Original Red Dirt Shirts employees at the company’s manufacturing warehouse in Mesa, Ariz. The factory produces 100,000 red dirt shirts every month for factory outlets across the Southwest, including the store in Moab. (Photo courtesy of Original Red Dirt Shirts) 

Guy Thompson thinks he has the dirtiest job in town. As the manager of the Moab Original Red Dirt Shirts factory outlet store, he just might be right.

The popular shirts, a burnt sienna hue with various designs depicting local lore, are in fact dyed with the red dirt from the Colorado Plateau area. But, their origin is thousands of miles away and is entirely happenstance.

In September 1992, Hurricane Iniki struck the Hawaiian island of Kauai causing a path of destruction including water, wind and dirt. One business in particular, a local screen printer, was hit hard by the hurricane – hundreds of t-shirts were drenched with water and stained with red dirt that had been churned up in the storm. Liking the reddish color and turning a seeming catastrophe into an opportunity, the business owner, Randy Williams, sold the shirts with an “I Survived Iniki” design.

The shirts were an instant success, and a business was born. Original Red Dirt Shirts was the first company to commercially produce red dirt shirts.

Today, Original Red Dirt Shirts have made their way to the mainland with outlets across the Southwest. What do destinations such as Sedona, Ariz., Durango, Colo., and Moab have in common? Their picturesque beauty, of course, and if you dig a little deeper you’ll find – red dirt.

“If anybody hasn’t noticed, Moab has got great red dirt,” said Thompson, who started with the company when it re-opened the factory outlet retail store in Moab in 2010 and has been “getting dirty ever since.” The local outlet store is the company’s top performing store nine months of the year.

“After being here, our customers can truly appreciate Moab’s dirt. They want to take some home with them,” said Thompson. He says it usually only takes someone seeing a shirt one time before they become a customer for life – “purchasing shirts for everyone they know.”

The company still has a factory in Kauai where they produce 10,000 shirts every month. At the other factory in Mesa, Ariz., nearly 100,000 t-shirts are produced monthly. Thompson says the dyeing process is 100 percent natural from the red dirt and other food grade products used to set the color through the design process to finalize the shirts’ appearance.

Each shirt, and all other Original Red Dirt apparel, is sold with a authentication tag to ensure customers that the item is the real, red dirt, deal. Once purchased, every shirt or other dirt apparel must be washed separately one time before wearing. Customers can expect the color to fade “like a great pair of Levi’s” to a buckskin coloring, according to Thompson.

“We were the first to use red dirt to dye shirts, because of that, it’s our thing,” said Thompson.

Other retailers in Moab have carried Original Red Dirt Shirts merchandise in the past, although currently, other than the outlet store on Main Street, the shirts are only available at the Moab Tourism Center. Original Red Dirt Shirts does produce red dirt shirts sold at The Moab Brewery, but those are designed explicitly to promote the brewery business though they do come with an Original Red Dirt Shirts authentication tag.

The company also produces and sells other apparel for those “who don’t look good in dirt.” Including, the Desert Blues and Utah Images merchandise lines in Moab. All designs featured at the local factory outlets stores are akin to the local sights, traditions and activities.

“It is so much fun to share our national parks and our outdoors on our shirts,” said Thompson.