by Steven Threndyle | photograph by Kari Medig
In the cuttingly cruel world of Internet product reviews, it is impossible to find a negative word about the boutique apparel maker Westcomb. Started seven years ago by Alan Yiu and Gabriel Cote, Westcomb utilizes high-tech, name brand materials and matches it with action-oriented patterning, well-developed features, and superb, made-in-Canada construction. Meaning it works in the mountains, but it looks good too.
Cote learned his craft at Arc'teryx (another Canadian apparel company), which employed Yiu's father's factory in Vancouver to make climbing gear. The pair came into the game with a long-term model: "Initially, our plans were to spend five years developing superior products," says Cote. "But we've actually had a sales program since 2008. I was selling some pretty rough prototypes when we started out."
Like an acclaimed indie band that struggles to find a mainstream audience, Westcomb has won major awards and garnered excellent media reviews, yet they remain painfully unknown, even in Canada. But a shelf full of Tiffany crystal won't keep the sewing needles bobbing. Today, a small portion of Westcomb's collection is e-tailed on backcountry.com, but like that same indie band, Westcomb is adept at playing the small venues. "Last year, I jumped in my van to tour North America and visit our key accounts. The kids who work in the stores couldn't believe they were talking with one of the owners." The result: A 50 percent increase in sales.
Now they're placing their bets on a new waterproof breathable fabric by Polartec called NeoShell. In a huge nod to this tiny company's credibility, Westcomb was selected by the fabric maker to help debut the product to both the outdoor industry and the end consumer. The campaign included pre-ordering 600 Westcomb shells to pass out to outdoor media and key influencers. The major selling feature is the fabric's virtually unmatched breathability. "I really believe that NeoShell will dramatically change how we look at layering," says Cote. "It breathes so well that you never want to take it off." If it's successful, Cote and Yiu will be breathing much easier, too.
From the Early Winter 2011 issue