by Bill Amos
Updates have been a little scarce here at NW Alpine so I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk a little bit about what's been going on with us, where we are now, and what's in store for the future.
Where we came from
I launched NW Alpine in 2010 with the goal of making alpine climbing clothing in the United States. Starting on a small scale we were able to utilize local contract manufacturers to develop and manufacture our line. This worked to an extent but being a small brand with small orders, it's quite difficult to get attention from manufacturers who must focus on larger clients to keep the lights on. We started working with a small manufacturer outside of Portland in 2011 and slowly we transitioned most of our business to them. With sales doubling every year it was clear that we were going to outgrow our main manufacturers capabilities. For the fall/winter season of 2014 we took few orders from retailers because we were concerned about being able to fill orders, and this turned out to be a good thing as we had issues even filling the orders that we received. It was during this time that we started to talk to the owner of our manufacturer about their future goals.
Where we are now
In October 2014 we finalized a deal to purchase the manufacturer's assets and launched Kichatna Apparel Manufacturing LLC. KAM's mission is to provide NW Alpine with guaranteed access to manufacturing, as well as provide contract sewing services to other brands that are interested in making their products domestically. We hit the ground running, bought more equipment, hired more people and have spent the last eleven months building this side of the business. If you've tried to contact us during the last year and gotten a delayed response and wondered what was happening, this is it.
Where we're headed
What does this mean for NW Alpine? Throughout the last year we've brainstormed the future of the company, and continued to develop new products. NW Alpine will remain dedicated to our core values of making functional clothing for alpine climbing and manufacturing our products domestically. Owning our own manufacturing means that we have the ability to prioritize our products, as well as greater control over quality and speed to market.
This winter expect to find our products at three of our key retailers: in Portland at the Mountain Shop and MadeHerePDX, and at Mountain Supply in Bend. You'll be able to shop for our full line on our website as well.
As always we greatly appreciate your support. If it wasn't for our loyal and stoked customers we wouldn't be here.
As the seasons are transitioning and we're all getting excited and ready for the snow and ice to get here, we're also making some big changes here at NW Alpine. For the past year and a half our offices have been housed in a warehouse in Portland's Central Eastside Industrial District. This has been an excellent location for us (aside from the horrendous parking) and has been a great place for our business to grow.
Unfortunately we've outgrown this space and have been looking at alternatives for a while. In talking with our primary manufacturer, who is growing right alongside us, we decided the best course of action would be to partner up and share a space. Thus we've rented a 3,000 square foot warehouse in Newberg, Oregon (30 minutes soutwest of Portland) that will house some of our operations along with our primary manufacturer's operation.
This is exciting for a number of reasons. This move will help streamline our production increasing efficiency, decreasing lead times and allowing for superior quality control. This move will also help create more manufacturing jobs in Oregon, which is obviously one of our core values.
All that being said, please be patient with us for the next couple of weeks as we transition into this new and exciting time for NW Alpine. Thanks again to all of our tribe who have made NW Alpine what it is, we appreciate your ongoing support.
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A recent story I heard on NPR piqued my interest as it was about garment manufacturing, a subject I think about a lot. The story was about fast fashion and giant chain stores like Forever 21 and H&M. While these shops obviously don’t carry technical apparel, we can learn something from their production process. Fast fashion relies on extremely cheap labor, extremely fast and often sloppy work, along with the lowest common denominator materials. In the story they quote Simon Collins, the dean of fashion at Parsons as saying, “You see some products and it's just garbage. It's just crap, and you sort of fold it up and you think, yeah, you're going to wear it Saturday night to your party — and then it's literally going to fall apart.” These companies rely on selling massive amounts of clothing at an extremely cheap price, and they’ve made billions upon billions of dollars doing it. But what the customer ends up with is one-time-use clothing that falls apart as soon as it goes through a wash cycle. What you also end up with is an exploited labor force working on the other side of the world in abhorrent conditions. Conditions such as those at the Tazreen Fashions factory, where late last year 112 workers were killed in a fast moving fire. Or a fire in Pakistan a few months before that that was responsible for the deaths of over 300 people at the Ali Enterprises textile factory in Karachi. Both factories produced garments for major western brands.
Companies adopt “social responsibility” protocols and pay lip service to safety and labor concerns, but how much do they really achieve? I don’t blame large companies for off-shoring their production. It is an unfortunate byproduct of our model of capitalism that in order for companies to be competitive they feel they must chase the lowest cost labor, but ultimately it is a race to the bottom.
As the founder of NW Alpine, I like being able to drive a few minutes and visit our production facility. I like having a personal relationship with the folks that make our products. I like feeling connected to our products in a way that is only possible by producing locally in our community.
At NW Alpine we strive to be the antithesis of “fast fashion.” Every step in our design and production process is deliberate. We won’t release products unless they are up to our high standards, even if it means longer release times for our products. We don’t want to make clothing that is disposable and we want to know that our people (our employees, contractors and customers) are all well cared for. We strive to make all of these things a reality and we hope that you support our mission and feel part of the NW Alpine family.
-Bill Amos Founder/CEO
It's hard to believe it, but this week marks the end of our first year in business. I'd like to thank everyone who has supported us, used our gear, given feedback and criticism and genuinely been excited about what we're doing. Manufacturing gear domestically for a niche market like alpine climbing isn't the easiest thing to do, but throughout this year we've learned that if you make a good, functional product that does what it says it's going to do, infused with a passion for mountains, people will come. In the short time our gear has been out there the folks using it have done some amazing things. We've sold our products to alpinists on three continents who have climbed mountains and walls in such diverse venues as our home range, the Cascades, all the way across the world to the Karakorum in Pakistan. Throw in trips to the French Alps and the big limestone walls of Taghia, Morocco, with many points in between and you might begin to consider us alpine tested.
This next year promises to be exciting as we release new products and continue developing the kind of gear that you want to use. We have some very cool stuff we're working and, as always, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all of NW Alpine's up-to-date happenings.
Thanks again for a great first year!
-Bill Amos Owner/Shipping Specialist