The Rocky Mountain region is home to a growing sector of lifestyle manufacturers, companies innovating in categories like cycling, outdoor gear and apparel.
In the run up to the SnowSports Industries America national convention in Denver this week, Outside magazine featured Pagosa Springs-based VOORMI, and a potential game-changing fabric the company is promoting. We've also written about VOORMI; their commitment to 'place' and product innovation has set them apart since the company's founding in 2011.
We caught up with VOORMI marketing director Timm Smith, literally on his way to SIA, to talk shop.
Q: Is Core Construction fabric a bigger story because of its performance attributes or how it may impact future development of outdoor apparel? It seems you're confident it can do both.
Actually, both. CORE CONSTRUCTION(TM) Technology is what we refer to as a fabric technology platform. That is, it is a new process technology that we believe has the capability to enable a wide range of products over time (vs. a single product innovation). The foundational concept, that of introducing a functional core inside of a single layer textile, we believe is a "reset button" in the world of performance composites.
Q: Wool is a brand of its own -- it's perceived a certain way by consumers. What's more important for VOORMI, that a raw material like wool can be sourced locally or its performance attributes?
Soft, comfortable, and thermally regulating, wool is truly nature's super-fiber. That said, since its resurgence in outdoor apparel over a decade ago, its use has primary been restricted to the realm of socks and underwear due to its inherent lack of strength and abrasion resistance in "outer facing" applications. Our goal was to change that reality, to build the next generation of textiles, leveraging all of the inherent benefits of wool, but with the performance and durability needed to face the outside world.
Q: Why has the apparel sector been so short on game-changing ideas? It's often said Gore-Tex was the last significant innovation -- in 1969.
As is the case with most "stagnant" industries, we think it ultimately boils down to impact of consolidation and the protection of existing revenue streams. With a large majority of the outdoor/technical apparel sold in the U.S. coming from only a handful of [overseas] factories with the equipment/know-how to build product, differentiation these days is driven primarily by brand and channel. We believe this upside-down reality fosters an environment where the incentive is not to "change" -- but rather to keep the "efficient supply engine" running and avoid the upsetting effects of disruption. Our goal at VOORMI is to change that reality. To BE that disruptive force. Like our favorite microbrewers who took on the big beer giants one batch at a time, we're looking to change every aspect of how apparel is built.
Q: VOORMI's a bit of an outlier in apparel. You source materials locally, manufacture in the U.S., and choose to headquarter in Pagosa Springs. It says a lot about the company, but is it enough to compete with global brands focused on marketing and sales?
Had you asked us this question 10 years ago, we might have said no. But we believe we're at an inflection point for our industry driven by a new type of consumer. One who cares not only about what a product is, but more importantly how it got there and who was standing behind it along the way. What we do is build authentic products that we know really work (because we use them everyday in San Juan National Forest out our back door) and support our local economy by building them right here in the U.S. We innovate faster than we ever could if we were encumbered by large organizational issues and complex supply chains. We believe THIS is the future of competition in our industry.
Q: VOORMI's building a rapid prototyping facility in Pagosa Springs, the first of its kind in Colorado. What's the motivation behind the project?
The trajectory for most of the companies in our industry is based on the concept of "growing out" . . . that is, start local and small, and as you grow -- expand overseas to meet the demand. We're working on a different model, that of "growing in." For us, the Pagosa project is about proof of concept -- production doesn't have to look like the past; that trying to build 300,000-square-foot factories full of sewing lines is a fundamentally flawed model in today's world. Rather, we believe in building 100 3,000-square-foot factories spread across America, each representing a microbrewery of apparel construction -- building innovative, high quality products with the local pride that comes from working in small teams. That's the journey we're embarking on!
Q: Who are VOORMI's CO-LAB partners and how do you end up working with certain brands?
VOORMI CO-LAB(tm) for us is an engine for collaboration. It's about knowing what you do well, and appreciating others for the same, brands that are passionate about what they do, and wake up thinking about how to do it better; brands that believe in the integrity of standing behind everything they make. As we look at potential partners, we're looking for a lot of the same things -- great cultural fit, and the desire to truly push the boundaries.