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Homegrown: Handcrafted, Local, Sustainable and So Much More

December 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

Homegrown: Handcrafted, Local, Sustainable and So Much More

More than ever before, consumers are craving a connection with products they buy. The tremendous popularity of craft beer and locavore restaurants are a sign that people are looking for a product that feels authentic and has a story behind it. In fact, an international survey by Cohn & Wolfe found that 72% of global consumers ranked authenticity above innovation when asked what they valued most in a brand.

Homegrown snow sports business are increasing in number every year, providing consumers with that authenticity they crave. These companies are fueling an excitement and feeling of connection for consumers that has grown and become much more visible in the past 5-10 years.

What, exactly, defines a homegrown snow sports business? One factor is nearly universal: every one of the local, small-batch companies we spoke with began with a true passion for the sport. Beyond that, these companies value qualities that make us think “homegrown”: sustainability, a handcrafted product from start to finish, and a focus on preserving or improving the local economy.

At Venture Snowboards in Silverton, CO, a passion for the mountains and for sustainability motivates the homegrown ethos. Locally sourced materials and wind power keep things sustainable, while co-owners Lisa and Klemens Branner’s passion for riding in the San Juan Mountains drives their attention to detail.

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Local production with a view at Venture Snowboards in Silverton, CO

“At Venture it’s always been about keeping things local, authentic and true to snowboarding’s roots,” Lisa says. “We are a mom and pop, homegrown Colorado brand, founded, owned and operated by my husband Klemens and myself, and the company is a direct reflection of who we are: passionate snowboarders who live to ride. Our boards are built in the mountains by snowboarders and because our employees love to ride themselves, they sweat the small stuff and pay meticulous attention to detail. We believe this results in a better product; something we take pride in building and our customers can take pride in riding. 

At Darn Tough, in Northfield, VT, marketing director Bryan Brand says the homegrown aspect of Darn Tough is all about the history of their mill and supporting their local community.

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Darn Tough employees at the Cabot Hosiery Mill in Northfield, VT

“We’ve been in the same town for almost 40 years,” he says. “The Cabot family is dedicated to staying in Northfield as a significant member of the community. On any given day there can be up to 3 generations of Northfield families working in the mill, as well as two generations of Cabots. This is at the core of what homegrown means to us. We own the process from beginning to end, it all happens under one roof at our mill, and we have a great deal of control over the quality. That attention to detail and care for making the best product is at the center of everything we do. This is what we think of as giving ‘meaning to the making’.”

At Romp Skis in Crested Butte, CO, co-owner Caleb Weinberg says it’s the custom-made quality built in their local factory that gives his company the homegrown feel.  “Our skis are built one-off for each customer,” he says. “We meticulously test the shapes of our skis so we know we’re selling something the customer will love. Then we build the ski with custom, flex, camber, rocker, and a choice of one of our 50+ graphics. These skis are meticulously designed and crafted with one goal in mind: to make skiing more fun for the customer.”

Meanwhile in Haines, AK, homegrown is sometimes more necessity than choice. Building a ski-making business in a remote location brings limitations, or as owner Graham Kraft sees it, opportunity to build a better ski that is also sustainable.

“Homegrown simply makes the most sense for us in Haines,” says Kraft. “The spruce and birch that grows here has proven to be the best core material of any I’ve tried over the past 8 years of ski building. That quality combined with the economic and environmental costs of importing wood from outside makes homegrown the clear choice. It’s already expensive to barge up epoxy resin and the other materials that go into skis (let alone imported food and beer!). Helping a friend clear his yard of a big old growth tree that blew down in a storm gives us the best wood available anywhere and strengthens our local community- the most valuable resource we have in this long winter remote location.”

At Breckenridge CO’s Rocky Mountain Underground, marketing manager Jess Unruh explains that RMU was founded by a group of friends and grew with specific values in mind: quality, sustainability, and a commitment to keeping it local. But one of the most homegrown aspects of RMU is the fact that it’s employee owned.

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Jessie Unruh enjoys the Colorado sun with Breckenridge’s trails in the background

“RMU was founded and built in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado,” Jessie says. “It’s important for us to not only continue to develop innovative products, but to look to the community, environment and individuals passionate about the industry to elevate our designs and the growth of RMU. RMU is employee owned, so to us, home grown goes beyond building a company in Colorado, but building a company with our family.”

A commitment to local manufacturing and to the organic growth of the business is what drives the homegrown feel at Skida in Burlington, VT. “Skida has a number of ‘homegrown’ aspects,” says owner and founder Corinne Prevot.

“The momentum of the brand is considered homegrown in regard to its modest origins and organic growth. Skida was born in Vermont and got its start in the nordic/cross-country ski racing community in northern New England. In terms of our ‘homegrown’ manufacturing, the first Skida hats were made at our kitchen table in East Burke, Vermont, so it was only fitting to tap into the local sewing resources in the area as the demand grew.  The Newport-area, in particular, was a mid-century hub for manufacturing. With factories closing and work going overseas in the past couple of decades, many skilled craftsmen and women have been left with few work opportunities. Many of these seamstresses have turned to cottage industry contracting; our sewing takes place just two hours north of our Burlington headquarters and shows an impressive quality that sets us apart from many brands in the industry,” Prevot concludes.

It’s clear that the snow sports industry’s homegrown brands are motivated by various commitments to local roots, but that they all share one important driving force, which is a love of the sport and a passionate commitment to its future. Since consumers are increasingly looking for this type of product, these brands are helping to fuel excitement for snow sports overall. Homegrown is not only a great business model for local economies and for the environment, but they’re also a great boost to the industry as well.

 

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