Like most good things in life, success in the outdoor clothing industry is all about location.
Competing with established brands like Arc’Teryx, Marmot and Patagonia has just as much to do with a company’s geography as it does their business model, philosophy and brand identity.
Not only that, but where a company chooses to do its business says so much about its image that a choice of zip code can often mean the difference between making it and raking it.
“We see an enormous potential for growth here in the Gorge,” said Lava Gear owner and president Mark Flaming, who moved to Hood River in June with his wife and co-owner, Karen Enns.
“There are a lot of businesses here who see the potential of promoting this area, and we felt like this would be the perfect place to market our product.”
But it wasn’t only Hood River’s burgeoning outdoor industry that lured Flaming and Enns away from Costa Rica — a place they called home for nearly three years.
Accessibility to the outdoors, a progressive community, and close proximity to Portland also played into their decision to relocate.
“Instant access to the outdoors is what made the Gorge such an easy choice for us,” said Flaming, who also considered Bend and parts of Colorado.
“But we also wanted to become part of a small community and help build upon a collective vision for a certain quality of life. And we’re finding that many businesses here are just as excited about it as we are,” he said.
Flaming and Enns don’t merely want to market a product. They are hoping to promote an overall lifestyle — one that will help build a brand, but also define a marketplace.
“Our goal is to build products that are a part of this new lifestyle,” Flaming said. “And we want to deliver them to our customers in a more authentic way. That’s the core of what we’re doing.”
So instead of focusing solely on the ever-changing world of retail, Lava Gear has been exploring other ways to promote the Gorge lifestyle through apparel.
One such method has been the forming of partnerships with companies involved in outdoor events, group excursions and corporate incentive programs. By aligning itself with local companies, Lava Gear then becomes a part of the Gorge experience.
“Companies have a sincere interest in maximizing their clients’ experiences,” Flaming said, “and we want to provide products that will add value to people’s outdoor experiences.
“At the same time, we’re hoping to help build the outdoor industry. This company isn’t only about commercial interests. We truly believe that these groups are integral to sustaining the entire outdoor industry,” he said.
Flaming pointed to companies like Julee’s Gorge Tours, River Drifters (Maupin), Timberline Lodge and Big Red Lizard as the types of organizations he would like to partner with.
One of the best examples is Big Red Lizard, a Portland-based race organizer that oversees events like the Columbia River Gorge Marathon, U.S. Snowshoeing Association Western Regionals and Mt. Hood Scramble.
“Big Red Lizard epitomizes the kind of company we would like to partner up with,” he said. “We came to the Gorge because of organizations like that. Another example is the Gorge Games. They choose to focus on sports that involve more personal challenges; not just the glory.”
In fact, that’s what formed the very basis of Lava Gear — a high-end brand of multisport clothing created for adventure racers, mountain bikers and watersports enthusiasts looking for more top-of-the-line functional apparel.
Flaming and Enns believe that the only way to build garments is to do so with human input, and they spend enormous amounts of resources on product testing before they decide if it is ready for the open market.
They have also set strict quality standards, and use only tested, trusted fabrics and materials that are made in the United States (mostly DuPont fibers).
“We chose to align ourselves with names like Patagonia and Arc’Teryx because people know that when they buy those brands, they’re buying quality,” said Flaming, who outfitted seven Eco-Challenge teams with Lava Gear earlier this month in Fiji.
“We pay close attention to construction detail and fit, and we engineer our products like a tailor. That’s what sets us apart,” he said.
Quality, authenticity, customer satisfaction and, of course, location. These are the things that Flaming and Enns hope will help Lava Gear carve a niche in the rapidly growing, but constantly changing outdoor clothing arena.
For more information on Lava Gear and its new Hood River home, visit www.lavagearclothing.com