Manufacturers picky about where they make camp
By Jeff Thomas
We all have reasons — sometimes leaking into rationalization — for being where we are. But whether it’s love, location or incredible luck or lucidity, here are some of our favorite reasons for outdoor manufacturers to be where they are in Colorado — which, of course is always a good place to continue to be, or be from, or perhaps going to.
Southern Colorado: Voormi, because it wasn’t Boulder
A principal reason that Voormi — perhaps the most innovative name in outdoor apparel today — is in Pagosa Springs is the fact that this small southern mountain town on the western side of Wolf Creek Pass is NOT Boulder.
Marketing director Timm Smith said that founder Dan English was in Boulder about seven years ago when the former software engineer decided that creating an outdoor apparel company just wouldn’t work there.
“The goal in getting to Pagosa Springs was to really step out of that scene,” Smith said. “Each company was affecting each other so much that they all ended up with the same product.
“Sometimes to get a different perspective you’ve got to get out of your own skin.”
Apparently that was successful, and it may turn out to be one of the most successful ideas regarding what we put next to our skins, as well. Voormi, which has about 15 employees in Pagosa, has a unique “engineered fabric construction process” that combines wool with waterproof and wicking polymers during the weave. The result is light and flexible apparel that can range from sturdy shirts to semi-waterproof fleece with wool fabrics that intertwine water-resistant synthetics on the outside and water-wicking synthetics on the inside; think about a sweatshirt hoodie you can wear on the water while fly fishing.
Voormi gets all its wool from the Rocky Mountains, with finer wool fibers from northern New Mexico, but its business philosophy was honed in Boulder high tech. “It was very much a Silicon Valley model,” Smith said, “not knowing how we were going to do it, but knowing it all had to be disruptive.”
Small sew shops around Colorado are networked together with designers to create an extremely agile manufacturing environment that partners with local suppliers to create a rapid iteration process to meet changing demand. Try to find that anywhere else in the apparel world.
English first began work in Pagosa with textile expert Doug Lumb in 2010. From there it may be history in the making as the product has received rave reviews from industry pundits such as Outside and Backpacker magazines.
But the real secret? Hanging with real-world people who don’t have a lot of money and use their gear in a variety of occupations and circumstance: from the top of Wolf Creek during the winter, to the rafting season during the spring, creeks during fly-fishing season and hunting in the fall.
“We have to sit down and drink beer with these people,” Smith said.
Fishpond of Denver: Because timing is everything
Fishpond provides some very differentiated fly-fishing gear for men and women anglers, an eclectic group of fishing vests, chest packs, tech packs, bags and apparel. Originally located in Denver and Kansas, it consolidated the Fishpond (men’s) and Lilypond (women’s) brand headquarters in Colorado about five years ago, just in the nick of time before prices started soaring. The company keeps its seven-person management team in Denver today.
“We decided on Denver because of its central location,” said founder Ben Kurtz. “Being in a city such as Denver, we have the ability to attract and retain talent from all over the country. Denver gives us the ability to also tap into many other resources and partners that we might otherwise not be able to take advantage of.”
But perhaps more importantly, “Both the commercial and residential real estate markets were compelling at the time as well.”
Talk about timing. A few more months and they would have been out of luck.
Boulder County: Because Topo is more than just lines on a map
Face it, there just aren’t too many places in this world where you can go from urban to trail more quickly than in Boulder County, which is a darn good reason that Topo Designs is headquartered in Louisville.
The company focuses on backpacks and apparel that easily can accommodate the transition from urban to trail, said marketing manager Becky Day. Founded in 2008 by friends Mark Hansen and Jedd Rose, the company boasts 26 full-time employees, including retail store managers in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and San Francisco.
Most of the backpacks are made locally in Louisville and Arvada, while most of the apparel is manufactured in California. The founders were outdoorsmen who became acquainted at a previous job, but both still embrace the founding mantra of the company — for Hansen, biking to work in Louisville, and for Rose, maintaining a Fort Collins office where he can quickly go from management to fly fishing.
“They pretty much founded the company to make products that are durable and usable,” Day said. “They found they had the resources to build them locally, and we’re lucky we’re able to work within our community to make these products.”
OtterBox: Because family focus thrives in Fort Collins
OtterBox is known throughout the world as the top protection case for smartphones and tablets, but few remember that the company was founded in 1998 as a drybox for kayakers.
“We started right here in (founder) Curt Richardson’s garage,” said communications manager Kristen Tatti. “The concept for the original was something you could keep your PDA safe in, but more and more people wanted something that would still allow them to manipulate it.”
So the tough and waterproof membrane that allowed people to manipulate a personal digital assistant happened to be right on time for the mobile revolution.
Western Colorado: Because what happens in Cortez ought to stay in Cortez
Pinning down Osprey Packs founder Mike Pfotenhauer isn’t an easy task, so the city of Cortez has come up with an amazing land-for-jobs swap to do exactly that.
The company started in Santa Cruz, Calif., moved to Dolores in 1987 — just in time to rent a factory that was vacated by Gore-Tex — and for years hired nearby Navajo sewers. At the turn of the century, it moved headquarters to Cortez and manufacturing to Vietnam, which came hand-in-hand with moving distribution to Utah.
Cortez, on the other hand, apparently doesn’t want Osprey to move on. The city came up with a remarkable plan to exchange a plat of land, worth about $245,000, for jobs — with each one coming with a salary in the mid-$30,000s — enabling the construction of a new company headquarters.
With hopes for 45 new jobs, the city will knock $5,000 off the purchase price for each new job that comes in.
“It’s really a collaborative effort with the city in a number of ways,” said Kami York-Feirn, the company’s social media specialist. “They are helping us build a $1.2 million headquarters, but we engage with the community in a number of ways, especially supporting our local schools, donating backpacks for back-to-school events.”
The company currently has 44 employees in Vietnam and 85 in Cortez, where just about everyone hopes it continue to prosper.