Flylow: How two friends turned their gear complaints into a gear company

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The history of outdoor companies is filled with people who started with little more than a good idea and persistence. The mighty Patagonia was the softgoods company of Chouinard Equipment, which in turn was started by itinerant Yosemite rock climber Yvon Chouinard, who made chrome-moly steel pitons with a second-hand forge and sold them out of his truck at the start. Many of the top outdoor gear companies have similar origins.

In Denver, two longtime Colorado skiers are looking to follow in such illustrious footsteps. Dan Abrams and Greg Steen founded Flylow three years ago, looking to design outerwear for skiing based on their experiences with gear that didn't meet their needs. At the time the company was founded, Abrams was living in a house near DU, where he was attending grad school. He has since bought that house and runs Flylow out of his basement. Steen bought a house a few doors down, which is why, as Abrams says, "there are Flylow cars up and down the street."

Abrams grew up skiing for the Ski Club Vail, and Steen raced at Winter Park. The two, along with several of their friends, attended college at the University of Puget Sound, which is where the idea for Flylow was first born.

"The comedy of it is that Patagonia, North Face, and now Flylow offer these great five-year warranties where it's 100 percent satisfaction guaranteed and if you don't like your stuff after five years you can send it back, so that's what we did in college," laughs Abrams. "We sent our pants back to Patagonia and when we got them back, after five years, their top of line pants had changed. They'd become better for climbing and worse for skiing. That was what really got us going on designing our own clothes."

After starting slowly with suggestive t-shirts with logos like "Tele girls get down" -- trying to, in Abrams words, prove they could walk before running -- they designed their first ski pant, a co-branded product with Cactus Climbing of Christchurch, New Zealand.

"We got them to modify their existing design to meet our needs," says Abrams. "I got them to make 100 pairs, and it was co-branded with them, so by using this 20-year old brand along with Flylow, it was a good way to merge their experience with our new design. After that, we were able to start approaching Asian companies."

The name came from an experience on a ski trip to Jackson Hole, and does not, in fact, refer to telemark skiing, nor is it a suggestive sexual reference, though Abrams probably wouldn't mind if you took it that way. "It can mean whatever you want it to mean," he grins.

"We were all skiing with a couple of other friends from college, including this girl from France, and we came down to the bottom of the hill and she said, 'When you ski, you don't ski fast, you fly low.' We looked at each other and we could see it, just like someone could see Atomic on a boot. We could just see Flylow across a t-shirt. It was three years later that I was actually able to implement the name and start building the brand."

Since then, the company has grown steadily. They currently have 70 accounts, including their first international account. Store sales are up 275 percent over last year, and overall financials are up 110 percent.

Flylow just launched their first women's line, and it 's been well received. Touring the basement with Abrams and Steen involves navigating a maze of boxes of products, which they ship to locations around the country.

"Every ski town between Colorado and California has a Flylow dealer," says Abrams.

In addition to his and Steen's core group of original friends, who continue to provide feedback on the designs the duo come up with, Flylow has several product testers, incuding Eben Mond, whom they affectionately call "Bam Bam."

"He used to be a U.S. Ski Team guy from the midwest, and he relocated out here," says Abrams. "He skis for Scarpa and Rossignol and Flylow and everybody loves him, because whatever you give him, he'll break it. (laughs) I ski maybe 100 days a year, I'm pretty hard on gear, and usually go through a pair of boots a year and a couple of pairs of skis, but I never break something. He has the ability to in three weeks just shatter a pair of skis or a pair of pants that we thought were indestructible. He'll drop a 45-foot cliff and land on a tree stump."

Mond aside, Flylow's gear is pretty bombproof, and well designed, trying to match the quality and functionality of mountaineering gear with the burly requirements of hard core skiers, who can tear through a pair of mountaineering pants in a week. In addition to outerwear, the company concentrates on insulating layers, and seems poised to capture a larger share of the market.

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