Billy “Zeb” Smith grew up in two very different worlds: One, the son of a highly successful fashion designer in New York City, and the other, spending his school breaks with his conservationist father who lived in Wilson, Wyoming, with a then-population of 200.
He refers to his time in Wyoming as the “idyllic Huck Finn childhood” — chopping wood, exploring the land, fishing — and it shaped the trajectory of his adult life, instilling in him the desire to raise his own children in the same type of environment.
It took plenty of years, careers, and exploration to get here, but Zeb has finally returned to his roots, this time with his wife and two young kids. Even with all the changes Jackson Hole has seen over the last decade, Zeb relives the experiences of his youth through the eyes of his own children, tubing the same rivers, skiing the same mountains.
“Our kids inspire us to do things that are oftentimes the things that save ourselves,” he says. “I can use them as the pivot point, as the initiating factor to move back, but the truth is, it’s better for me as a dad, sure, but it’s also just plain better for me as a person.”
Moving here at the start of the pandemic, Zeb wanted to break the mold of being another family coming in only to work remotely. He wanted to contribute to the community in the same way this area had impacted his own life. Working as a filmmaker at the time, he briefly considered that path here, but ultimately settled on his original career: fashion.
Having cut his teeth in the design studios of Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs, Zeb saw a gap in the local Jackson fashion scene. There were plenty of shops for sporting and technical gear, but he saw a need for small batch, high-end Western-inspired clothing — exclusive products that would withstand the test of time. With that vision, he opened Grit General half a block off the square in Jackson in July 2022.
It is important to Zeb to only offer quality craftsmanship, with brands like RRL, Freenote Cloth, and Indigofera, amongst others. They also recently added womenswear in the same high-end, Western-influenced styles. “It’s important to us to bring in lines that feel special, while also feeling natural — collections that feel like they should exist here, but just weren’t here yet.”
Allowing his creativity to flourish, Zeb also designs a reserve of private label goods with lifetime guarantees, such as custom-made vests, jeans, and jean jackets, embellished with genuine Mercury Dimes or Buffalo Nickels in place of standard buttons. Zeb lives by the ethos to buy less, but buy better, and only sells heirloom products that he hopes will someday be passed down.
“It’s our name on the label,” he says. “We want to see the kids of our customers wearing these things in 30 or 40 years.”
As Grit General was born out of the desire to be embedded in the community, Zeb strives to continually give back, reading at his daughter’s school or volunteering with area nonprofits. And as Zeb is currently the only one manning the shop, he loves seeing the same local customers come in, forming new friendships and ski buddies. To Zeb, Jackson Hole has always represented a place of strong community, as he moved around a lot while growing up in New York. Every time he returned to Wyoming, however, he would see the same faces.
“I was never able to grasp that (sense of community) in the city,” he says. “So I always knew that was something that I wanted, and wanted for my children.”
Grit General and the folks of Jackson Hole have given him that. Not only do his children get to grow up in the mountains, but he hopes to keep the business a family venture long into the future. He envisions his children, who are often in the store, working the register as summer jobs in their teens, or maybe even joining their father on the creative design side.
“My mother’s third generation in the fashion industry, and she certainly ushered that on to the next generation with me,” Zeb says. “My daughter is an avid drawer and artist like I was at her age, so if she, or my son, ever want to design some pieces, to help push that family lineage one step further and honor the past of our family, I’d be so proud.”