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MegaFauna Makes Moves, Remains in RiNo

John McCaskill, along with Rob Bell, opened MegaFauna, a philosophy-driven artist collective.

McCaskill and Bell are the co-creators of the T-shirt brand, DeRailed Ink.

MegaFauna has showcased more than 250 local artists' work.

Vintage clothing is part of MegaFauna's inventory.

Local artists are able to sell their work locally.

MegaFauna offers homegrown products.

MegaFauna has taken retail to a new level: Production often takes place in the RiNo shop. More than 200 vendors have embraced the concept as the store settles into a new space at 3102 Blake St.
As anti-corporate culture and conscious consumer movements gain traction, niche neighborhood shops seem to continuously crop up, with artisanal food makers and restaurateurs who promote homegrown products, and even the fickle fashion world demonstrating interest in handcrafted, local goods.
 
One such example is RiNo's philosophy-driven artist collective, MegaFauna, which serves as a self-proclaimed "soapbox for those who have grown weary of the corporate brand." Showcasing Denver designers since 2011, John McCaskill and Rob Bell -- co-creators of the T-shirt brand, DeRailed Ink -- recently relocated their shop from 2701 Larimer St., a door away from Meadowlark Bar, to 3102 Blake St. 
 
"We set up the new location in five days," McCaskill says. "The artistic community has given us a lot of support."
 
Maintaining its casual vibe, fundamental art and apparel offerings, and continuing promotion and sponsorship of neighborhood social programming, such as Final Fridays Music Walk and Urban Bazaar, the new space is roughly three times larger than the former facility. 

With additional square footage, McCaskill shares his intention to ramp up in-house production offerings, with available tools and space for cut-and-sew design, sticker making and screen-printing. "We're trying to provide the tools, skills and network necessary for our community of artists to become successful," McCaskill says.

A store is bornMegaFauna offers homegrown products.
 
In 2009, McCaskill, a Boulder native with Colorado roots dating back six generations, opted to leave his "empty, happy-hour lifestyle," behind, after acquiring a business degree and years spent attempting to climb assorted corporate ladders in sales, marketing and management positions.
 
MegaFauna was born after Bell graduated art school and moved to Colorado. "We had some ideas for T-shirts, funny off-brand creations and spoofs of characters we all know and love, tongue-in-cheek stuff," he recalled, pointing to the words "Mile High Life," scrawled on a vintage-style baseball cap in recognizable lettering, hanging in his shop. "It's a shot at a big beer label. We ride a very thin line between being outright offensive and really artistic."
 
As the idea morphed into a business, the DeRailed duo moved into shared workspace, Wazee Union, where they designed and manufactured "tons of T-shirts," largely completing sales outside downtown Denver bars and events.
 
But "as much as we were selling, we couldn't get a corporate setup to accept our product." Curious if his and other artistic concepts could catch on in a different setting and structure, the MegaFauna model was born.
 
"We invite production in," McCaskill says. "You make it, I sell it." 
 
The collaborative retail and production hub kicked off with six designers; to date, the shop has showcased more than 250 local artists. The creative community platform rotates roughly 65 designs, with operations including Ruckus Apparel, Reel Social Club, Conk Wear and Mona Lucero Design
 
"John carries some of the vintage clothes in my line," says self-titled designer and former retail shop owner Mona Lucero. "I started the Fashion Association Denver and he's given me a lot of contacts; we did a runway fundraiser called Urban Nights Denver and he helped me with that, too."

"A new business model for art"MegaFauna has showcased more tha 250 local artists' work.
 
"We're kind of at a crossroads of commerce," McCaskill says of his secret to success. "MegaFauna is a new business model for art. The formula is really reliant on self-leadership. There are words that seem faux pas in business like 'shared' or 'community,' or when they are used, they seem contrived. Here, we're all helping each other out, and that mentality multiplies. From concept to completion of the sale, MegaFauna provides a venue for artists to gain exposure."
 
Guerrilla marketing tactics and more than 40 event-based pop-ups in the last year alone, remain effective awareness campaigns for the store and RiNo's artistic community at large.
 
"The Final Friday thing -- wow!" beams McCaskill, referencing the 20-block party the last Friday of each month, May through August, with participating businesses opening their doors to musicians, live visual art, food vendors and an urban bazaar. "I realized a bunch of vendors couldn't find space to show their stuff. So we set up on the street, brought in a slip-and-slide, a band and it just grew from there. We'll be doing a lot more of this sort of thing."
 
The reason? McCaskill says he wants to help develop brands. "But it's important that we do so authentically and responsibly," he adds. "There are a lot of tenants behind capitalism and consumerism that are contrary to lifelong longevity or fulfillment."
 
He believes more attention must be paid to independent operations and Lucero echoes the sentiment, but also shares her skepticism.
 
"I think that the art and fashion communities are ready to sell, but I don't think the consuming community is stepping up enough," she explains. "Yes, people buy and sell local. But you can't just go to the local boutiques. It's about the money, which may not be a pretty thing to say, but it's the truth. It can break a creative heart and kill their business if people don't buy."
 
The economic benefits of buying local are fairly obvious: cutting out the middleman, infusing money into micro-economies, reducing transportation costs and negative environmental impact.  "Maybe we're not boosting the economy in present day terms, but for the future, I'm interested in making a model for sustainable livebility," McCaskill says.
 
Outside of Denver, he aspires to open five locations in the next five years, with eyes on New Orleans, Seattle and Detroit, but has no official plans, other than continuing to call Denver "home."
 
"Ask anyone, anywhere -- Denver's really coming up," says McCaskill. "We've got so many skilled, smart people. And RiNo feels like the belly of the beast. Regardless of who the predominant occupier has been in the area, this part of town has always had a lot of commotion and now there's increased awareness directly related to the FasTracks program."
 
McCaskill is confident MegaFauna will continue to succeed as long as he and the shop embrace and enliven the maker community. 
 
"We've got a real connection to Denver. The value doesn't come from people buying things; it comes from why they're buying. We keep our feet on the street and try to remain relevant through direct impact."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Gigi Sukin.

Gigi Sukin is a Denver-based writer-editor. She currently works as an editor at ColoradoBiz and previously worked as an editorial intern at 5280.
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