It Must Be Fate
Let’s call it the dark ages. In the dark ages, skiers looked like dorks. They wore stupid clothing. It came in ugly, florescent colors. The pants were tight. The sweaters were padded. And waterproof breathable fabrics didn’t exist.
The fact is that the dark ages weren’t so long ago. And if you were a skier, they pretty much sucked. But skiers everywhere can look back on the dark ages with a certain sense of gratitude. After all, they provided the motivation and impetus behind a small Colorado ski clothing company called Fate.
And Fate is cool.
“We wanted to make something stylish and functional,” recalls Fate Clothing’s Alan Ortiz in the company’s Boulder warehouse. “It was a time when skiers needed a more functional pant.”
Ortiz, a part-time Vail resident, started from scratch. He Initially focused on the mogul skier market, selling Fate pants to United States Skiing Association (USSA) competitors and big mountain skiers.
“We did it small,” says Ortiz, “We started out in the basement, and because we focused on the mogul skiers and big mountain guys, it allowed us to get really solid skiers wearing the product.”
With a home-grown clientele which often included the best skiers on the mountain, Fate thrived.
Four years after the first pair of pants hit the slopes, the company was able to move production overseas, and start selling products to retail stores.
“Moving production to China was a big deal” says Ortiz. “That allowed us to produce clothing for the retail market.”
Despite the growth and increased cash flow that came with a hot product line and expanding retail presence, Fate still was facing hurdles. Some were a product of the very growth that Ortiz had pursued.
“One thing that I’ve noticed,” says Ortiz, “is that as a company grows, they start to listen to their retailers. And retailers want things which don’t necessarily fit your philosophy.”
“A large retail account will want a pant that costs $150,” says Ortiz. “They care about price points, but you can’t have functionality and performance with a $150 pant. We’re committed more than ever to making our products more technical and more functional. Our concern isn’t a really low price point. It’s how we can make our products better.”
“Fate cares about the core market,” says long-time Fate rider and Summit County resident Rex Wehrman “They make stuff that the serious people on the hill want. It looks great, works great and that’s all that matters.”
But Fate does more than make great looking skiwear that performs well. The company is innovative. Take the Couch Surfer jacket, for example. It’s like any other puffy down jacket, but has a built in ultra lightweight sleeping bag that zips to the bottom. If you’re a ski bum who spends a lot of time on the road, this jacket let’s you kick it in bus stations, airports and, of course, on couches.
“It’s dope,” says one satisfied customer. “I take it everywhere.”
“We’re a different kind of company,” adds Ortiz. “We create more than clothing. We’re part of a lifestyle.”
With products like the Couch Surfer as part of a diverse line that’s grown to include enduro and motocross clothing for the motorcycle crowd, it’s easy to see how Fate not only anticipates the needs of their customers, but builds clothing that most people didn’t even know they needed until they actually use it.
“They know what we want, even if we don’t know ourselves,” says Wehrman. “Alan is a really creative guy.”
So what’s next for this small clothing company that seems to be able to punch above its weight in the highly competitive outerwear business?
“We’re going to continue to grow,” says Ortiz. “We’ve just found a CFO who used to work for an investment bank in New York, but he’s coming to Colorado or the lifestyle. We also have a strong rep force and I expect that growth will continue to be in double digits for the brand.”
OK, so the company will continue to kill it. But what about Ortiz himself?
“I hope the future of skiing is that all my friends get snowmobiles and we all go ski powder,” says Ortiz with a laugh.
It’s the kind of response you’d expect from a guy who not only knows what his core market wants but is part of that market himself.
After all, you can trust to fate to be successful or you can know your clients as well or better than they know themselves and then give them what they want. Is it fate?
No, its Fate.
Tom Winter is a freelance writer based in Vail.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.