By Eric Smith
Online outdoor retailer Backcountry isn’t the only beneficiary of product collaborations the company has undertaken with Black Diamond, DPS, Flylow and Smartwool on a new touring collection due out in the fall.
True, the product collaborations—collabs, in industry parlance—will be part of Backcountry’s private label, primarily branded with Backcountry’s name and logo, and sold exclusively on Backcountry.com.
But the brands themselves stand to benefit not only with additional market exposure (a small logo of each brand will appear on each collaborated product) and revenue bump, but also through exposure to new design ideas and the freedom to create products outside their normal scope.
And, perhaps most important, these partnerships represent a win for consumers. They will have access to gear that was designed and manufactured by the collective experience of leading backcountry brands and a longtime outdoor retailer—gear that wouldn’t have made it to market without each stakeholder taking a chance on this new, visionary venture.
“It’s unique that we were able to pull multiple brands into a single, cohesive set,” Melissa Crespo, Backcountry’s brand director, told SGB. “We brought to the table all of these brands that normally wouldn’t be in a collection together.”
Park City, UT-based Backcountry announced the company’s private label launch a couple months ago, kicking off with a line of spring/summer gear and apparel. The backcountry touring collection, recently unveiled and available in the fall, brings a new twist thanks to collabs with these four well-known brands, each selected by Backcountry’s “Gearheads.”
The company’s Gearhead program is composed of 350-550 experts (the number varies seasonally) who help Backcountry test and review products while also providing customer support for any questions related to outdoor gear, apparel or activities.
“Our Gearheads are the lifeblood of this company,” Andy Fletcher, Backcountry’s head of owned brands, told SGB, adding that the company’s founders, Jim Holland and John Bresee, started the company with a true gearhead mindset.
So on the company’s 20th anniversary, in 2016, Backcountry decided to honor those roots—and also address current and future market needs—by launching a private label, which took two years from inception to the April unveiling.
Not only does private label increase margins for a company, but it further enhances brand value among users. And since Backcountry had the input of Gearheads on product design, fabric, fit and functionality, the company created branded products that can not only drive revenue, but are worthy of the company’s signature goat mascot.
“We said, ‘We know there’s opportunity to create great product, so how do we do that?’” Fletcher said. “And we took two years to really work with our Gearheads to understand what they didn’t see in the market that they would want to be able to buy.”
Though Backcountry carries 1,500 brands at backcountry.com, one area where the company identified a white space in the outdoor market was backcountry touring. But instead of going it alone, Backcountry decided to double down on product expertise by teaming up with brands known for designing and producing apparel and gear for the most rigorous of out-of-bounds pursuits.
“We’re really focused on these pursuits—the activities that we do as gearheads, day in, day out,” Fletcher said. “Backcountry ski touring and splitboarding is really the story for this fall. And that really speaks to the heritage of the company.”
All four brands were chosen by Backcountry’s Gearheads, making the touring collection Backcountry’s first “Gearhead-certified” product line. It will include a collab glove with Black Diamond, a collab backcountry ski with DPS, a collab jacket and bib with Flylow and a collab sock with Smartwool.
“We bring 20-plus years of experience to product in general, which is one of the strongest reasons to believe really that we can do this successfully,” Fletcher said. “We’re drawing on that experience and on our Gearhead expertise to build great product, and we’re working with the best brands in the business here because we carry them and have been working with them for 22 years in some cases. We’re really excited about where this can go.”
The brands are excited too. Flylow co-founder Dan Abrams said the company was honored to be chosen to help design a men’s jacket (Backcountry x Flylow Grizzly Gulch Jacket), men’s bib (Backcountry x Flylow Mill D Bib Pant), women’s jacket (Backcountry x Flylow Pfeifferhorn Jacket) and women’s bib (Backcountry x Flylow Patsey Marley Bib Pant).
Getting picked by Backcountry to work on this project was especially exciting for an 11-person company that could now think outside of, and much bigger than, the company’s normal product focus.
“The coolest part of this for us was when they said, ‘Let’s dream up something for our touring collection and don’t worry about this from a Flylow, small-brand perspective; let’s look at from the larger perspective of what’s the best touring kit that you can make,’” Abrams told SGB. “It was a really fun way to look at things.”
Collaborating with Backcountry gave Flylow a chance to help design a more dedicated touring piece than the company likely would have done under its own name.
“Our bread and butter is alpine touring stuff that’s a little more durable and heavier, so this allowed us to make something that was lighter than we’ve ever made, to use a fabric that we were familiar with but in a new way that’s going to be more conducive to touring,” Abrams said.
It also resulted in features like a bib pocket for a skier to lash skins near his or her chest (see photo, left), allowing them to remain warm on the descent and keep the glue sticky. “When you’re doing yo-yo laps all day long, they’re going to perform longer for you,” Abrams said.
Flylow has done collabs for philanthropic causes—goodlabs, Abrams called them—such as adding the logo of a nonprofit like Protect Our Winters or High Fives to a product, but this is the first time the company built apparel from the ground up with a collaborator. The experience gave Flylow new way of looking at how the company designs and makes gear.
“It makes us a better company in multiple ways,” Abrams said. “One, it’s just seeing the way a successful business like Backcountry operates. We’re taking notes, seeing the procedures that happen, how precise they are with everything in the design and process. Two, we were challenged to come up with something that was a little more niche and wouldn’t fit in our collection, so we’re better for it. The product that’s coming in, we’re really proud of it.”
DPS is also proud of the touring ski—the Backcountry x DPS Nebo Alpine Touring Ski—that the company collaborated on with Backcountry, according to Alex Hunt, DPS’s PR director. He said Backcountry’s understanding of what makes a great ski for off-piste pursuits was important, but another factor in deciding to collaborate was because both companies call Utah’s Wasatch Range home. A shared playground led to a shared vision of what makes a great ski.
“They have a super high level of expertise and their Gearheads are top-notch,” Hunt told SGB. “But it’s also cool because we share the same mountains out there in Utah. We’re more or less neighbors who are enjoying the same places. We cross paths on the trails, so it’s great to work with a great team.”
DPS’ prior collaborations had been limited to creating graphics for topsheets, but combining their own brain power with Backcountry’s yielded a new touring ski that blended some features of DPS’ other products. And while Hunt said he believes the skis will sell well, based on the collaborative nature of the design and construction as well as Backcountry’s market reach, top-line growth isn’t DPS’ only goal in this endeavor.
“Ideally, the people who benefit the most are the people who are out there skiing,” Hunt said. “It’s obviously great to have the sales figures, but we just want our skis to be on snow as much as possible, for people to love and cherish these things and use them for years and years.”
Backcountry’s collab project was such a success, at least in the product development phase, that Fletcher sees more of these gear and apparel partnerships happening not only within the company’s own private label but across the outdoor industry. The shared benefits are too hard to ignore.
“We’re very adamant about bringing our customers the best possible product, and we think one of the ways we can do that is working with the brands that are already making some really great products while bringing our expertise to the table for these collaborations,” Fletcher said. “The outdoor industry is small and we work together, so we are pretty excited about the different pursuits that we’re addressing. I only see more of that, not just from us, but from other brands too.”
Photos courtesy Backcountry