Today I’m speaking with Alpine Fit founder Jen Loofbourrow. Jen launched Alpine Fit to be an outdoor activewear brand in line with her customer’s values offering fit options for body proportions, odor-resistant fabrics for spending more time outdoors, and making products in Alaska. Raised in Ontario, Canada in a hard-working, outdoor-loving family. She went on to live in Vancouver followed by Galway, Ireland before settling down in Anchorage with her husband, and two children, and they all love the outdoors including hiking, running, skiing, kayaking, and camping.
In your early twenties, you fell in love with expeditions kayaking the outer islands of Alaska’s Southeast coastline. How were you introduced to the outdoors? Was it kayaking?
Well, that definitely wasn’t my first time getting into the outdoors. I’d say I got introduced to the outdoors as a child going to my grandparents’ little cabin up north in Ontario, Canada.
we called it a cottage, but it was what you would more identify as an off-grid cabin in the woods. You know, outhouse. Pump for house getting the water up from the lake to closer to the cabin for washing dishes. Endless trails to hike through the woods. So pretty remote.
And you have a BS in chemistry and an MBA? Were those degrees intentional?
I felt like I should probably go into the sciences because I was highly more likely to get a job that I’d be able to do after university. And somehow that science career led me to chemistry, which did bizarrely lead me to fabric development and did indeed, create a building block over my career. But, I don’t know if I do chemistry over again. If I had the choice.
How’d you get into science? Where’d that come from?
I certainly always liked questions and problem-solving and seeking solutions. And I do remember having one of those nerdy, you know, microscope sets. But I think I really always liked Science and Art. I mean, that sounds like the most diplomatic answer I could possibly give, but I really, really enjoyed both science and art and I think I just picked science because I thought maybe I’d be able to get a better job.
How were you inspired to get into design? That must have been the art side of your brain.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I always did painting and you know, my mom did a lot of sewing in her younger years and my grandmother as well was a quilter. So I think I’ve always been around art, fabric, and textiles my whole life. So, it was just kind of a natural fit to pull on those different building blocks of my, upbringing.
And one of your first design-related jobs was as a material developer at Lululemon in Vancouver. How did you connect with Lululemon?
Well, I was going to university in Vancouver, BC, Canada and I needed a job to help pay some of the student life bills. And I actually worked in their stores. This is a long time ago before Lululemon kind of has become what it has become now. So this is like 2007ish. And basically, my apartment was where their flagship store was. We’re a stone’s throw from one another. It was an obvious, growing, cool vibe of the company at the time. And, it was just a great place to get exposed to potentially different types of jobs behind the scenes in, outdoor and technical fabric apparel. And just by happenstance, I got a job there just as a salesperson that they call educators, and I was such a keen, let’s say, fabric nerd. I just loved the technical fabrics that they had and, what they did with their design, incorporating those specific purpose-built textiles into the designs.
And how long were you there? How long did you do that?
Really only two years. I was pretty young and had sort of the call to go backpacking in South America and all that sort of stuff,
And you had a lingerie and swimwear retail store in Ireland. How’d you get to Ireland? How’d that start?
That’s another side-tangent, chapter of my resume. Basically, my, now husband, got into school in Ireland. And he got into school while we were on that trip traveling in South America. And of course, it seemed like, Hey, why not? Let’s move to Ireland. You’re young, you know, the economy’s not that great. Let’s go do something crazy. And then it turned out that, of course, the economy’s not so great. And even though I had this chemistry degree that I thought was. great for getting jobs anywhere. There was no chance of getting your European work visa or Irish work visa. There were no jobs at all. It was happening just as bad or worse over there than it was in North America. So there was no status for anyone, like a spouse or anything of a student to be over there for longer than like a one-year work holiday visa or a three-month work holiday visa, I can’t remember. Maybe it was a one-year maximum. And I was like, okay, I gotta figure out a better plan. And it turns out that if you can come up with a business plan and idea and apply to the Irish government for a status called business permission, they will allow you to move over and start the business. Contribute to the local economy, hire EU or Irish Nationals to be employed. Then evaluate you at the end of the year and offer you the opportunity to continue. So that is what I did.
Do you have anybody in your family that’s entrepreneurial? Does that come from someone in your family?
I’d say there’s a definite trend of an entrepreneurial spirit and, many, many self-employed people in my family.
So then you’re back in the States as the operations manager at a Swedish women’s brand. Shkoop?
Yep. Skhoop. So Skhoop is a Swedish brand that has North American offices in Anchorage Alaska. They basically make Puffy down skirt s and jackets. So picture a puffy, you’ve probably seen them. They’re really popular in cold areas, right?
They make other types of, you know, they have a spring and summer collection as well as other pieces like base layers and vests and things like that too. But the product that they started with was this sort of puffy jacket skirt version. So you, you can wrap it around, you’re really easily, like over your snow pants or, you know, if you’re spectating outdoor sports or things like that. You just zip it fully on and fully off, and it can layer over your other layers. Quite honestly in Alaska in the winter, you need that extra warmth.
So by the time, you came around to the idea of Alpine Fit, you had a pretty well-rounded personal experience in education on how to start a business, run a business, hire reps.
I mean, yes, I felt very well prepared. and then only in hindsight or when I was in the thick of the early years, you know, of Alpine Fit, it’s been just over four years, in those first couple of years I realized I was missing a couple building blocks. Yeah. Those definitely were the most challenging things.
Who’s gonna make it? How’d you figure that out?
Well, that was a rough road. you know, there’s not much of an industry.
There’s a big outdoor industry, but there are not a lot of sewing products or manufacturing industries. I mean, there certainly are businesses that have come before me. Revelate Designs and the bike packing worlds you know, they, they were there. Right alongside the emergence and development of those types of products. And they’re based here in Anchorage, Alaska. And then there are some fishing-related sewing product businesses.
