Ed Ruzic, owner of Russi Mountain Works, is launching a second company, Sherpani, focused entirely on building backcountry and urban packs for women.
"We decided that if we were going to be a leader in the women's market, we had to be a women's-specific brand run by women, managed by women, designed by women," Ruzic told SNEWS. "There was no doubt in our minds that we would not be anything new if we simply offered a traditional men's pack line with a few SKUs dedicated to women."
Keeping the business in the family, Sherpani is being run by another Ruzic, Maria, Ed's wife and a design talent herself. Maria has 12 years of design experience under her belt at Speedo as that company's senior designer, and she's now directing a team consisting of Scott Nielson (formerly of Lowe Alpine) and Jim Clements (past Lowe Alpine and Kelty experience), as well as contractors Larry Reid and Catherine Brown (both formerly with Arc'Teryx).
In addition, Ruzic tells us that Sherpani has signed 12 women who make up an "advisory board of athletes from around Boulder, not related to our industry."
"We consult with them on every move we make, including ideas, patterns, style, pricing, etc.," Ruzic said. "None of our designs originate from a male design. We start with our focus groups of all women and build a pack from their input."
Once the designs are rendered into models ready for production, they head to a local cut and sew operation that, according to Ruzic, is completely owned and operated by women, Stryker By Design.
Sherpani packs, which range from urban bags and professional laptop carrying bags to serious mountaineering packs, feature specially contoured backs and waistbelts as one might expect from a women's line. But what makes Sherpani bags stand out is that they feature color schemes, patterned accents and comfortable fabrics that appeal to women.
In addition, the company has designed a harness system that, as Ruzic puts it, "equalizes and adapts to each woman's body differently, meaning that the shoulder straps move or change position depending on a woman's physique."
"Our harness system ensures a perfect fit for any sized or shaped woman during any activity," Ruzic told us.
The company will debut at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market with 16 products, four each in four Sherpani-established categories ranging from urban play to expedition use.
Ruzic also points out that while Sherpani is a completely separate company from Russi, it will be utilizing the same online ordering system that Russi has popularized with retailers enabling complete order processing from checking inventory levels to placing orders to checking credit status and the status of an order.
SNEWS View: We know what you're thinking -- just what we all need in a flat market, another pack line! And frankly, we'd normally agree with you, but we see this as a smart move for Ed! His business plan is clearly focused on the specialty dealer, and it makes sense to create a business that is entirely focused on a market niche that has been relatively underserved, misunderstood, mis-merchandised and mis-retailed for quite some time. Yeah, we know there are good women's packs out there, but Ruzic is right when he says that the problem with many women's packs today is they are simply subsets and outgrowths of a very male pack line. If his packs are as good as he claims, and so far, there's nothing to indicate they are not everything Ed says they are, Sherpani could very well be a huge success -- for specialty dealers that is.