Unparalleled Apparel for the Great Outdoors
Sports enthusiast Brian Cousins (WCAS94) couldn't find the right clothing for his high-country adventures, so he started his own sportswear company.
With skis strapped to a pack on your back, hiking 2,000 feet up Glory Bowl in the Jackson Hole, Wyo., winter is never easy. But in the mid-1990s, Brian Cousins (WCAS94) knew it was harder than it had to be. "You needed some protection against the cold and wind on the hike, but the traditional shell gear, the only option back then, made me sweat like a pig," he says.
In 1997, Cousins and fellow ski bum Steve Sullivan acted on their instincts and founded Cloudveil, an outdoor clothing company headquartered in Jackson Hole. They started with eight simple, yet innovative, designs for jackets and pants. The brand now makes more than 150 styles and is sold in more than 230 stores across the United States and around the world.
Back in the mid-1990s, Cousins was working in a Jackson Hole ski shop, selling waterproof Gore-Tex jackets. But, from his own experiences he knew waterproof fabrics were often overkill and always heavy, uncomfortable and bulky.
"I saw the need for functional, comfortable and progressive clothing," Cousins says."Steve and I founded Cloudveil with one thought - to innovate from our own experience." So they began looking for alternatives.
What they found wasn't anything new but something that had long been forgotten - the soft, stretch-woven fabrics made from synthetics like nylon, polyester and Lycra used in ski pants more than three decades ago. The fabric isn't waterproof but is warm, lightweight, water resistant and, most important in Cousins' eyes, comfortable. And no one else in the United States was using it.
Cloudveil made a versatile, functional and stylish jacket out of this material - often called Schoeller after Schoeller Textile, the Swiss company that manufactures the bulk of it - and named it Serendipity after a favorite rock climb in nearby Grand Teton National Park. Backpacker magazine and other publications quickly fell in love. One editor wrote,"For me there's never been an item of clothing to compare with the Serendipity."
Cousins, one of eight Northwestern graduates in his family, always knew he was going to be an entrepreneur."But I never imagined that my business would involve apparel manufacturing.. I can't even sew!"
Cousins, a history and political science major, says his Northwestern education taught him to solve problems and think critically, skills he has put to use with Cloudveil.
"Cloudveil was, and continues to be, significantly ahead of the curve on soft-shell technology and innovation," says veteran gear reviewer and Outside correspondent Jonathan Hanson."Every Cloudveil garment I've tried has impressed me with its economy of design - not too many bells and whistles, just good solid function and very good quality at a good price."
Today, six years after Serendipity's introduction, most other technical outerwear manufacturers are imitating Cloudveil. But Cousins and Cloudveil don't mind the competition:"Other brands latching on to soft shells has helped legitimize the concept at the consumer level and helped us realize solid year over year growth," Cousins says. (The company's sales for fiscal year 2004 are projected at $6 million.)
With two new investors - including Jon Boris (KSM98) - on board since November 2002, the innovations should continue at Cloudveil. Now they are focusing on expanding the brand's spring and summer line.
- Dina Mishev (WCAS97)
Dina Mishev is a freelance writer in Jackson Hole, Wyo.