Bill Amos, 32, started NW Alpine with the dream of supporting U.S. manufacturing jobs while creating gear to feed his love of mountaineering.
Now two years old, the company manufactures products in Portland, Ore., and is growing fast. Its apparel is now sold in 12 shops in the United States and is doing well on the export market, with 11 outlets in Tokyo and at online retailers in Mexico and Germany.
NW Alpine products measure up price-wise with other high end clothing companies: A Polartec Black Spider Hoodie is $110; climbing-inspired Mens and Womens Fast/Light softshell jackets cost $220; and the 4.9 ounce Eyebright Jacket (the company calls it “the lightest fully featured waterproof/breathable jacket on the market”) made with Dyneema and eVent membrane is $600.
The gear has been through tough conditions such as the ascents of the Northwest Face of Mount Dickey and the 6,400-meter Hispar Sar in Pakistan.
The company has a three-pronged mission: Make clothes for climbing that are simple, functional, light, and of the highest quality; support domestic manufacturing; provide customers the best service.
Sounds solid. We spoke with Amos to learn more about his burgeoning brand.
“Back in 2008 when the economy was tanking, I thought I should learn what was going on and how the economy was working. I had no background in business,” Amos said.
After a lot of study, he devised a plan to start the company.
“I believe that the only way we would have a real recovery in our country is if we started making things here again and I wanted to start a business that supported local manufacturing. There are obviously not very many companies that make apparel in the U.S. but I think there are a lot of people who will support it,” he said.
Just two years in his plan seems to have some validity with steadily increasing revenue and production.
“We’re already running into growing pain issues,” Amos said, adding he expects to produce at least 2,000 pieces this year. “We don’t want to grow too fast and are happy with the trajectory that we’re on.”
While small, the company has begun to meet one of its goals, employing Amos, partner and COO Nick Isaac, and four or five sewers in Portland as well as freelance apparel and technical designers.
“Because we’re growing quickly, our manufacturer is growing, so we’ve rented a space and moved part of our operations to Newberg, Oregon,” Amos said. “We just moved into warehouse space shared with the manufacturers and quality control is easier. Lead times are shorter and our entire operation is that much more efficient.”
The company still has a long way to go to becoming a major brand and faces challenges of dealing with a supply chain that favors larger production.
“It’s an ongoing challenge working with fabric manufacturers and material manufacturers when you are small,” Amos said. “It is getting better now that we’ve been doing it for a while, but starting out was definitely challenging.”
It will be interesting to watch the company grow as it attempts to improve the local economy around Portland, one jacket at a time. —Sean McCoy