By Margaret Jackson | Jan 19, 2015
Employees: 10, plus seasonal workers
CEO Diane Boyer has leveraged her passion for the Rockies into skiwear for an underserved market: women.
For more than four decades, SKEA has been making luxury ski apparel that's specifically geared toward women.
Founded in 1972 in Vail by Georges and Jocelyn Boyer, the specialty ski wear line today is owned and operated by the Boyers' daughter, Diane, who serves as president and chief executive of the company.
When Diane Boyer took over the business in 1995, she started phasing out the men's line to focus exclusively on women's apparel. Though she has brought back a limited line of men's clothing, SKEA still is best known for its women's garments.
About 40 percent of skiers are women, according the the SnowSports Industries America (SIA). They also make up 33 percent of snowboarders. During the 2013-14 ski season, apparel accounted for $616 million for the nearly $2 billion industry, according to SIA.
"We're designed by women who ski for women who ski," said Boyer, a passionate skier and outdoor enthusiast. "I know what a woman wants. She wants to look pretty. I don't think guys really care about that. I want a woman to have a garment that looks fabulous and has all the technical aspects as far as staying warm and dry."
SKEA apparel was manufactured in Denver's Montbello neighborhood until 1982, when competition forced the company to seek cheaper production in China. "We were very proud of being made in the U.S.A., but our competitors were offshore," Boyer said. "It just got so we couldn't compete financially. Manufacturing in China has been an eye-opening experience."
For one, if Boyer or one of her designers has an idea for new jacket or pant style, they can't just have a prototype made in Denver. "I don't have that immediate gratification," Boyer said. "There's a lot of going back and forth."
There are, however, some advantages, in addition to being more cost efficient. "We didn't have the facility to blow down at our factory here," Boyer said. "In China, they're specialists at blowing down."
Though the SKEA brand is international and can be found in stores across the United States, you won't find it at REI or Sports Authority. Rather, the line is sold in specialty stores and boutiques such as Pepi Sports and Gorsuch Ltd. in Vail and Peter Glenn Ski & Sport in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"There's a huge ski population in Florida," Boyer said. "We have good accounts there."
Challenges: "We're still a small very privately held company competing with major corporations," Boyer said. "My challenge is to grow the company to the point where I can achieve economy of scale and get our brand more known."
Opportunities: But being small also creates opportunities for SKEA. "We're not a big corporation, so we can do things quickly," Boyer said. "We can catch onto new trends quickly, and we are able to streamline production and design because we are small."
Needs: Boyer would like more available funding for marketing and advertising so she can increase brand awareness. "I want to get the company better known in the international fashion marketplace," she said. "We're poised for great growth in the luxury market. We need to branch out from skiing. As we grow, we'd like to branch out to be more of a lifestyle brand that people will wear anywhere.
"My passion for the mountains and an active lifestyle are the basis of my line. I've really followed my passion to my dream, and that's what we would like everybody to be able to do in a perfect world."