The 161-year-old rod and tackle manufacturer is doubling down on its commitment to women’s gear
If you start seeing more women with fly rods over the next few years, you just might be able to thank Orvis. Earlier this year, the company declared its mission to increase the number of women in fly-fishing: it wants 50-percent participation by 2020.
That’s an aggressive timeline given that women currently make up just 30 percent of fly-fishers, according to the 2017 "Special Report on Fishing" published by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Foundation. In order to hit it, Orvis, in addition to launching a new line of gear, is spearheading an array of initiatives designed to welcome women into one of the most male-dominated outdoor sports.
The campaign got its start in 2015, when Steve Hemkins, Orvis’s vice president of rod and tackle, spent a day fly-fishing with Trout TV owner and co-host Hilary Hutcheson. “We had a blast together that day,” Hemkins remembers. “And at one point I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is what it would be like if one of my sisters fly fished. How cool would that be.’”
Back at Orvis’s Manchester, Vermont-based headquarters, Hemkins recruited several of Orvis’s women employees, such as designer Jackie Kutzer and digital analyst Chrissey Atkins, to propel the movement forward by seeking out input from pro female fly-fishing guides. In July 2017, at the ICAST trade show, Orvis announced the 50/50 On the Water program. Strategies would include highlighting women on Orvis’s social media channels, nurturing female fly-fishing leaders, and targeting women when offering fly-fishing instruction and trips.
At the same time, Orvis also announced its new line of women’s gear for spring 2018, including a four-layer featherweight option for its already stellar Silver Sonic Convertible-Top waders ($279). The new Ultralight Convertible Waders ($298) use nifty magnetic fasteners on the shoulder straps that make rolling the chest fabric down to waist height (for nature-calls) easy. The belt loops sit farther back for a less bulky, more flattering waistline. And designers made the fit more tailored through the legs and in the booties.
Although the Women’s Ultralight Wading Boots ($169) aren’t designed on a women’s-specific last, they feature a tighter-fitting ankle cuff and a slightly smaller size range (now starting at 6). “They’re so light, I feel like I’m wearing hiking boots,” says angler Kami Swingle, who founded the Braided women’s fly-fishing group in Durango, Colorado. “I’ve always had to wear an ankle brace to get enough support when I’m wading across rocky riverbeds, but these give me a whole new level of stability.”
For me, the most exciting new pieces might be the Safe Passage Sling Pack ($89), which features Linda Leary’s bold FisheWear graphics, and the Women’s Pro Wading Jacket ($349). The three-layer top includes fleece-lined hand pockets, rubberized tool tabs, neoprene wrist gaiters that seal out water, and, of course, a women-specific fit. “Now, I actually have gear that I’m excited about recommending to other women,” says Swingle, who says she had to wear sloppy-looking men’s waders and tennis shoes when she started fishing a decade ago. “The industry has come so far with women’s gear.”