June 6, 2023

Building a brand from the ground up with NW Alpine Gear founder Bill Amos, sewn in the USA [EP 384]

Show Notes

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Rick Saez
Building a brand from the ground up with NW Alpine Gear founder Bill Amos, sewn in the USA [EP 384]
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Thank you, now let’s get to the episode . . .

In the early 2000s NW Alpine founder Bill Amos found himself dissatisfied with technical clothing options for alpine climbing. At the tail end of the 2008 recession, Bill was inspired to realize his vision. He believed that the only way we would have a real economic recovery in the U.S. is if we started making things here again and Northwest Alpine was born.

Show Notes

How did you get into skiing in the outdoors?

I actually grew up in the southwest Chicago suburbs. So not the best place to be for mountain sports. But my dad actually grew up in East Tennessee and he was a big hunter and fisherman and outdoor guy down there. So he got me into Boy Scouts when I was pretty young and we had a really active group. So we did a lot of hiking and camping and all that sort of stuff. So that kind of started to foster my love for the outdoors.

What jobs did you do before starting their business?

After college, I did some teaching jobs, including teaching in the outdoor program at a community college in Gresham, just outside of Portland. I also worked as a ski patroller at Timberline.

How did you start Northwest Alpine Gear?

Northwest Alpine Gear began in 2010. I didn’t have any experience in manufacturing, apparel design, etc. I posted an ad on Craigslist asking for help and found a woman with experience in women’s athletic brands who helped me develop the first few products.

I started the business with no budget, doing everything myself including manufacturing and photography. I initially used a small factory but eventually, we started our own factory.

Where does the name come from?

I think the mountains in the northwest and the alpine environment’s kind of, unlike any other mountain range in the lower 48. It’s just very unique. It’s burly, there’s terrible weather. A lot of times in the technical climbing the rock is rotten, the snow is rotten, the ice is rotten, it’s getting scary. Right? And it’s just hard, it’s just difficult. So I kind of think that US manufacturing in some ways is the same way. It’s hard, but it’s worth it

What are the benefits of localized manufacturing?

The benefits of localized manufacturing include being in the same time zone, speaking the same language, and having faster transportation to factories and distribution centers. The core benefits are resiliency and sustainability.

What challenges did you face when moving production from Asia to the US?

Moving production from Asia to the US is a significant investment. It is difficult to rebuild the supply chain due to the limited number of companies making necessary products in the US.

Tell us about the Fortis collection.

The Fortis Collection is a project that I’ve been working on for some time. It uses ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene known as Spectra or Dyneema fibers, which are strong and lightweight. The initial products received an editors’ choice award.

Did you have any previous product design or development experience?

Most of my experience with apparel came from just using it for climbing. After college, I worked at a North Face retail store in Chicago and at one of the retailers in Portland called Next Adventure.

Do you get outside much? Do you get to climb and ski still?

Oh, definitely, but not as much as I would like to.

Do you have any suggestions and/or advice for folks wanting to get into the apparel biz?

If you’re interested in starting a brand, don’t do what I did. You know, start a company with no knowledge, or understanding of what you’re doing. It might be good to try and go work at another brand and get some experience.

The other side of that though is that had I known what it was gonna take to do this, I never would’ve started. Might not have done it.

Do you have a favorite piece of outdoor gear under $100? 

In our line, we have our Volo pants, which are kinda a super light, and soft, and people use them for hiking, running, and, climbing in them.

And then my friend Pete Hill has a company called Freestone Equipment. They’re based up in Squamish and if you’re a climber, they’ve got a little product called the Love Handle. It’s just a small, I think it’s a $35 piece of climbing gear organizer that’s really cool.

What are a couple of your favorite books?

Eiger Dreams by John Krakauer

The End of the World is Just the Beginning by Peter Zeihan

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