Hiking 1,300 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2018 put Bernie Khalil’s life on a new path. It ‘messed him up in a good way’ and rekindled his long lost love for backpacking, hiking and spending time in nature. This change of course would eventually lead to starting Vado UL, a cottage outdoor clothing brand known for its use of Alpha fabric.
Bernie was living in Brooklyn, New York when global lockdowns hit in response to the pandemic. Going stir crazy in his tiny apartment, he decided to pack up his life and move back to his hometown of Framingham, Massachusetts. There, he spent time soul searching in the great outdoors.
Bernie also decided to fill some time by taking up a new hobby. So, he borrowed his grandparents sewing machine, and with the support of a skilled family friend, started learning how to make clothes.
“In the beginning, I was really just taking things apart to understand how they look when they aren’t a 3D thing,” said Bernie, who taught himself how to pattern draft by this reverse engineering of garments.
Over the course of just one month, Bernie developed his vision for Vado UL — craft technical, functional, lightweight gear. He also stitched up several fleece tops made from Polartec’s Alpha Direct fabric.
Happy with the quality, aesthetics and fit of his fleeces, Bernie took them out on some stringent adventure tests in the White Mountains and Adirondacks near his home. He wanted to know how the layers would perform when hiking, running and camping in both warmer and cooler temperatures.
“The Alpha fabric is really good at regulating your body temperature,” explained Bernie, who found it to be breathable when worn next to skin, and insulating when used as a mid layer. “It also has high tensile strength and a great warmth-to-weight ratio.”
Soon, Bernie began showcasing his fleeces on Instagram and Reddit. Before long, the orders came in, including many handmade goods for style-savvy customers in Japan.
With a growing clientele, Bernie set up an online store for Vado UL and started dropping new garments as often as he could. But balancing a full-time job at REI and launching a startup put a lot on his plate.
With the pressure mounting, and in an effort to remain true to himself, Bernie stepped back from Vado UL in the summer of 2021. He wanted to contemplate this new direction and make sure he was coming at it from the right place.
As he found himself drawn back, over and over, to design elements and ideas for his ultralight clothing, he realized he was on the right path with his new business venture. He applied his ‘go with the flow’ attitude to Vado UL, and in doing so, found himself enjoying the process more wholeheartedly.
“I don't think that I would have fallen into sewing if I hadn't really loved creating and designing and figuring things out,” Bernie said. “Because honestly sewing can be a big puzzle, which is really fun and sometimes frustrating.”
In fact, gaining the skill of sewing and mending has been one of Bernie’s favorite things about starting up. Alongside creating functional new garments for others, Bernie can now fix the items he owns and loves, keeping them from getting tossed in the landfill.
Bernie wants to use Vado UL as a platform to create durable, thoughtfully designed garments that, when well-looked after, can last a long time and be used for a plethora of different adventures.
“I think people are willing to take better care of their gear and invest a little more energy and money into a garment that feels good, looks good and fits them properly,” said Bernie, who’s future goal is to offer more customization and adjustability options.
He also plans to branch out into different garment offerings and fabric options — as well as find resourceful ways to incorporate the Alpha off-cuts that have been collecting from making fleece sweaters and balaclavas, such as turning them into Alpha-filled ‘down’ jackets.
Though his personal heritage is Palesintan and Jewish, Vado — which is Italian for ‘I go’ — is a homage to Bernie’s love for, and background as, a bass baritone opera singer. His self-described ‘old soul’ finds great harmony in connecting with land, music, and making and mending clothing — all things that have been part of our shared human heritage for a long time.
Bernie feels grateful for where he has been, which has led to where he is now, in his life and with Vado UL. “I’m in a place right now where I love making things for people and people enjoy what I make,” he said. “That is a great place to be.”
Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker or at her blog thisisalibecker.com.