Holladay • Rumors in the past five years that climbing and backcountry ski gear giant Black Diamond was entertaining thoughts of entering the outdoor apparel market drew a lot of attention.
Those rumors sashayed across a fashion stage at the Utah Museum of Natural History during the Winter 2013 Outdoor Retailer show in February. The fashion show that night drew two kinds of reactions: competitors groaned and consumers smiled.
It is not often the likes of Marmot, Arc'teryx, Northface, Mountain Hardwear and Patagonia groan, but when a company with the reputation of Black Diamond moves into the apparel market, it changes things.
Twenty-four Black Diamond apparel pieces started hitting the shelves earlier this month. Peter Metcalf, president of Salt Lake-based Black Diamond Inc., said the first limited run built entirely for men could be sold out by New Year's Day.
The three collections (Schoeller-Dawn Patrol, PrimaLoft and Polartec) include 18 jackets, four pants and two bibs.
Every item in this initial launch is meant to be used actively in the "mountain arena."
Among the 24 items, Black Diamond is focusing attention on three signature items.
• The Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell ($349) is made of Schoeller StretchWoven nylon and offers climbers and backcountry skiers stretchability with warmth and protection from moisture.
• The Access Hybrid Hoody ($249) comes with PrimaLoft insulation, Scholler side panels and NanoSphere water and dirt protection.
• The least expensive of the collection at $159, the CoEfficient Hoody is made of PolarTec fleece and allows stretch, and durability.
More collections will be added in the coming years, with the current schedule set for six seasons, including 100 styles.
"We knew anything we did with apparel had be something that deserved to have the Black Diamond name on it," Metcalf said. "Apparel had to be sustainable and move our company forward. We ended up exactly where we wanted to be. It has been an incredible effort with a strong creative commitment. It is very gratifying to see the result."
Tim Bantle, director of apparel at Black Diamond, was brought to the company from Patagonia more than two years ago to build the future arm of the business. It took him six months to figure out what apparel with the BD logo would look like. Then he had to build an apparel staff 24 strong to share his vision.
Bantle decided to first address the majority user base of Black Diamond: climbers and backcountry skiers.
"We tried to do what seemed the most natural for the company," Bantle said. "We have a great connection with the alpinist community. These first two seasons we focused on that core customer, but we will be branching from three technology platforms to seven platforms. This is like the symphony just tuning up."
The tune up bodes well for the main performance.
The initial BD collections are clean, stylish and, perhaps most important for Black Diamond, functional, just like the climbing gear so many have come to rely on through the years.
"The bottom line is our carabiners just need to work. But people want them to look beautiful," Bantle said. "We took that to the design table and through our testing the product shows it is as functional as it is attractive."
One criticism leveled at Black Diamond is that apparel for women won't be available until fall 2014.
"We have spoken to this a lot," said Ryan Gellert, brand president of Black Diamond. "We didn't want to have this wrestling match between the sexes, and we didn't want to launch the women's apparel until we felt like we could do it justice. Creating clothing for women is different than it is for men. As a brand, we have been very testosterone-based. We are figuring out how to bring an equilibrium."
Black Diamond has ventured into apparel before with a limited line. Retailers liked the products, but told Metcalf if he wanted to get serious about apparel, Black Diamond would have to expand its clothing into collections.
"They told me as vendors that we had to grow our apparel options," Metcalf said. "That they couldn't buy a single item or two. I decided I didn't want us to be 5 miles wide and a centimeter deep and that we would go back to apparel."
So Black Diamond employees created secret caches of the BVD alpine pants and hoped they would last until that time came.
When Black Diamond went public in 2010, Metcalf said it created the opportunity to finally launch into the apparel world with both feet.
"A major catalyst to go public was in part to have additional working capital access to capital markets," Metcalf said. "It was great to be able to do apparel without pulling resources from the other areas. Part of the investment report I gave to that group was the idea of a global apparel line."
Bantle says his apparel team is busy planning the next five seasons, and he is excited about everything that has passed through the idea stage and will eventually land on the fashion stage.
One of his favorite items might come as a bit of a surprise.
"We will have the nicest pair of rock jeans and rock shirt in the industry," Bantle said. "This is where I think Black Diamond belongs. Leading the industry and providing what our customers want."