Megafauna owner John McCaskill at his Denver shop on March 26. 2014. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

Shop Sesh: Why MegaFauna loves to keep it local (interview)

About Shop Sesh: Every month, I’ll visit the curators, artists, builders and designers who enjoy a little kush to help them push boundaries. It just so happens they’re all also doing pretty impressive things to cultivate the creative community in Colorado and beyond. We’ll have a smoke and a chat in the spaces that often inspire them most — their own. If you’d like to request a sesh or have one to recommend, e-mail me here.

Shop: MegaFauna, 3102 Blake St., Denver

Interview with: John McCaskill, owner

Sesh: OG Kush, RiNo Supply Company (medical only)

In 2007, before Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, a.k.a. River North, became the thriving, trendy scene as we know it today, John McCaskill and Rob Bell were hard at work in a warehouse and later, Wazee Union creating custom graphic T-shirts to show their Denver pride. MegaFauna officially opened its doors in 2011 on the corner of 27th and Larimer as a local collective to showcase up-and-coming designers, artists and vintage apparel. Six months ago, MegaFauna relocated a few blocks over to Blake Street and continues to provide a unique retail platform, stocking its shelves and walls with the works of close to 100 Colorado indie artists. I spent a morning in the shop with the man behind the monster logo for a little “wake and bake” sesh while chatting about our shared love for all things local — pot included, of course.

What exactly does “MegaFauna” mean?

It means giant animal in technical terms. The philosophy behind the idea was that this prehistoric beast went extinct because it couldn’t adapt to its new surroundings. Which is the situation I think our society is facing now by leaving so many big decisions up to people in huge corporations we don’t know or trust. The concept speaks to how people can make a change in their daily habits to support a movement — with us, it’s about making that choice to support the local community and economy.

That’s some deep stuff right there. So is your mission: to support the evolution of the conscious consumer culture through sustainable business practices and localized marketplaces? What’s behind it?

I always tell everybody, “We are the MegaFauna.” We are the big beasts that can make things happen now. … We can choose to consume the way we have been, which is just crazy considering the things we know … or we can start forcing purchases locally again.

Where did your mentality come from?

I grew up in Boulder and my family was all ranchers and farmers. Co-ops, flea markets and farmers markets were just a part of our lives. But in the rest of the country it hasn’t always been the norm, so I’m glad to see the resurgence in local consumption again. Honestly, it’s not a new idea.

You also are a mentor for a lot of the artists whose work you carry.

My business background has always been in management and marketing, which are areas pretty foreign to a lot of artists. So it’s always been about trying help them bring together the two halves of their brain and show them that if they can conceive an idea, we can help them bring it to fruition and introduce it to the market. We do that through the many events at our space and through booths at others to give them the opportunity to see the whole transaction process.

So how did it all begin?

I found myself back in Denver tending to a family emergency right when the economy was heading south. My friend (Rob Bell of Derailed Ink) was just finishing up art school, and I convinced him that I could produce a show for him and use the profit to take the next step for a T-shirt line — he had sent me a lot of crazy funny concepts while in school. We sold out the event and jumped into it with our first design: “What Would JC Do?” [when Jay Cutler was the quarterback for the Denver Broncos]. We hit the ground running and spent the next three years at every single Rockies, Nuggets, Broncos and Avs game out on the street with the ticket scalpers hocking our shirts. We were moving about 7,000 shirts a year, but no one would pick up our designs.

That seems odd for a sports-crazed town like Denver.

Yeah, every shop we talked to told us our stuff was too niche. But from my experience, if you find yourself in a really deep niche, that means you have a really good market. There wasn’t a retail concept at the time that was 100 percent supportive of all-local goods, so it seemed like a perfect time to reach out to all of our fellow artists in Wazee Union and put the wheels in motion to build toward a storefront. We started out in our Larimer location with just 12 designers, and within six months we had over 80 designers in-house.

Read the rest of the Shop Sesh interview with MegaFauna’s John McCaskill