Depending on who you ask and how you read the data, the U.S. is an economic upswing. But America’s business landscape still isn’t what it used to be—a place where companies employed real people, not machines, who actually lived in the U.S. and who made actual physical products, not digitized services, out of American resources.
Outdoor clothing maker Voormi, which specializes in wool, is doing its small part to change this, all out of the tiny Colorado town of Pagosa Springs.
"Their small family business is encompassing their whole community, and their products are a combination of modern technology and some of the oldest textile building blocks known to man,” says professional skier Jack Weise, who tests Voormi products out of his home base in nearby Crested Butte.
"Call them what you will—makers, manufacturers, builders, entrepreneurs—at the core, they are doers. They subscribe to this very basic notion that if you put your head down, work hard, and produce a good product, people will notice. That's Voormi," says Chuck Sullivan of Something Independent, a Colorado-based company that supports "maker" companies, or companies that, you know, actually make things. "They are operating from this intersection of lifestyle and commerce, where there is just a certain energy. You can't always put your finger on it, but that's the beauty of it and a big reason why 'doers' like Voormi are playing an outsized role in shaping their communities and regional economies."
Founded by technology industry veteran Dan English and led by some textile experts from outdoor fabric brands like GoreTex and Polartec, Voormi is using its locally sourced, extra-resilient wool in entirely new ways. After launching a successful yet small line of High-E hoodies, which garnered some rave reviews from people wearing them everywhere from Everest to Denali, this fall Voormi is floating a new brew: a water-repelling wool-mix outer layer based on three pending patents.
The company is hoping people will drink in its "craft" outdoor clothing the same way they're swigging locally made IPAs. In the outdoor clothing industry, where big supply chains and overseas manufacturing have led to clothes becoming commoditized, Voormi hopes to capture the eyes of outdoor adventurers willing to pay a premium for higher quality layering pieces that locally sourced, designed, tested, and made.
"Much like the authentic home-brewers that hit the reset button on the beer industry, we see Voormi driving the return of diversity and authenticity to the outdoor industry," says Timm Smith, marketing director for Voormi. "Rather than buy textiles from the same sources as everyone else, we chose to develop them ourselves, and rather than receive garments by the container load, we chose to make them domestically in small batches. In a way, we strive to be that 'micro-brew' of apparel."
In the world of outdoor apparel, staying local and small works like this: Handpick the best-of-the-best wool from sheep exclusively grazed in the high Rocky Mountains. Work with spinners to ensure only the longest and strongest fibers make it into yarn. Knit products in one of the country's top mills, overseen by a third-generation textile expert. Cut and sew garments in the U.S., with full visibility of the process.
"We don't take bi-annual trips to Asia. We're in our factory every few weeks," says Smith. "Over 97 percent of the apparel we wear in this country was built overseas. In just about all of those cases, those garments were built in giant factories and arrived by the container-load. When you're making that much product at that kind of pace, we believe it's near impossible to truly control quality."
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