’t use that one.’ Sometimes it takes a while, but the final products are always worth it.”
The couple met in high school in Farmerville, Louisiana, where classmates used to request Johnathon to sketch them pictures. While in art school, he took a job at clothing company Couture Tee before moving to Mississippi to design for Master Grafix in Tupelo. Burns gained confidence in his ability to start his own company after years of success as both an in-house designer and a freelancer for large companies like Patagonia and Drake Waterfowl. With Knotted Pine, he is able to control the entire creative process.
“When I would be out shopping at the mall and see four or five of my designs from different companies, I would be like ‘somebody likes something. I’m definitely doing something right’,” Johnathon Burns said. “Since my designs had sold so well throughout the country for others, I really knew that doing the things I loved and wanted to do as opposed to what somebody else wanted me to do would be successful.”
Johnathon spent a year preparing Knotted Pine’s first designs before the company officially launched in September 2017. One year later, 15 different retailers in six states are selling their shirts, stickers, sunglasses straps and shorts. Currently, the couple has a sun room full of products, but are in the process of opening their own warehouse. Reed’s was the first local business to sell Knotted Pine merchandise, and they’ve since been picked up by Square Gift Shop, Tin Roof, The Red Door and Rock & Co., among others.
The inspiration for Knotted Pine is as authentic as the original designs. Jonathan would rather be kayaking or mountain biking, and the couple drives a raised Jeep Cherokee XJ with a roof rack that belongs next to a campsite. Their motto is ‘Always Wander.’
“The idea started just from growing up in Louisiana and just spending a bunch of time hiking, camping and being outdoors. In Louisiana there are a tons of pine trees. That’s pretty much the only tree there,” Johnathon Burns said. “That’s where Knotted Pine comes from. It’s my love for illustration and design and the outdoors all mixed together.”
While Johnathon quit his in-house design job to start Knotted Pine, Hannah has been working full time during the company’s first year. Now that they’ve established themselves, she’s planning on taking on a larger role to manage shipping and social media. Johnathon produces a fall and spring line each year and hopes to continue expanding in the Southeast while also turning attention north and west toward California.
As the company grows in success, the Burnses are still always happy to see their work in the wild.
“We always take a picture and send it to one another if we see somebody wearing one of our shirts or one of our decals on the back of somebody’s car,” Johnathon said. “Like wow. people like what we’re putting out enough to put it on a car or buy a shirt. That’s always cool to see.”