Last month we spotlighted 15 small companies in North America that are making clothes with style, a bit of technical cred, and a lot of conscience.
Part two focuses on performance wear: apparel that’s made to move in and embedded with all kinds of technical innovations, whether your passion puts you on the water, the trail, the snow, the rock, or the asphalt. Like those first 15, all of these brands have been launched in this new millennium.
We stand behind our original statement: spending two or three times as much for something that can last you 10 or 20 years is a frugal thing to do—and gives our crowded planet a little bit of a break. If you’re still not convinced, look at some of the nonprofits that benefit from those sales: What these groups are up to is as eye-opening as the clothiers themselves.
This Brunswick, Maine, company set out in 2007 with the aim of removing harmful dyes from contact with your skin, and harmful pollutants from the environment. For four years running, they’ve been recognized not only as a B Corp but one of that organization’s top 10 percent “Best for the World” companies, owing to a highly low-impact manufacturing process using recycled polyester, organic cotton, and just-in-time manufacturing that allows items to be made to order, as well as customized. All products are made in the USA from start to finish. Among Atayne’s many initiatives is a Trash Runners group that organizes to collect garbage along popular courses.
We like: the B the Change cycling jersey ($75), a customizable, 100 percent recycled-polyester jersey that is a moving advertisement for B Corps and their values. There have been worse messages to spread.
Twelve-year-old Balega is a case study in choosing one thing to do and doing it very well. Its socks are targeted at runners, and runners know good socks from bad. These are made with innovative fabrics, in a variety of thicknesses, engineered to grab your heel and arch and hang on tight. The Hickory, North Carolina–based company manufactures its socks in South Africa and prides itself on giving back to local communities—through the Lesedi Project in that country, which helps educate impoverished and disabled youth, and through initiatives that help military veterans and the homeless in the U.S.
We like: the Blister Resist No-Show ($13), an absurdly soft, cushioning sock that does what its name promises: It’s made from a proprietary moisture-wicking mohair in the footbed that cuts down on friction to save your feet. A seamless toe only adds to the comfort. It’s on the thick side, better for winter runs.
A one-year-old mom-and-pop startup in Aspen, Colorado, Corbeaux makes a small assortment of athlete-designed mountain apparel for men and women, from baselayers to thermal onesies for frigid powder days. They use eco-conscious bamboo and recycled polyester, and their Join the Flight program to personally distribute gently used clothes to guides and porters in mountain communities all over the world is more than an afterthought.
We like: the Recon Hoody ($145), a very well made and functional layer that’s excellent for skiing and cold-weather running, with full neck protection, handy thumb holes, and a slit on the arm that lets your watch show through.
“Community, quality, responsibility, and a love for the outdoors” are the tenets of nine-year-old Flylow, a Denver company making ski apparel that fills a niche backcountry skiers were hungering for: fast-and-light, like mountaineering clothes ought to be, with the fit and protection of in-bounds resort wear. They strive for low-impact manufacturing while not sacrificing quality in their line of mostly ski pants and jackets, and they put a portion of proceeds toward Protect Our Winters, a nonprofit that aims to reduce the effects of climate change on the mountains and, by extension, winter sports.
We like: the Tough Guy Glove ($32), which takes the classic work gloves that many ski patrollers wear and upgrades them with leather that’s triple-baked for optimal warmth and softness and coated with beeswax for water resistance. This fall, watch for the unveiling of a line of highly performing jackets and pants that will benefit the High Fives Foundation, supporting those with life-altering injuries sustained on the slopes.
Five-year-old NW Alpine makes technical alpine-climbing apparel that’s been used on major first ascents from Pakistan to Alaska. Founder Bill Amos is a former teacher whose concerns over the financial crisis in 2008 led him to conclude that the best way toward economic recovery was “if we started making things again.” And they make the hell out of them. From insulating and base layers to bombproof jackets and pants that stretch to accommodate your motion, the Portland, Oregon, startup manufactures everything from start to finish in the USA, using sustainable practices.
We like: the Fast/Light Jacket ($220), an exceptional, svelte-cut, all-season softshell with a helmet-compatible hood, stretchy glove pockets, and Durastretch fabric.
San Francisco–based Olivers came onto the scene in 2013 with the help of Kickstarter, aiming to bring more style and quality to men’s athletic wear. The company endeavors to improve Americans’ fitness and nutrition and donates time and a percentage of profits to NuSi, a research-focused California nonprofit that’s been called “the Manhattan Project to end the obesity epidemic.” Their garments, which will soon include a pair of Schoeller-engineered moisture-wicking boxer briefs, are manufactured in the Bay Area.
We like: the All Over Shorts ($68), a stretchy, water-repellent nylon-spandex pair that's comfortable either on a long run or in the weight room—like your favorite old gym shorts but better-looking and made to last, right down to their paracord drawstring.
Six-year-old Point6 was founded in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, by Peter and Patty Duke, the creators of SmartWool. The merino in their handsomely designed socks—which are sport-specific, from running to cycling to skiing and more, including a compression line—comes from New Zealand, where they take good care of their ranchers. The socks are made in the USA with a compact-spinning technique that reduces loose fibers, thus reducing pilling, so these socks last much longer than most. Among their many partners is the Brickle Group, which upcycles unused wool for such uses as disaster-relief blankets.
We like: the CDT Light Crew ($22), a comfortable, moisture-wicking sock with nylon reinforcements in the heel. The Continental Divide Trail Alliance receives a hefty 25 percent of every sale of this item. (Through-hikers on the coasts can check out the AT and PCT versions.)
Doing an expert job of addressing the shortage of decent-looking men’s workout garb is New Canaan, Connecticut’s Rhone. Launched in late 2012, they make built-to-last, well-designed T-shirts, hoodies, shorts, and sweats that use silver technology sewn into the fabric, for long-lasting anti-stinkability that doesn’t fade even after 20 washes. Rhone’s philanthropic efforts focus on military personnel and their families, from Wounded Warrior to the Heroes Project.
We like: the Durden Short-Sleeve Shirt 2.0 ($68), a very lightweight, very comfortable shirt that crosses over from hike to post-hike beer as well as anything we’ve seen. It’s not cheap, but with venting panels, ergonomic sleeves, and a clean design, it could become your favorite T-shirt ever. Pair it up with the Mako quick-drying shorts.
New Orleans–based Tasc has been sewing organic, FSC-certified bamboo into its performance clothing since its founding in 2009. With the feel of soft cotton, bamboo provides somewhat miraculous non-stink properties and dries fast—it even inherently has UPF 50 sun protection. They make baselayers, shirts, sweats, and underwear for men and women, and their merino-bamboo blends keep you temperature-regulated in the mountains. Tasc contributes a percentage of sales and product to Colorado-based No Barriers, which brings veterans, youth, and people with disabilities into the outdoors.
We like: the Vital Training Shorts ($32), some of the most comfortable workout shorts we’ve seen, cut more like basketball shorts so that you’ll want to lounge around in them well after your morning run. Put the Ventilated Compression Shorts ($28) underneath.
Based in Wellesley, Massachusetts (halfway point of the Boston Marathon), Tracksmith is not yet a year old but is already bringing more refined looks back to the neon-lit world of running togs. They have a growing line of men’s and women’s shorts, T-shirts, merino layers, and track pants, all manufactured in New England and sold online only.
We like: the Bislett pants ($138), a throwback running pant that wouldn’t have been out of place in Chariots of Fire—made from a comfortable stretchy, water-repellent, moisture-wicking fabric, with reflective stripes and awesomely retro (if not totally necessary) stirrups to hold them in place.