By Eric Peterson | Dec 01, 2014
Dave Boger, Gabe Anderson, and Pete Drago are making snowsports more stylish, and eying a broader fashion market.
The trio -- a snowboarder and two skiers, respectively -- started hitting the slopes together soon after the turn of the millennium.
With backgrounds in forestry, communications, and business, apparel wasn't exactly the obvious entrepreneurial path, but they got the Jiberish domain in 2003 -- a play on jibbing the rails in terrain parks -- and placed their first order for $582 worth of hoodies and T-shirts to screenprint in 2005.
But they weren't happy with merely decorating stock clothing -- they wanted to make it in a cut-and-sew environment. "We knew immediately that we wanted to do custom patterns," says Boger. After the first order, it follows that they dove into pattern creation headfirst, melding fashion and function into clothing equally apt for the mountain and the city.
While snowboarders had plenty of style to choose from at the time, ski fashion was still stuck in the past, and needed a jolt of energy to catch up to what was happening on the slopes with the emergence of freeskiing.
"We did target skiers early on," says Boger. "At that point, the twin-tipped ski had just come out, but there weren't a lot of cool brands out there. There wasn't a brand specifically for the X Games crowd."
As a marketing ploy, they headed up to Breckenridge and made a video with top freeskier Tom Wallisch at the tail end of the 2007-08 season. It went viral and Jiberish started seeing orders come in from all over the world. "That's what really put us on the map," Boger notes. "Shops just started contacting us."
Jiberish has since utilized a team of skiers and snowboarders to market their products, and also team with like-minded musicians as a promotional tool. "We've had a number of our athletes go to the Olympics," says Boger.
The retail model is unique. Jiberish has three company stores in Denver, Boston, and Park City, Utah, and also sells directly to consumers online. "We always continued to push wholesale in the background," says Boger, noting that the current tally is 130 accounts in 18 countries.
For the first three years, the company worked with American Made Apparel Manufacturing in northeast Denver, but the uptick in volume and complexity led to a move to China later that year.
"They're a good shop," says Boger. "We wanted to do more complicated stuff. It wasn't efficient for them and they weren't set up for it."
Another factor in the move: margins. "We were losing money," says Boger, noting that the combination of premium technical fabrics and high fashion made for expensive garments.
The company grew by 500 percent or more annually from 2009 to 2012 and about 40 percent a year since. Revenue is currently "in the low seven figures," says Boger.
This season, Boger and company are taking it up yet another notch with the Grand Cru collection, Jiberish's first foray into technical outerwear. The premium line "takes the sensibility of menswear in the streets and crosses it with function from the mountains," says Boger.
It's a continuation of the tracks the company has left for the last nine years, and a peek at things to come. "We've made our name on being the leader in style in snowsports," touts Boger.
Challenges: Managing production in China. "When you're not in front of your actual sewers, if there's a massive geographic barrier, it presents some challenges," says Boger. To help control supply chain and quality issues, Jiberish works with a broker who owns a factory and sources other vendors for several brands to "leverage the buying power of the group," he adds.
Opportunities: The mainstream market for premium menswear. To wit, Jiberish's button-down shirts have supplanted hoodies as the company's bestsellers. "It's not like you have to wear this stuff on the hill," says Boger. "A little bit more general fashion -- that's where the massive, massive opportunity is."
"The opportunity is to make high-quality, well-conceived products," he adds. "You can't fake quality and quality never goes out of style. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about."
Needs: Bridge financing. "We'll source stuff, which costs money, and put down a deposit for production," explains Boger. Delivery "can take six to eight months," and that lag is compounded by the seasonality of snowsports. Over the years, they've filled the gaps with a loan from Denver's Office of Economic Development loan and "very successful” equity rounds in 2010 and 2013, he adds.