After a five year hiatus from the snowboard industry, Mission Six Founder Abe Gilreath has teamed up with shred legend and Bluebird Snowboards Founder Kevin Jones for a new base layer brand, Naklin, which will be dropping at SIA. We caught up with Gilreath to learn more about the project.
Give us a little background on yourself and what you’ve been doing since leaving Mission Six.
I lived in Mammoth for 30 years so I don't think we have enough space for all of those stories. I was on the mountain as much as possible riding and watched the evolution of snowboarding from a young age. It was a natural progression for me to start Mission Six Snowboard Outwear from Mammoth in 1996. I moved from Mammoth to Bend, Oregon in 2000. In 2006 I sold a portion of the brand hoping to recapitalize in the hyper competitive market, but the deal went to hell and I jumped out. Since then I've been a nomad of sorts moving back and forth from Southern California to Oregon for work.
Where did you get the idea for Naklin and how did you wind up partnering with Kevin Jones on this endeavor?
The inspiration that birthed Naklin had been brewing sense before I sold M6. Around 2005 I started to recognize how behind snowboarding outerwear was in comparison to outdoor and mountaineering apparel. Even the most technical efforts by most snowboard brands are still misguided at some level because the X Game focused brands follow a "form before function" design model rather then a "function then form" model. We all may not admit or even recognize it, but for the most part that's how it is. I also started to feel like an old man at the ripe old age of 30 and I noticed there were a lot of us riding. All the guys that I started riding with back in the late eighties were now all 30 plus, I notice how we rode the mountain and what we valued in apparel wasn't being offered from the industry at large.
Kevin and I knew one another from our Mammoth days. I knew he was disenchanted by what the industry at large was hell bent on selling. So I gave him a call.
You guys are targeting the higher-end of the base layer spectrum. Who do you see yourselves competing with?
Only one brand in snowboarding offers any base layer products worth noting, so we feel like we are competing with the outdoor industry brands like Patagonia and SmartWool. Sure, every snowboard brand does a fancy poly-tee shirt, basically the equivalent of a rash guard with an anti-microbleral treatment. The biggest competition for us right now is the retailer’s mental space. I went to a lot of shops preparing for this brand and got directed to cotton flannels or hoodies when I asked about base layer.
Describe Naklin’s range of products, the tech behind them and the prices we're talking.
Our Fall / Winter line is a focused lineup of base layer tops and bottoms in two weights – Winter weight and Storm weight. Our goal for winter garments is heat retention.
We have two primary fabrics – Isothermal which is a Merino /poly blend, these garments price out at about $69.00 – $89.00 depending on weight and features like a zip neck or balaclava hood.
Our premium Australian Merino Wool garments range in the neighborhood of $90.00- $100.00 bucks.
The tech behind the Merino and Isothermal fabrics is the natural make-up of the Merino fibers themselves. Merino wool fibers are natural, odor resistant, and have an extremely high heat to weight ratio and Merino unlike regular wool is very soft and not itchy. Our blended Isothermal fabric uses a polyester specifically engineered to promote moister management. Most poly's relay on an "add on" wicking spray that washes out in 10 –12 washes rendering the garment worthless.
Why is Merino so expensive? Is anyone working on a domestic herd?
Merino wool comes from Merino sheep. The Merino fibers are then sorted to only the finest of fibers. The smaller and finer the diameter of the fiber the more expensive it becomes. That is the reason for the price arch in Merino products. There is a lot of resource management that goes into it's production. In the modern world it's much easier and cheaper to turn on a machine that spits our countless rolls of petroleum based thread. In the long run, when you consider all the environmental toxins produced from manufacturing synthetics, Merino is the better choice. Quality Merino wool comes from Australia or New Zealand. Personally, I do not know of any domestic Merino fabric supplier.
I like the description of your demographic as the "Post X Games guy" – explain that a little better.
It originally was a way to describe the early adopters of snowboarding, "Gen-X"/ X-Gamers as they have grown up and their interests have broadened hence “Post X Gamers.” But this definition has expanded to define anyone that has come up through the X Games, youth focused aspect of action sports an is now on the other side of it. Post X Gamers are typically not worried what fit their pants are, they are off hiking pow or dropping a pillow line. Originally we thought this was an age thing or only a small segment of hard core guys like Kevin who made the mountains their home and took riding outside the park and pipe into the backcountry, but now with the explosion of progressive big mountain riding and backcountry ascents, snowboarding is starting to look more like it did back in the day when riders did it all, and I'm excited to see these types of riders finally getting some credit.
You mentioned that you saw eesa and Cilla as tombstones along the path – why do you think the time is right now and what lessons do you take away from that?
The time is right because of the Post X-Gamer reality. The market has shifted and is maturing and aspects of the sport long overlooked have taken center attention. These realities demand great technical product. I don't know all the ins and outs of those brands but I think their timing was unfortunate, the industry was to focused on $100 all over print jackets and how to waterproof denim. Our product design model is coming from a different angle. We'd like to think our garments are cool but we're not trying to make moisture-wicking streetwear. We are making garments for specific tasks and meeting new demands in the market place and from what I can recall that is a clear difference from these previous brands. We also are taking into account what else a snowboarders is into -trail running, climbing, yoga, surf, and travel it's all on the table for us.
You guys are coming out with a strong roster between Lonnie Kauk and Kevin Jones. What kind of riders are you looking for? Any others in the works?
It's pretty easy to find a link between Kevin and Lonnie and what other type of riders we'll be supporting. Lonnie is attempting a 30-foot V10 route right now. Kevin is one of the modern founders of big mountain freestyle, he split to Jackson Hole for five years to do his thing for the love of it! We are looking for mountain men and adventurers, authentic personalities.
You guys are looking at straddling the line between ski and snowboard, correct? Do you see those lines continuing to blur?
What lines? I have a 14 and 11 year old—to them those days are over, never were. They didn’t hear the harsh bantering from back in the day. My kids ride, but they hang out with their skier friends. Honestly where would the big sales and fat marketing budgets for the top three brands come from if skiers didn't buy their garments from time to time? I love Kevin's quote " it was better when they hated us." It was because snowboarders were pushing boundaries and doing things differently. It was distinct. We come from this mentality and snowboarding heritage—that’s who we are and what we do. Our goal is to bring that into the market and we'd be honored if, tele skiers, free-skiers, climbers, trail runners, and others find value in our product.
Will you guys be exhibiting at SIA?
What's your pitch to specialty retailers?
We offer a premium niche product focused on an emergent demographic, Post-X Gamers, that is currently having to seek out and buy these products from other retailers because they don't carry it. Additionally, the products we offer provide them with an “add on sale” that will actually make their customers riding experience better.
I love the quote from John Muir on your site. Where are you going to be doing your product testing this winter?
Muir is great. That's just one of his many amazing insights. We started testing fabrics last winter and this fall in the Sierra’s and Central Oregon. We will be tearing apart our current product offer everyday. The goal is to never be satisfied and to be as responsible to our consumer as possible when it comes creating quality.
You guys have teamed up with Greg Hughes on the distribution front. How has partnering with an established distributor helped you guys get this off the ground?
Greg is highly respected and liked throughout the industry. He's been in the game a long time and understands what Naklin is wanting to do. Greg has managed the distribution expansion of a few core brands into massive players and maintained his class and the brands’ dignity. We are lucky to have him.
When you were growing up, did you always want to get into the underwear game?
Well if this doesn't work out maybe I can talk Victoria Secret into the value of Merino…