Gear Guy

These Are the Coolest Small Brands We Saw at Outdoor Retailer

Text by
Photo: Jakob Schiller

We give the big outdoor brands a lot of love at Outdoor Retailer—and for good reason. Companies like Patagonia and The North Face make great products. This year, however, we also wanted to highlight the little guys. The up-and-comers.

That’s because there are more small brands in our business than ever before. This year’s OR featured a giant breakout section of small companies that was overflowing with beautiful and innovative products. We spent hours combing through the booths. These are our five favorites.

Pictured: Robert Jungman, founder of Jungmaven.

Photo: Jakob Schiller
Co-founder Muriel Bartol started Los Angeles, California–based Swrve with her husband, Matt Rolletta, six months before they planned to go on their honeymoon in Vietnam. “We just made knickers because my husband wanted them, and we thought we would sell some to friends,” Bartol said. Then the New York Times featured their knickers, and the orders came in so fast they had to cancel their plane tickets and postpone their honeymoon. That was ten years ago, and they’ve spent the ensuing years building out an entire line of smart, well-designed bike clothes.

Pictured: Muriel Bartol.
Photo: Jakob Schiller
Duckworth began when Robert “Bernie” Bernthal met fourth-generation sheep rancher John Helle while skiing at Montana’s Maverick Mountain. Helle owns a 25,000-acre ranch with 12,500 head of fine Rambouillet merino sheep, and Bernthal has a background in branding and marketing. They hatched a business plan by the third lift ride and soon partnered with textile guru Graham Steward and designer Outi Pulkkinen to create a line of high-end wool apparel that includes everything from T-shirts to long underwear to puffy jackets. The company takes a lot of pride in its local product. I can attest to the superior comfort as well as durability of pieces like the men’s Maverick Crew.

Pictured: Robert Bernthal and Outi Pulkkinen.
Photo: Jakob Schiller
Endurance Conspiracy launched at the Kona Ironman in 2010. Owner Tony DeBoom had been a sponsored triathlete and was sick of how visually boring the whole sport had become. He wanted to add some visual flare. “Triathlon apparel was all about high tech. The casual apparel side was overlooked,” DeBoom says. He drew art on the side and saw an opening. The company started with ten triathlete lifestyle shirts; today, it has 100 designs and makes some of the flashiest and cleverest bike kit we’ve ever seen. There’s also a retail store on Pearl Street in Boulder.

Pictured: Tony DeBoom.
Photo: Jakob Schiller
Will and Kelly Watters got married last year and launched their outdoor apparel company, Western Rise, shortly thereafter. “You really get to know someone that way,” Kelly jokes. The pair met as ski instructors in Vail, Colorado, and started the line because they wanted multifaceted products—like the Bitter Creek Anorak—that they could wear on the slopes, down into town, and even out on the river. To fund their venture, they moved back to Will’s hometown in Georgia, got full-time jobs, and worked on the brand at night. “I’ll work from eight to five at my day job, come home, then work until midnight on Western Rise, then wake up at 6 a.m. and do it all over again,” Will says.

Pictured: Will and Kelly Watters.
Photo: Jakob Schiller
Robert Jungman, founder of the beautiful, classy hemp apparel line Jungmaven, has a very simple goal: He wants everyone wearing hemp shirts by 2020. “When someone says T-shirt, people automatically think cotton. I want them to think hemp,” Jungman says. He’s not out to profit. Instead, he wants hemp to replace cotton because it’s better for the environment—the plant requires zero irrigation, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers. We respect his goal—and his product.

Pictured: Robert Jungman.