Small companies make it possible for consumers to get apparel their way

Three small companies are part of the trend of offering custom outdoor clothing to consumers who don’t fit into mass produced apparel from the big companies. But only one company has plans to work with retailers in the future.
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Has a customer ever told you, “I love that brand, but the stuff doesn’t fit me right?" As technologically advanced and and stylish as mass-produced apparel can be, it simply doesn't work for every customer.

At least three companies are targeting the bespoke outdoor consumer — both in gear and clothing — catering to people with unusual proportions or for those who are just looking for something different.

“I think people are getting to the point where they’re tired of having the same North Face Jacket,” said Scott Jones, owner of Beyond Clothing, a custom outdoor apparel company. Plus, it’s good for the American economy, he added. “People are getting tired of overseas manufactured product, they don’t care about the price anymore, they care about American jobs.”

Beyond Clothing is aiming to start working with specialty outdoor retailers in the coming months, with an Outdoor Retailer appearance scheduled for Winter Market 2013. The other companies SNEWS spoke with, Outa Wear and Apolcalypse Design, aren't quite there yet — but who knows what the future holds?

Get it your way

Burger King, Levi’s and Nike are a few big companies that have dabbled in customization, whether with Whopper sandwiches, jeans or crazy-colored sneakers. In the outdoor industry, the little guys are taking the lead.

Outa Wear, Apocalypse Design and Beyond Clothing work differently, but each is dedicated to providing their customer with a highly tailored product.

One-man-band Andrew Tuller, who owns Outa Wear, taught himself how to sew through trial-and-error. “I think that my business is expanding because people are very interested in American-made products, it’s becoming more and more important,” Tuller said. “A lot of people can’t buy off-the-rack clothing because of their body shape."

Tuller was working as a ski patroller in Montana when he started making his own clothing. After colleagues and friends asked him to stitch them stuff as well, he opened the business.

Tuller stocks several sizes of items, and when people send in their measurements, he chooses the closest size then customizes the product to their specifications. He offers returns if an item is brand new — despite the adjustments. So far only one customer has asked for their money back.

Alaska-based Apocalypse Design works similarly in terms of stocking different sized items in its inventory and customizing pieces with pockets or zips accordint to customer requests.

“You can great stuff from Columbia and Helly Hansen at your local sporting good store,” said Manager Bobbie Calice. “But a lot of people say, ‘Oh, this coat is great but it would be even better if this pocket were larger or I had a pocket here.’”

In addition to apparel, Apocalypse Design offers gear including packs, briefcases and even car covers to protect vehicles from the harsh Alaska winters.

But at Beyond Clothing, Jones said, everything is completely custom. Each piece is cut to the customer’s measurements and all detailing is added per the customers’ request, whether it's pockets, special zippers, arm length, leg length, etc. Jones’ products have won several Backpacker Editor’s Choice Awards, and are the official outfitter of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

The ordering technology on its website is pretty fun, too. Customers can choose their product, choose its color and add on zippers and pockets.

“You could make a really god-awful looking jacket if you want,” Jones said with a laugh. “It’s fun, it’s interactive and it reduces the risk of purchasing something that doesn’t fit right. Customers know exactly what they’re getting.”

None of the three companies said they have competition in the others as each company said its approach was a little different.

“I would honestly say I don’t have any competition because I’m not really going out trying to drum up business,” Tuller said. “I wait for the customer to find me.”

Custom programs for the big dogs?

None of the representatives from the three companies that specialize in custom clothing said they expect big outdoor companies to offer custom-made, bespoke or semi-custom programs anytime soon.

Beyond Clothing’s Jones said it might be a possibility at some point because those companies may want to jump on a hot trend, he said it won’t happen in the near future.

“It’s very difficult for a large company to offer custom products,” Jones said. “It’s like taking a professional soccer player, putting him in a basketball arena and expecting him to play professional basketball.”

Representatives from Patagonia, The North Face and Columbia Sportswear all said those companies didn't have any custom apparel products at this time.

Calice said she doesn’t know how cost-effective it would be for bigger companies to offer custom programs, but “That would be interesting to see if the larger companies would try.”

Working with the retailer

Beyond Clothing has toyed with the idea of partnering with specialty retailers for many years, but its online ordering grew too popular in the last few years for them to make it a reality.

But come Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013, Jones said he’s taking his operation to the trade show floor to find retailers who want to set up a Beyond Clothing kiosk in their stores and give customers the opportunity to order their own custom clothing right at their favorite outdoor retailer.

“We’re going to launch a full project of getting any retailer who wants to offer Beyond products in their store,” Down said. “We’re going to choose a handful [of retailers] at first to make sure the project goes well initially.”

The cost to the retailer would be minimal, too, because it would get free samples to display in the kiosk and they would not have to order any inventory and there are limited square-feet requirements.

“They’ll take less of a margin traditionally offered to a retailer, but their costs are lower,” Jones said. “Everybody wins.”

--Ana Trujillo