SMITH: We were producing independent films with our company, Thousand Words. We made 11, including Requiem for a Dream and A Scanner Darkly. They were movies we wanted to go see—that was our criteria.
WEST: It’s a difficult business, and we were fortunate—it was working. But the independents took a massive hit in the recession, and we’re still reeling.
SMITH: Making movies is a lot of fun, but you climb the mountain over and over again. It’s hard to build on something.
WEST: We had an itch—What else can we do? We were into snow sports and were both frustrated with the offerings in outerwear. There was nobody delivering apparel for weekend warriors who also want something with an urban aesthetic. We created Aether (aetherapparel.com) to bridge that gap.
SMITH: We launched in the fall of 2009, after the economic meltdown. It helped us get attention, because other brands weren’t launching.
WEST: Our biggest realization was that producing a film and manufacturing a garment are very similar: you’ve got a ton of balls in the air, and you have to bring them all together at the right time, at the right place, on budget. We come up with the concept and work very closely with our designers.
SMITH: We are now in 75 specialty stores in ten countries, and e-commerce represents more than 50 percent of our market. We’re on a really good track.
HOW YOU CAN DO IT: Many gear professionals have degrees in industrial design or mechanical engineering. Freelancing as a tester-consultant is a good place to start. Look for job postings at outdoorindustry.org (and see “Good Thrill Hunting,” opposite). Salaries start at $50,000.