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NW Alpine

Stripped-down technical mountain gear, built in Oregon, to survive the harshest alpine environments

by Adrienne So in Design on 18 December 2013

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Bill Amos was working as a climbing instructor, substitute teacher and ski patroller when he became frustrated with the quality and utility of commercially available climbing apparel. As outdoor companies began catering to a more diverse audience, their clothing lines gradually became more fashion-oriented, rather than being suited to harsh alpine environments. Amos envisioned a simple and functional apparel line for people who were actually going outside, and moreover, he wanted to make it entirely in the US—thus NW Alpine was born.

“If I’d known what I was getting into, I don’t think I would’ve done it,” says Amos at the company’s new headquarters in Newberg, Oregon. Founded in 2010, NW Alpine now sells stripped-down jackets and pants all over the world. Their gear has ascended mountain ranges all over the world, and is worn by teams of elite climbers and members of the US Special Forces.

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Many outdoor apparel retailers would say that it is impossible to manufacture technical apparel in the United States without selling it at a price point that's beyond the reach of their target consumer, but Amos has found a way to do so. However, just because it’s possible doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily easy. Since its inception, NW Alpine has employed a series of freelance designers and contract tailors, transporting packages of fabric, prototypes, samples and finished product all over the Portland, Oregon area.

Amos works with apparel designers to draw patterns and create samples before production. He purchased some fairly specialized equipment for the Newberg factory, such as a flat-seaming machine. Currently, NW Alpine uses a seam-sealer owned by another small Portland business, although Amos is currently looking to purchase their own. The rental of the Newberg space is intended to consolidate their operations. Because all their employees are located in the Portland area, the team can sometimes finalize a design in as little as a week—an unsurmountable turnaround time when compared to contracting with garment factories overseas. “What makes this possible are the people here,” Amos says.

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Perhaps NW Alpine’s most exciting product is the Eyebright jacket ($600), an incredibly lightweight hooded outer shell that weighs less than five ounces and is made from incredibly strong woven Dyneema fabric. NW Alpine also makes base layers, soft shells and a Primaloft down belay jacket with a hearty shell to protect climbers in chilly, damp northern climates. For more, visit NW Alpine’s website.

HQ photo by Adrienne So, climbing photo by John Frieh, product shots courtesy of NW Alpine

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