With enough employees to count on one hand, Bay Area’s Edgevale has used local design, manufacturing and retail to define itself as a new player in American made outdoor wear.
By Jahla Seppanen
Tony Vontz, president and founder of San Francisco Bay area outdoor apparel company Edgevale – a Made in the USA brand – currently employs two people. But don’t let that number fool you for a minute. Edgevale, whose claim to fame was its North Coast Shirt Jacket in 2013, has tripled its business from year one to year two. And from November 2014 to November 2015, it has more than quadrupled.
“We cannot make shirt jackets fast enough,” said Vontz in an exclusive interview with SGB. “It’s exciting and frustrating all at once.”
Growing as a small American-made company is no small feat. But despite the “frustration,” the journey is ripe with big breakthroughs and killer community support. For Edgevale, the story begins with Vontz, “an apparel lifer,” as he called it.
Vontz was working for another apparel company where everything was done overseas. A drawing was sent to a sourcing office in a far-away city, and other than a trip to see the factory every couple of years, the manufacturing process was kept at arms length. In his spare time, Vontz learned design and worked on his own samples in local San Francisco factories. The problem that kept his mind spinning was how to make a technical button-down that would perform against the elements, while maintaining an air of casual cool. “Not a bubble jacket,” Vontz said, “but one that still provides technical support.”
After experimenting with different fabrics, from fleece to cotton, Vontz found the soft shell. “I made 50 shirt jackets in a tiny local factory, went to a pop-up store and to my chagrin, we sold them all that day.”
Now, Edgevale has revamped the OG shirt jacket for Fall 2015, creating the Bonded Fleece Shirt Jacket – a piece that Vontz wears almost every day, along with Edgevale Yonder Pants. This outfit has become the uniform of what the outdoor industry is calling a new breed of outdoorist…people who want to hike in the morning and go out with friends post-summit, all without changing.
“Versatility and functionality is what motivates our customers,” said Vontz, referencing a recent survey the company sent to its buyers. “They want to own less stuff and have more of a Swiss Army Knife wardrobe. This is why use is built into the product.” In context of the industry and consumers at large, Vontz continued, “I don’t think that trend will stop.”
Something as seemingly small as a customer survey like Edgevale’s is where Made In America brands find their edge. In light of the difficulty to bring together scattered parts of domestic and local manufacturing, proximity means “eureka-moments” can transition into production that very same day.
“Linking has been a challenge,” Vontz admitted. “We have to find the label maker, the buttons, the thread, and it’s not under one clearing house. But we’re nimble and small, and have the ability to immediately get feedback and apply that to design.”
SGB got wind that, putting this perk to use, Edgevale is currently playing with more cotton blend applications, to get more technical with a simple flannel or fishing sun shirt. Marrying casual with performance, the next R&D push will be to define a stand-alone technical layer. This might look like another reinvented Shirt Jacket, playing on new fabric partnerships, (Edgevale recently joined forced with Cordura for a unique pocket) but nothing is certain.
For Fall/Winter 2015 Edgevale is launching three new pieces: the North Coast Shirt Jacket, the Campfire Pant and Cast Iron Pant. The North Coast Shirt Jacket is modeled like its heritage forefather with soft shell technology and classic fit to create a wind and water resistant versatile garment. Sandwiched between the wooly outer and fleece lining is a breathable polyurethane soft shell membrane for warmth and moisture management. A bit of stretch improves mobility and comfort, and all seams are reinforced with polyester microfiber binding.
The brand currently sells to retailers, and e-tailers like Huckberry, but its list is still relatively small. Vontz shared that by 2016, Edgevale plans to open 25 new accounts, along with its first direct-to-consumer store in an up and coming development in Oakland, CA. “It’s a shipping container concept,” said Vontz. “Very small and almost like a showroom.”
With the addition of the new store, Vontz can test designs on the trail, get it made, and hang it in store, all within a 15-mile radius. And although Edgevale does not currently have a team of product testers, Vontz and his friends, who include the outdoor lovers at Bedrock Sandals (down the block in San Fran who are working on the next minimalist outdoor sandal), and the team at Madden Equipment in Boulder, CO, (makers of heritage packs), lend one another a hand to put products through the ringer.
“I’ll say, ‘go beat this up,’ and then we can immediately throw their feedback into new samples,” said Vontz. “We’re so excited to be at the vanguard of the changes that are happening in the industry. I feel like we’re riding the wave with other small but growing brands.”
As of November 2015, 99 percent of Edgevale products are made in California. The other one percent encompasses hats and accessories produced on the east coast. Regardless of coast, however, all Edgevale apparel is Made In The USA, and that is exactly where Vontz wants to be.