One of the defining points of outdoor specialty retail is that it is where customers can go to discover what’s truly new. Local shop owners are the ones who often take the risk to bring in a small, start-up brand, differentiating themselves from the big boys. In this reoccurring series, SNEWS will identify and highlight the new kids on the outdoor block vying for a place on those shelves.
If you’re going to start a new outdoor apparel company, it helps to bring some experience to the table. Upstart Komafram, which bills itself as “where luxury meets performance,” has oodles.
The Chicago-based company, whose name is Icelandic for "to bring forward," was founded by former Malden Mills owner and CEO Aaron Feuerstein and is now headed by his son, Daniel. Its premise: Made in the USA base layers, aligning design and sustainable technology with comfort and style, letting wearers go from outdoor activity to socializing afterward.
“They started it to make a difference in the textile community,” said operations manager Joe Potter. “They recognized a need for eco-friendly, sustainable fabrics, and were able to take what they learned at Malden Mills over to Komafram.”
Learning from Malden's development of Polartec lightweight synthetic fleece, they began experimenting with blends of Alpaca wool and synthetic Tencel. "At Malden, we established a market for performance that didn't exist before,” Daniel told Textile World when the company was first launched. “However, we knew there were limitations to synthetic fibers — the texture isn't quite like natural fiber, and the performance isn't quite like its performance.”
Using different ratios of each fiber for different SKUs, they’ve created a high-performance layering system marrying moisture-management and temperature-regulating properties with a luxurious feel and style. The semi-hollow core of Alpaca fibers, said Potter, gives it products a light weight and natural moisture-wicking and temperature-regulating properties, as well as a soft feel and odor-free properties.
Combined with Tencel, which is known for its softness, strength and ecological closed-loop production, the result is new-to-market comfort and performance.
“It’s the ultimate blend,” Potter said. “It’s sustainable, lightweight and keeps your body at the right temperature for the right conditions. It can also be worn for days on end due to its anti-microbial and moisture-wicking properties.”
The line includes base layers and socks, including its LW Kalt garments for biking, hiking and camping; the LW Kaldara line for wintersports; and the soon-to-be-released UL Sol selection for warmer temperatures. Its garment fabrics are knitted in three weights, including ultralite, lightweight and winter weight. For comparison purposes, one of its quarter-zip model weighs just 10 ounces where a similar wool garment would weigh 25 ounces.
The company also prides itself on the ethics and corporate responsibility ethos Feuerstein helped foster at Malden Mills. One of those is being made in the USA. All of its garments are made from fabric spun, cut and sewn in Los Angeles County, and the same holds true for its socks, with everything taking place in North Carolina.
“Being made in the USA is essential,” Potter said. “Komafram wants to be in the forefront and lead by example. Bringing more of this industry back into the U.S. is important to us.” In addition, Alpaca is a relatively smooth fiber, meaning it doesn’t have to undergo merino’s “environmentally detrimental” pre-treatment to minimize shrinkage and brush off scales.
Komafram’s target customers, Potter said, are people looking for comfortable, high-performance base layers that also work in a social setting, and “who care about our environment as much as we do and take pride in wearing ‘Made in the USA.’”
So far, reception has been strong. “They’ve found a good niche and it’s selling very well,” said Chris Hawson, apparel buyer for New York City’s Paragon Sporting Goods. “It’s good looking, feels great and is exceptionally warm. Plus, you can wear it to the bar afterwards.” Hawson added that his store received its first Komafram order just before Christmas and that it sold well through the holidays and is continuing to do so with spring approaching.
Komafram is targeting specialty retailers throughout the country, and it plans to continue introducing more designs in different fabric weights to expand its market share in North America and beyond.
Share your thoughts below in our comment section. Does Komafram have what it takes to make it in your specialty outdoor retail store? Or, email us about another newcomer to the outdoors we should feature here.