NW Alpine, based in Newberg, OR, is launching an apparel line for trail runners. We asked Cameron Larson of NW Alpine about the move into this competitive but growing market. NW Alpine is offering the readers of Northwest Dirt Churners a 20% discount. Just use the coupon code of churner20! Stay tuned as Northwest Dirt Churners will be giving reviews of NW Alpine’s trail running Approach shorts, insulated running vest, and wind jacket.
NWDC: How did NW Alpine get started?
Cameron: NW Alpine was started during the midst of the recession, in 2010 by Bill Amos, a teacher and climber living in Portland. Bill was seeing large climbing apparel brands further go more “lifestyle” and reduced emphasis on material and garment advancements. He started with one garment, an early softshell pant called the Fast Light (a predecessor to our current Thielsen Pant), followed by our now best known Black Spider Hoody, both made in Oregon. Bill maintained full-time work funding small batch productions of these garments. Difficult and hard to buy, NW Alpine grew quickly – almost cultish – in the climbing community as a small brand looking to produce cost-accessible, responsibly made garments. Demand grew, brick and mortar retailers wanted to stock the items, and Bill went full time to growing the brand. It was just four years ago the brand bought a small production space in Newberg, Oregon, hired two sewers, and have now grown to where we are today.
NWDC: How many employees work at NW Alpine?
Cameron: We employ a total of 35 employees, nearly all on the production side. We started an in-house contract production line 4 years after NW Alpine, called Kichatna Apparel Manufacturing (named after a mountain range in Alaska) that has grown significantly. We provide living wages to all of our employees, access to 401K, on-site job training and development, and other benefits that are the core values of responsible apparel manufacturing. We’re enormously proud of our employees and the work they do.
NWDC: Why assemble in Oregon and not elsewhere like other manufacturers?
Cameron: Simply put, there are enormous difficulties in manufacturing in the United States, and particularly in Oregon where sewing talent is limited compared to Los Angeles and the American South, where most remaining large-scale factories are still located. However, we succeed by owning our factory. Cost savings from not sourcing allows us greater margin that we reinvest into the factory, yet still, be cost competitive. Further benefits allow us fast sampling time for new products, reduced lead times for product delivery, greater room for small-specialty runs, and in the bottom line, assurance that every NW Alpine piece is ethically made with every best practice we can apply.
NWDC: Why did NW Alpine decide to get into trail running apparel?
Cameron: Our decision to put together a collection of running apparel came from our athlete customers, many of whom run between climbing seasons. Most of these, from Colorado, Montana, and here in the Pacific Northwest do high alpine running where both terrain and weather conditions can be tough and seriously unpredictable. We were getting requests for modified versions of our own goods adapted for running. We found that many trail running branded products were just modified road-running clothes/hardware/materials that didn’t quite meet the needs of these folks. We decided to put little, curated pieces that took smart, proven fabrics and hardware from our climbing pieces and apply them to running, and so far we’re liking where it’s going.
NWDC: What products does NW Alpine currently have for trail runners?
a. The ‘Approach Short’ is a basic, low-profile and utilitarian trail short for either running or long approach hikes. Durable, yet silky smooth 91% recycled polyester fabric, laser vents, and unlined to pair with your favorite undergarment if you so choose to.
b. Two wind jackets; the first being a silk-weight rip-stop 1-ounce nylon, and soon to be a heavier weight for winter. DWR treated shell, packs down to a street taco with a 1/3 of the weight. Packs into the smallest of running pack pockets, so no weight guilt of carrying it. High-quality #3 YKK zipper means you can deploy it in the worst of weather, and the teeth will function. Think of when your high altitude running, and the weather goes from 70’s and sun to blitz sleeting. Many of the wind jackets from running are low quality, poorly function in these conditions.
c. Our insulated running vest is my favorite, built with one of the best known breathable synthetic insulation, Polartec Alpha. The shell is a low-denier nylon. Features include high armpit hole for a secure fit and allows for clearance from body-fitting running packs/vests, low lumbar rear pocket clears the same vest and finished with a high-quality #5 YKK Nylon Coil zipper (again that functions in the worst of environments, and can zipped single handily). All that, and it just looks sharp.
NWDC: How can trail runners buy these products?
Cameron: Directly on the website at www.nwalpine.com, Foot Traffic stores (Portland), and many other stores across the US by November. (Don’t forget to use the coupon code churner20 for a 20% discount.)
NWDC: What’s in the future for NW Alpine?
Cameron: 2019 will be a banner year for NW Alpine, first starting that we are weeks away from formally announcing our factory expansion here in Oregon. We will be formally launching an expanded women’s collection with apparel, and interactive events and launch parties.