Rick Hemmerling is saying goodbye to ExOfficio, with his last day in the office Nov. 30.
Though not a surprise to many, given the overall management shifts and changes in the last year at K2, it was still strange for the SNEWS® offices to field a call last week from Hemmerling, co-founder and president of ExOfficio, and a long-time friend, telling us he was moving on.
There was no pressure for him to leave, Hemmerling told us. It was just time for him to listen to that internal voice that was growing louder, telling him that there might be other interests he should pursue.
"It will be strange to leave after 19 years, but the remaining ExO team is more than up to the challenge of growing the brand and I look forward to seeing their work in the future. The new ExOfficio store opens in Bellevue, Washington, in a couple of weeks! I feel great that the brand continues to be given the opportunity to showcase itself in this way," said Hemmerling.
Though K2 has a company policy of not issuing statements regarding departures -- it didn't even issue one for Steve Crisafulli when he moved on from Marmot -- Mark Martin, President, K2 Technical Apparel Platform, told SNEWS®, "Rick's contributions to the travel and outdoor industry are too numerous to list. His vision and energy for the past 20 years at ExOfficio has created a brand that is unparalleled in technical travel clothing."
Martin added that Hemmerling's legacy at ExOfficio will continue to be fulfilled by the strong management team in Seattle that he created.
"We have every confidence in the current management team's ability to successfully manage the brand and the company for the future, and we look forward to the opportunity to nurture Rick's vision for another 20 years," Martin said. "We wish Rick the very best in his next endeavor."
For the ExOfficio family, public relations director Janine Robertson summed up the feelings of the entire Seattle-based team with this, "Rick is loved and deeply respected by the entire ExO team. To say that he will be sorely missed and that we have all learned a tremendous amount from him is the biggest understatement of all time. His management style has helped us all learn to dig a little deeper into ourselves, enabling creativity to surface.
"He has taught us to work both independently, as well as collaboratively, within our respective work niches, resulting in a team-oriented, stimulating and empowered company culture. Rick has also (through example) quietly encouraged us to appreciate all that we have and strive to help those less fortunate. He'll be a tough act to follow," Robertson added.
Hemmerling told us that he has no immediate plans, other than spending some time with his family and enjoying the holidays.
Those in the industry who wish to stay in touch with Hemmerling are encouraged to do so by email at email@example.com.
SNEWS® View: We remember Rick and his partner, Joe Boldan, who were pushing "the greatest backpacking shirt ever" in 1989 to SNEWS® co-owner Michael Hodgson (then at Outdoor Retailer as a technical editor and serving as the gear editor for Men's Health.) As Hodgson recalls, Hemmerling practically stripped Hodgson's shirt off in the aisles of Summer Market in front of Ex Officio's (yes, back then it was a sensible two-word iteration) tiny booth and made him wear a yellow Baja shirt with ventilation. He was told it would change everything he had ever thought about technical clothing and shirts when backpacking. As Hemmerling still remembers with some chagrin, all, and we do mean ALL, the buttons came off that shirt in the first 48 hours of wearing, but Hodgson loved the fit and feel of the shirt so much, he faithfully sewed them all back on -- albeit backward. (Which is why Hodgson is a journalist, not a clothing designer.)
On that foundation of passionate consumer response to a great idea, and many others along the way, ExOfficio was built and grew to what it is today -- a leading adventure travel clothing manufacturer.
There is no doubt Hemmerling has built a great team that will carry on at ExO. However, we can't imagine the company will be quite the same -- which is neither bad nor good. It just is. His work with World Concern, Northwest Medical Teams, the Conservation Alliance and the African Wildlife Foundation is just a hint of the scope of his philanthropic leadership.
We could go on and on, but we'll leave you with this as food for thought about what Hemmerling has accomplished and the influence he has had not only on ExO, but the outdoor industry at large -- and we suspect we'll be adding to this list from the moment he decides to join another venture of his choosing.
1987 -- The first "climate control ventilation system" built into a shirt (ExOfficio Baja Plus) -- now the market is flooded with ventilation systems in performance apparel.
Early 1990s -- The first synthetic "zip-off" or convertible pants. Convertible pants have fueled sales for numerous outdoor apparel brands.
1994 -- Led by Hemmerling's drive and vision, ExOfficio was one of the first to utilize sun protective fabric finishes to create UV-blocking apparel (now a top-selling segment of outdoor apparel).
1996 -- ExOfficio was also one the first performance apparel brands to weave Teflon fabric coatings into the mix -- yielding enhanced water and stain resistance.
2004 -- ExOfficio was the first apparel maker to bring insect repellent apparel to market -- thanks to Hemmerling's exhaustive research on how to create a product line that repels not only bugs (mosquitoes/ticks/black flies), but also the sun's harmful UV rays. With the aid of Buzz Off insect shield -- ExOfficio pioneered a new generation of performance apparel (now sold by numerous brands, such as L.L. Bean, Orvis, Tommy Hilfiger, etc.).