Bill Amos’ answer to the financial recession of 2008 was a pair of pants.
A pair of technical, exceptionally built, domestically manufactured climbing pants crafted by his Oregon-based business NW Alpine.
It was during the financial downturn when Bill, a highly accomplished alpine rock climber, started geeking out over economics and the current state of affairs.
“I got interested in trying to understand what was happening and why, and what it meant for our country. Then I started looking at manufacturing, and how the exodus from the U.S. negatively affected our economy.”
Inspired to bring manufacturing back to the US, Bill turned to what he knew best: alpine climbing. “I wanted to make apparel that was appropriate for climbing, and do it all in the United States,” he said.
Bill is modest when he recounts his climbing résumé, but he’s been scrambling up mountains through snow, ice and questionable rock for more than 20 years, achieving multiple first ascents in the process.
“I was pretty underwhelmed with the technical offerings for alpine climbing that were currently available,” he said. “The market is so small for alpine climbing that the bigger brands shifted toward more lifestyle apparel.”
Without any knowledge on how to run a business or manufacture apparel, Bill started out by just talking to people. “I was starting from zero – which was probably a good thing,” he laughed of his then naiveté. “I might not have started this knowing what it takes to make it happen.”
Many meetings and networking events later, Bill connected with a local product designer who helped create a softshell climbing pants design. The first production run was for 100 pairs of pants. Bill remembers thinking, “If I can’t sell these, then I’ll have climbing pants for life!”
But, after a positive response from his global network of climber friends, and the launch of a website, it was clear Bill wouldn’t be stuck with those prototypes.
Technical tops, jackets, and shorts soon followed — and so did growing pains. NW Alpine moved from Portland to a bigger space in Newberg, and then yet again to an even bigger space in Salem.
It was during that period when NW Alpine’s customer demand became too high for their local manufacturer. Not wanting to lose the local manufacturer they built their brand on, NW Alpine took the leap and bought out the entire operation — the newly branded Kichatna Apparel Manufacturing.
During the height of the pandemic, NW Alpine turned its resources and focus on cranking out hospital gowns and masks. “I felt very fortunate. While a lot of businesses were struggling we were able to keep people employed; we had 75 employees at one point,” Bill said.
Being an employer is Bill’s favorite aspect of running NW Alpine. “The coolest thing to me is employing all these people,” Bill said. “I know firsthand that it makes a huge difference when you buy local. It’s something we like to convey to people when they buy our products: you are directly impacting people that live in our community.”
Now more than ever, manufacturing domestically has put his brand in an ideal position. “People are so stoked it’s made in the USA. It really makes an impression on them. Almost everyone in our category makes things overseas, and there are some really serious supply chain issues where a lot of retailers aren’t able to get product,” Bill explained.
“We’re also flushing out the line: we don’t want to add product for the sake of adding product. We are being conscientious of what we’re doing and sustainability is a huge focus.”
Speaking of flushing … In an effort to lessen their carbon footprint even more, NW Alpine is very proud of their newly installed commercial composting toilet system. “I’m sure we’re the only apparel factory that has it,” Bill laughed. “It’s pretty cool! Any time you flush, it only uses a half a liter of water. It seriously decreases our fresh water usage and there’s no waste water output.”
Over a decade in, NW Alpine’s founding tenants remain as enduring as the quality of their gear. “It’s really important to our country that we can take care of ourselves, and we can’t right now,” Bill said. “The supply chain crisis exemplifies what will happen if we’re cut off from the global manufacturing base.”
Bill laughed, “I’m an Eagle Scout, and I take my Be Prepared motto to heart. We want to support local manufacturing and do what we can to bring it back. And, we want to prove that it’s possible to do it.”