How did Alpine Fit come to life?
Oh, well, it, you’ve asked me so many questions about those building blocks. It was the call of me wanting to be an entrepreneur again. And then just kind of bringing together all of these passions that I have for all these various things together.
And namely, I mean, the way I like to personally recreate is to spend long periods of time outdoors. You asked me earlier about this first long expedition-style kayak trip that I did. Those kinds of trips are my favorite thing. You pack one very small kit of gear and your self-supported food supply and all of your camping gear, and you go and you go for many days.
Those trips give you a lot of time to think about what you want to have on those, trips with you. And they make you really think about the features you like and don’t like about the gear you brought. So basically just to start in refining like these kit of essentials that would be good for these kinds of trips and then also this like fit options thing.
Tell us more about that silver-infused fabric.
So I knew that this fiber existed and I knew what kind of fabric feeling I wanted it to have. I didn’t want it to have a plastic bag feeling. I didn’t want it to be cold to the touch or hot and clammy to the touch, depending on the season or the condition, not another fleece product.
So, basically, I didn’t even have a company at the time, just the business names. And, I literally like, reached out to the fiber supplier and was like, please take me seriously. I have this whole idea, I wanna include this fiber.
Basically, there is an awesome US-based fiber supplier that’s working with Silver in wearable application Technologies. And, I knew of them from my time at Lululemon. Fast forward 10 years later when I start embarking on what I’m going to do for this business, they were still top of mind as the leader out there for working on, this sort of antimicrobial fiber technology.
So my first step was to reach out to them. And learn about what they have, and what’s possible out there that exists that’s not, you know, infringing on any exclusivity that another brand might have. Right. Name Lee Lululemon. Totally unique. Yeah. Yeah. That’s kind of where it all began.
That’s amazing. do you wanna name that, that company? The fiber supplier company is Noble Biomaterials. I believe they’d probably be delighted if I mentioned them.
What outdoor activities, maybe I should flip this question. What outdoor activities don’t you participate in?
Oh my goodness. you’re gonna tap into my Alaska Imposter Syndrome. The first thing that comes to mind is like, also the funny thing is, everything is so relative, right? Mm-hmm. I mean, I’m gonna say that I’m not really into something, but then maybe I’m into it compared to other people, right?
I’m an adult learned Cross Country skier. I absolutely love it. And I go at least three times a week in the winter. But where I live is world-class Cross Country skiing, and I literally have friends that are former Olympians. Relative to them. I’m not really into cross country.
It’s hard to say what I don’t do. I mean, the, there are some things that I don’t, that are definitely outdoor recreation that go in the sports realm, but like we do a little bit of fishing. Again, that’s not like maybe. Like sport. I would say like, we do fishing, we’re not like way into fishing. My favorite, I guess the road biking is not very good. Sorry if anyone’s planning a fun road trip, biking trip to Alaska, but I personally think that road biking is not very good here.
The mountain biking is phenomenal. The gravel biking thing is taking off. And fat tire biking is phenomenal. So maybe, I don’t know what I’m missing. rock climbing. I love rock climbing.
Backpacking too. And pack grafting. More recently, in the past few years, got have gotten way into pack grafting. I mean this a boat that’s basically an inflatable kayak sort of thing, and it folds down to a seven-pound little parcel.
Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the outdoor biz?
I would say if you’re wanting to get into being an entrepreneur of any kind, be prepared to work hard at it. But actually getting into the outdoor world, you probably need to actually still physically go to where people meet in person to build a network of connections in the outdoor industry. So that may not mean you have to travel to one of the big national trade shows. Those, though, are, you know, a very fun place to go and meet your people. You can build a network closer to home. Personally, I have existed as an entrepreneur, sort of flailing in the wind for longer than I should have, and there were networks and communities that I could intersect with earlier that I’m glad that I now have. Mm-hmm. For instance, we’ve formed ourselves a little Alaska woman-led outdoor product business group.
So there’s a handful of us that are geographically based that are doing outdoor-oriented products and we’re all women-led businesses. And meet quarterly and we share our challenges, successes, you know, bounce ideas off each other, plan some co co-branded marketing campaigns and just generally try to like, You know, be a community for the unique, challenges and successes that we’re facing. So build a, build a network, get some peers.
Do you have a favorite piece of outdoor gear that costs under a hundred dollars?
Are you meaning a non-Alpine Fit thing or an Alpine Fit thing? The Alpine Fit one’s way easier to answer, our little Nordic, we call it our Nordic Anywhere Marino wool hat.
I’ll just say the first thing that came to mind is recently I discovered these little, trail mitten things that I’m loving for spring running. They’re called run mitts, white paws run mitts. Okay. And they’re basically this little sort of fleecy thing that you, it’s a thumbless mitten that you just put your hand inside of and it flips over. And then when you’re too hot, which happens all the time really quickly in these sort of late winter, early spring runs, especially in cold places like this, you can just flip it open and then push it up your arm like a cuff. So it’s like, it’s like really versatile.
Do you have any favorite books?
My favorite thing that I’m reading right now is my just turned nine year old daughter and myself have been working through a 13 book series. And it’s the Lemony Snickets Series of Unfortunate Events book series. And I have to say that is action packed with adventure, and it has been so fun.
But the other books that I’m reading at the moment, is Jim Collins, B 2.0 Beyond Entrepreneurship.
As we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to say to our listeners or ask of our listeners?
And then if you’re physically traveling to Anchors Alaska, we welcome visitors. You can pick up our address on alpine fit.com and come and visit us in our workshop space. And we’d love to hear your travel stories here about what you’re doing in Alaska and meet more people.