Sew-ing Entrepreneurs

By on April 29, 2014


JACKSON, WYO – Jackson Hole provides the inspiration for lifestyle-clothing manufacturers

There is a mystique in Jackson that draws visitors, captivates locals and fosters creativity. It is that mystique that some Jackson-based clothing companies credit for inspiration and try to emulate for national sales.

Starting a clothing line is incredibly hard. Beyond creating a fresh concept, which is hard enough, there are logistics, finding pattern makers and factories, designing and testing prototypes, and securing capital, said Stephen Sullivan. He should know. He was a founder of one of Jackson’s best-known brands, Cloudveil, and in 2012 started Stio.

“When I first started Cloudveil everyone thought I was nuts, and I’m sure a lot of people still think I’m nuts when I said I’m trying it again,” Sullivan said.

It’s risky and hard work, yet for Sullivan and other entrepreneurs living here Jackson has inspired clothing lines that reflect all the things they love about the community.

Sullivan started working at an outdoor store in Colorado when he was in junior high school. When he moved to Jackson about 25 years ago he worked at Skinny Skis.

When not working he was out skiing. He noticed at the time there wasn’t breathable and waterproof outerwear. When he co-founded Cloudveil in 1997, the company was focused on technical gear and was one of the first companies to offer a soft shell jacket, now a staple for many backcountry skiers.

Living in Jackson has been the biggest influence on Sullivan’s life and Cloudveil wouldn’t have been born if he did not live here. Cloudveil also would not have declined if it had remained based in Jackson Hole, he said. The company was sold in 2005 to a larger holding company and again in 2008. It left Jackson in 2010 and is now based out of Massachusetts.

“That had a dramatic influence,” Sullivan said. “They tore the soul out of the brand.”

Sullivan tried to buy the company back, but couldn’t and after waiting out the non-compete period of his contract he started Stio in 2011. Products hit the market in 2012.

While Cloudveil was a technical line, Stio is more about merging the backcountry with the resort lifestyle, he said. For instance, the company offers a soft shell men’s blazer.

Additionally, while Cloudveil was sold to wholesalers, Stio is sold directly to consumers via a website, catalogue or in a Stio store, which allows the company to control the brand experience, Sullivan said. There were often Cloudveil items that were popular with customers, but not with wholesale buyers. This cuts out the middleman, he said.

Stio, like Cloudveil, also has equity partners, but Sullivan said those partners understand the importance of place and how Jackson influences the brand. Sullivan designs about half the products in his line. The ideas come while out on a ski tour or fishing trip or standing on the sidelines of a soccer field during a sudden snowstorm.

“The genesis comes from living here,” Sullivan said.

The challenge is translating the Jackson lifestyle for people who live in places where they don’t ski before work.

“With any apparel brand based here, there has to have some aspirational element to it,” Sullivan said. About half of sales at the store in Jackson are to tourists, he said. Catalogue orders have gone to every state.

Top: Katie Steinberg runs in a Stio t-shirt.
Middle: Detail of Stio zip-front jacket.
Bottom: Mens’ blazers hanging in the Jackson Stio store.
photos courtesy of stio.

Mountain Khakis
Finding a balance between authenticity for the people who inspire the designs and creating appeal for those who might not pursue a mountain lifestyle is key, said Ned Hutchinson, Mountain Khakis senior product manager. Hutchinson has been with the company about five years, previously working for Cloudveil.

About 12 years ago Mountain Khakis founders saw a hole in the market. Outdoor clothing often didn’t offer varied sizing for men’s pants, the first product the company focused on.

Now the line is distributed across the country, in Canada and Asia through 800 dealers. They began offering a women’s line seven years ago and tops four years ago. While rugged and durable, the clothing appeals to city-dwellers because of the quality fit, Hutchinson said. While the company has branched into a broader lifestyle market, it will always be grounded in the outdoors, which is the backbone of the company.

Mountain Khakis was built for the people who work at the company. They design clothing they want to wear, Hutchinson said.

“It’s built for life in a mountain town,” he said. “We definitely get out and do the things that those clothes are designed for. … We do walk the walk. We’re out there in the backcountry skiing. We’re fishing. We’re hiking. But those don’t pay the bills.”

There’s a natural pull for those interested in business to the items they use and understand, which in Jackson often is outdoor wear. Jackson also is a community where people support each other, Hutchinson said. That means people are loyal to local brands, but also that they reach out to help new businesses.

About three years ago Bubba Albrecht, Carly Platt and Jed Mickle launched Give’r. It started with a hat to commemorate an epic kayaking trip from Jackson to Canada. The hat featured a silhouette of the Tetons and the words Give’r, a common phrase in Canada meaning to give it your all.

People kept asking about the hat and if they could get one, Albrecht said. So the three came together and with $1,000 started Give’r. They launched a website in March 2012 featuring two t-shirt options, leather gloves and two hat options.

Give’r isn’t technical gear. It’s meant to be relaxed, comfortable and fun, Albrecht said. One Give’r shirt includes a picture of a skier wearing styles from the ’80s, complete with neon coloring, making it clear the company doesn’t take itself too seriously and aims to appeal to those who are not extreme athletes.

“It’s OK to not be the best skier on the mountain and still have the best day of skiing,” he said.

The merchandise now includes accessories like the “River Runner,” which is a hands-free beer can cooler worn around the neck, and their best-selling gloves they hand brand with the Give’r logo and the customer’s initials. They rely mostly on word of mouth for advertising, in particular the questions their customers and brand ambassadors receive while wearing Give’r gear. They have now sold to people in every state and Canada.

Give’r is a side business for the three. Albrecht works at Rendezvous Bistro, Platt is the executive director of Teton Valley Ranch Camp and Mickle works construction. They feel they might not have been able to start the business if they were in a different community.

“The energy of the community and the connectivity and just overall kindness and willingness to support young businesses is very real,” Albrecht said. “The vibe of this community is different and that’s why we live here, and that’s why we’re able to grow a business here.”

Top: Sam, Maddy, Tory, Hayley, Des, Ben, Tristan model Tshirts on the Snake River.
Bottom Left: Give’r team Jed Mickle, Bubba Albrecht, Carly Platt on launch day, March 30, 2012, at JHMR.
Bottom Right: Bubba Albrecht model
a Give’r hat.
Photos courtesy of Give’r

Aion is among Jackson Hole local clothing companies that is worth keeping an eye on. “Aion” first became a concept for founder and co-owner Michael Massie in 2011, after reading a book that explored the theory of the word. He interpreted it to mean that all individuals “can make a difference by elevating people from poverty.” He realized that he, too, wanted to join the fight.
Originally from Leucadia, Calif., Massie is a graphic designer by trade and has worked in the surf industry and for Jackson Hole companies Brain Farm and TGR. He found his way into the Balinese clothing industry through an acquaintance that also hires Bali garment makers.

An assortment of clothing from Aion.

Recollect Threads
Alex Biegler relocated from Colorado to open Recollect Threads, another local clothier worth watching. The retail store is located on the corner of King and Pearl Avenue where Biegler creates apparel geared for the passionate “backcountry” athlete. His clean-looking hoodies, beanies, tees, sweaters and hats carry the RT logo of the skier packing skis on his back. The website’s tagline reads: “RT strives to put our designs on your chest and send you out to flaunt it proudly.” A visit to the store is a warm and inviting experience, a reflection of Biegler’s attitude.

RT logo t-shirt

About Kelsey Dayton

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