New 100% American Wool Line Coming to Retail in Fall
By AMY TRINIDA
Sheep Industry News Editor
(June 1, 2013) Inspired by the remote, rugged and untethered back country of the San Juan Mountains, a new-to-the-scene outdoor apparel company was born – Voormi™. Using wool as a building block for its brand and products, the Voormi team is dedicated to using 100-percent American wool, specifically that from the Rocky Mountain region, in all of its products.
“If you imagine trying to build clothing for life in a remote and rugged space, it has to be tough, wick moisture and dry fast but it also has to go that extra mile in terms of durability,” explains Timm Smith, director of brand marketing for Voormi, headquartered in Pagosa Springs, Colo. “Wool has all the characteristics we look for in a performance fiber, but essentially we needed to elevate it in order for our clothing to perform for the untethered, real back-country experience, which is what life is all about here.”
The founder of Voormi and outdoor enthusiast, Dan English, started the company three years ago on the notion that wool sourced from the Rocky Mountain region is the best-suited option to make clothing for those enduring the weather elements of the region.
“We are taking a page out of nature,” English says, further explaining that the sheep have adapted to the local terrain and harsh conditions the Rockies have to offer; therefore, the use of wool sourced from this region is the best-suited option for use in this unique climate.
English teamed up with his son, Dustin, a professional mountain guide in Alaska, who had difficulty finding clothing that could endure his line of work and had ideas of how to improve performance apparel. The father-son duo came up with what they see as the next chapter in the story of wool regarding outdoor clothing all while keeping the local concept a key brand concept.
“They wanted to start from scratch, make their own fabrics and put them on the backs of folks who live and work in this community,” relays Smith. He explains that English wanted to do something that is more industry transformative by receiving instantaneous feedback on the performance of the apparel.
Part of that transformation and the uniqueness of the supply chain is the use of only Rocky Mountain wool and domestically producing all of their products, which at this time includes base- and mid-layers. “Our location-based brand is custom designed into every piece of the line. It’s our objective to go all the way from the backbone of the sheep all the way through to the apparel. We like the concept that our products start in the Rockies and end in the Rockies,” says Smith.
To produce this line, Dan reached out to Doug Lumb, a retired industry expert with a focus in textile research and design who was looking for a new challenge. Although he spent most of his career working with synthetic fibers, Lumb has the technical mind and ability to construct fabrics and was eager to start working with wool as a foundation of the line.
At the time of development, there were a number of companies promoting the benefits of wool, but English and Lumb wanted to take the fiber to the next level. “In the consumer world, wool was being more readily accepted every day, but if you took a look at what was out there, there was a lot of more casual, resort wear. It was softer, not cutting edge like the Voormi team was looking for,” says Smith, further explaining that wool needed to be elevated in order for it to be tough enough and dry fast enough for consumers who want a real, back-country experience.
The team first set out to build a better base layer, so the concept of Rocky Mountain Highcountry Merino™, DUAL SURFACE™ Precision Blended Wool was born. This fabric is built to move sweat, dry fast and stave off moisture with a super-thin layer of high-performance wicking yarns on the inside and fine-micron wool on the outside. Voormi has created both tops and bottoms in a light-weight series called Thermal I and another warmer series in which more wool is used called the Thermal II Series.
The inside of the Rocky Mountain Highcountry Merino™, SURFACE HARDENED™ Thermal Wool series was built to be soft, comfortable and warm with a more durable, abrasion-resistant and water-repellent outer surface. This outer surface was made durable enough to protect against the challenges of beacon harnesses, pack straps, rocks and trees.
“In terms of fashion and function, the apparel has been spot on,” says English, whose daughter, Megan, wear tested the apparel last winter as a ski patrol agent at Wolf Creek.
In terms of feedback from retailers, Voormi is also getting resoundingly positive comments. Smith says they are getting a lot of positive feedback about being a true local-for-local, Colorado brand. “This dialogue resonates in the minds of retailers and consumers the minute you speak about it. When we speak about domestic supply and sourcing, we immediately get the attention of retailers because they have consumers coming in and asking for it.”
During their development phase, the Voormi team turned to the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) for assistance to learn about the fiber’s chemistry and develop a relationship with ASI’s nationwide network of wool experts. “ASI has a network of folks that think about wool every day, while our thoughts are focused on back-country athletes. The marriage between the two organizations has been the ability to connect the dots from the sheep through to the consumer,” relays English, saying that ASI has been able to shortcut the learning process for them.
“Conversations began a couple of years ago with an enthusiastic Dan (English) and his described new technology, although undisclosed for some time,” explains Rita Kourlis Samuelson, ASI wool marketing director regarding the initial contact with the Voormi team. “Companies interested in developing a new wool product and in the United States are always of interest to ASI and our efforts to market American wool. Voormi had the ideas and development and we helped to introduce them to U.S. wool and the industry. Also, ASI has a wealth of information which is always key in helping consumers learn about the many positive attributes of wool and how it applies in today’s apparel.”
The reintroduction of the superwash equipment by ASI played a key role in making Voormi apparel completely domestically produced. This process makes the wool fibers smoother, more comfortable, easy to care for and machine washable. With a supply chain that basically spans the United States, from sourcing to fabric manufacturing to garment construction, having this equipment housed at Chargeurs in South Carolina is instrumental.
“We are dedicated to the concept of sourcing our wool from the Rocky Mountain region,” says English. “This may mean that we need to forge new ground and dig deeper into the networks of ASI.”
Although it varies by application, Voormi is interested in purchasing 18.5 to 21.5 micron wool from the Rocky Mountain region. With their efficient supply chain some of this year’s clip will be used to produce apparel available this fall and winter. With their focused sales and distribution strategy, Dan says he believes the domestic wool industry can support their desired volume over the next few years.
“We are very focused on being in the right locations and not over distributed. We are not trying to be all things to all people so the U.S. clip will meet our needs for the foreseeable future,” he explains.
This fall will mark the first time consumers will be able to purchase the performance apparel and the company is sticking to a very specific distribution strategy. Smith says they are focused on local retailers as the epicenter and looking to grow out from there, which includes the ability to purchase garments on its website, www.voormi.com .
In the end, English and the Voormi team say they have addressed some of the traditional problems associated with wool products and have accelerated the attributes of the fiber. “We are focused on telling the local story and building one of the most technological advanced products out there,” says Smith.