Before Cameren Abila was handcrafting feather-light Alpha Direct hoodies with his Grandma, Denise, he was obsessively nerdy about ultralight backpacking gear.
“During COVID I had lots of time on my hands to read through Reddit,” he laughed.
Coming from a family that made their own Halloween costumes, Cameren was comfortable behind a sewing machine. “I just thought it was cool that you could buy your own ripstop nylon on the internet and throw something together,” he laughed.
In the Spring of 2021, with a PCT permit secured and a respectable 10lbs base pack weight that consisted of hand-crafted gear, Cameren was ready to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.
Before he set foot in Campo, though, Cameren and his wife, Courtney, learned they’d soon be welcoming a baby to the family. With fatherhood imminent, Cameren postponed his thru-hiking dream … but not his quest for the perfect ultralight backpacking kit.
“I was convinced every new ultralight fleece I bought was going to change everything for me,” he laughed. “This one might be identical, but it’s two ounces lighter.”
Thanks to high demand for outdoor apparel made from Alpha Direct fabric, at one point Cameren reluctantly purchased a hoodie in blush pink, not exactly his first color choice.
“That’s when I started doing research and thought I could probably find some Alpha Direct of my own and make one in a color I like.”
After a conversation with Grandma Denise, a talented seamstress and quilter, things started clicking. Denise was forced into early retirement and expressed to Cameren she wished she could just garden and sew all day.
“I think I can make that work for you,” he laughed retelling the story. “And she was super down for it. All these things were lining up at the same time. With over 40 years of sewing experience, it was an easy transition getting her up and ready.”
After tossing names around, LEVE Outdoor Co. stuck. Latin for light (but pronounced like leave) Cameren believes it exudes lightness like a leaf.
With Cameren in California and Denise in Oregon, the grandson-grandma duo are often at the mercy of various shipping couriers. “Most people don’t start a company in two states; it’s definitely been a learning curve, but we work around it.”
Denise handles the sewing, then ships the shirts back to Cameren for the finish work and distribution. “This gives her a purpose and things to do, she’s not just existing at home all day.”
“Half of her house is dedicated to sewing space,” he laughed. “She has a serger room, a room for cutting, a room for hemming. She’s fully committed. It’s taken over her life and she loves it.”
The LEVE Headquarters at the Albia residence in Placerville is a bit more confined.
“We swap out machines when we need to, and we have a big, folding cutting table that we’ll set up in the living room, but it blocks the TV,” Cameren laughed. “When we have a bunch of big orders to pack, the big table is coming out. Hope you didn’t want to watch a movie!”
Quite possibly a layering revolution, Alpha Direct fabric boasts all the qualities a backpacker looks for. A rather new-kid-on-the-block, Cameren believes its winning factor to be its breathability and warmth. “Typically, these two features are contradictory.”
“Hydrophobic by nature, it takes a lot to wet out, too. When it does get wet, it still keeps you warm and retains its insulation.”
With its warmth-to-weight ratio, breathability, less water absorption, and fast drying time, Alpha Direct fleece adequately serves as a standalone garment. Pair it with a windbreaker or rain jacket, and it can keep you mighty toasty.
In other words, this is not our grandma’s fleece.
“I’ve been trying to convince non-backpacking people to try it out, too. If you ever go outside, this fleece is awesome. You don’t have to be a backpacking nerd to try it.”
Grandma Denise was in awe of the technology. “She was shocked when I sent her the fabric. It blew her away; she didn’t know they could make fabric like this.”
Alpha Direct proves its warmth in the production process, too. “Even while you’re sewing, you have to crank up the AC and constantly take breaks to cool off!”
The LEVE Alpha Direct 90, weighing in at 4.4 ounces, is the most versatile and what most people gravitate toward, Cameren said. “It’s the middle of the road; not too warm and not too sheer.”
For those who want more warmth and durability, the LEVE Alpha Direct 120 is the way to go. Weighing in at only 6.8 ounces, it sacrifices a bit of breathability but promises to keep you warm.
Omitting zippers, kangaroo pockets and thumbholes, the LEVE Alpha Direct hoodies are designed for the minimalist. “I took all my favorite parts that I knew I wanted and made my own special thing,” Cameren said of the flagship product.
In addition to his grandma, Cameren’s family in California pitches in when they can. His wife, Courtney, helps any way possible after wrangling the couple’s now two year old toddler. “We’re constantly aware of where the scissors are to keep them out of reach,” Cameren laughed.
Cameren is quick to say his daughter continues to inspire him to create minimal, versatile and ultralight backpacking gear. “Having a kid actually sparked this,” he said. “By being as ultralight as possible, I can push myself and spend less time away.”
Even if Cameren doesn’t venture off too far for too long, LEVE provides a front row seat to other people’s adventures. “One of my favorite parts has been the people that I’ve been able to interact with because of all this,” he said. “I tend to get a little FOMO because I can’t do as much hiking as I want, so this gives me a little outlet.”