By Chris Meehan | Oct 28, 2019
Base layers and athleisure clothing
Employees: 3 (plus contractors)
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Athleisure clothing
Pro skiers Conover and Moszynski launched Corbeaux with a focus on base layers designed for all-day comfort and warmth during high-energy activities.
"We'd set out to spend our 10-hour days in the backcountry totally geeking out on gear," Conover says. "Our hard goods were good and outerwear was good. But the base layers -- which are really a key component of any kit on a skier, because it's really what's going to keep you dry and warm and or alive in the backcountry -- weren't."
"In Aspen, we wear base layers every day, all day, she adds. "We were at the time working with a sponsor that was a wool base layer brand, and we realized that that might work for wearing a wool sweater, but [for] 10-hour days sweating in the backcountry, it just wasn't keeping up with us. It wasn't drying fast enough and I was getting really irritated."
As a taller woman, Conover found that base layers wouldn't stay tucked in, the sleeves were too short, and seams could cause chafing on long days of use. "We set out to look around at other sponsors and other companies in the market for synthetic base layers, and it seemed that there was not a high-quality synthetic base layer on the market," she says.
"We really wanted to focus on the actual construction, as well as the fit and the feel of the fabric," Conover continues. "So we wanted to find fabric that felt really nice against your skin, but also having it on made you feel really good on the inside because you looked good and you feel confident going out and doing your activities."
They found fabric made from recycled plastic PET bottles, worked up a few designs, and launched their first product with a crowdfunded Indiegogo campaign.
A contract manufacturer in Minnesota made the first batch of 50 shirts. "We found a great facility up there that does really high quality work and we've been working with them since the start," Conover says. That cut-and-sew operation now produces thousands of garments a year for Corbeaux.
While most of the fabrics Corbeaux uses are used by other manufacturers as well, the company has developed its Silkweight Recycled Polyester fabric used in some of its base layer garments.
Conover explains that they had found most base layers on the market were geared toward keeping wearers warm on ski lifts, not people who are skinning up and skiing mountains in the backcountry. "We needed fabrics that were going to dry really quickly and then retain their shape as well as keep us warm when they needed to, and be breathable," she says. "The Silkweight is a really unique fabric: It's super thin, but the warmth-to-weight ratio is really impressive. It's so breathable that I wear it all summer as well."
Corbeaux is expanding its product lines, and that includes more items with Silkweight. "We have a summer line coming out next summer with tank tops and T-shirts made out of it," Conover says.
In addition, the company launched new fleeces for the fall of 2019 and will add new layers geared toward other activities, including yoga and biking as well as travel and lounge wear. The expanded product lines will help reduce seasonality for the company, according to Conover. "We would like to be more of an all-year-round, go-to athleisure performance brand in general," she explains.
Though the company launched its first product on Indiegogo, now sales are roughly equal between direct-to-consumer customers and retail stores, according to Conover. "We're in 11 different states and about 30 retailers for this all winter, mostly in Colorado and West," she says.
The company has signed with some larger outdoor retailers as well, including Moosejaw, Evo, and Christy Sports. Now it's looking to expand its presence in the Northeast and Midwest and recently brought on new sales reps in both regions.
All of this has helped the company continually double sales year-over-year. "I think we're going to keep up at this pace if we can raise new funds. The only thing we're limited by at this point is inventory," Conover says.
As Corbeaux sold out its entire stock in 2018, she anticipates, "We're gonna have to do another production run for midwinter releases this year. The rate that things have been selling this fall, we think we sort of are still on the uptick, and pretty steeply."
Since the company manufactures in Minnesota, delivery times are short and orders don't have to be gigantic. Conover notes that if Corbeaux was manufacturing overseas it would take much longer for turnaround.
Challenges: "Maintaining the pace of growth will be a challenge," says Conover. "We definitely need to hire some employees and I think that's always a challenge when it's been a husband and wife team and now we're going to have to learn to delegate and give up pieces of the company and manage people."
Opportunities: "I do think that the story of sustainability and the interest being a conscious consumer is growing in the U.S., and I think with all that's happening with climate change and the climate of our country people are going to focus more on being intentional shoppers and shopping with purpose," Conover explains.
Needs: "In the next year or 18 months, more space will become a need and ideally it would be nice to do that Denver or anywhere in Colorado," Conover muses.
Sourcing is another challenge "since we are open to any type of fabrics. Just as a little company, we don't necessarily find out very easily about the newest of the greatest fabrics as fast as the big guys."
Also up soon for Corbeaux is expanding beyond the husband-and-wife duo: Moszynski's mother has helped in the company's retail space, but Conover sees the need to bring on more people as the business continues to grow.