We’ve been fans of Cloudveil gear since around 1998 when we first heard the term “soft shell,” and the seminal Serendipity jacket came on the scene. More, the story of Cloudveil as a company is the penultimate tale of American chutzpah and small-business success — and it’s interesting as well.
Thus, I was delighted at this summer’s OR trade show when someone handed me a copy of “A Brand Story – Cloudveil Mountain Works – 1997-2007.” Normally, I’d not touch this sort of PR stuff for blogging as to do so would be a pandering boor, but this is the real deal and enjoyable to share about. So here goes.
|Intrepid Cloudveil founders Brian Cousins and Stephen Sullivan shown in one of the publication’s many photos.|
Part prospectus and part biography (and part fluff, but that’s to be expected), this interesting publication covers the birth and evolution of Cloudveil, the company responsible for softshell garments now being ubiquitous in the outdoor industry.
The story begins in 1996 when a friend brings Wyoming mountaineer Stephen Sullivan a pair of stretch-woven climbing pants obtained in Europe. Back in those days, dressing for mountaineering was still a puzzle of fleece or polypro base layers topped by stiff nylon we know as “waterproof breathable” — oxymoronic code for clammy discomfort and little temperature range. The Euro pants worked for Sullivan. He ended up leaving his shell pants at home and started thinking about jackets made from similar fabrics.
At the time, Sullivan was working retail in Jackson along with another mountaineer named Brian Cousins. The pair became friends. Realizing that a life of service jobs and shop clerking might not be their calling, the pair used their retail and outdoor experience to start a clothing company based on apparel ideas using the “stretch weave” concepts they’d been dreaming up.
That’s when the amusement park ride begins. Not realizing how popular their products would become among backcountry skiers and other mountain sports enthusiasts, Sullivan and Cousins take a journey that ultimately leads to selling the company — but at the same time moving it back to Jackson and starting a flagship retail store on Pearl Street in Jackson. Along the way they borrow enough money to start a third world country, take hubristic leaps of faith into things like glove manufacturing, and figure out from scratch how to build a company that’s world-class in vision but stays true to the “local” ethos that’s become part of today’s mountain culture.
In all, if you’re a fan of business and entrepreneurism (as I am), this is an amazing and compelling story. I find it hard to imagine how a couple of guys can start with sketching a few jackets on a kitchen table, and ten years later have that become a multi-million dollar company that defines a whole segment of an industry. And more, provides employment for a bunch of people in a mountain town. (My question: Can you do that with a blog?)
While “A Brand Story” is no doubt a bit sanitized as an in-house publication (and of course includes requisite but not excessive hyperbole), it is a worthy read. You can email for a copy: firstname.lastname@example.org