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How to Start an Outerwear Company in Four Months

Pro skier David Lesh was sick of jackets and pants that didn’t fit right. When his clothing sponsors wouldn’t listen to feedback, he went on his own and launched an outerwear company, First Drop.
posted: 10/23/2009

David Lesh listens to a market of one. It might be exactly what works.

First things first: Why in the hell did you start an outerwear company?
I’ve ridden for a handful of outerwear companies (Columbia, Powderhorn, Lethal Descent), and frankly, I was sick of dealing with them. None of them were listening. I’m pretty lanky and there was nothing they made that was long enough for me to wear. There’s a huge hole in the market right now for things that fit right.

When did you realize this?
It’s been a while now. But it really started this spring. The company I was riding for just didn’t have it together, they were a total junk show. The clothes showed up late or didn’t fit right. I asked them if they’d let me design a suit. I’d also asked previous sponsors. No one wanted to listen so I did it myself. So I started thinking about launching my own company in June and didn’t do anything about it until the middle of July. I got the finished product in October. So I’m happy with where it’s at right now.

Where’s First Drop made?
Some of it, such as the accessories, is made in California and in Colorado. The outerwear is made in China.

How’d you find the Chinese factory?
I’ve been on China time for the last four months. I wake up at noon and go to bed 5 AM. All night long I’m on Skype, calling factories all over china, Malaysia, and India. I went through trade websites, friends, brokers, and middlemen, trying to find English speakers. I checked samples and covered as many factories as possible. And I found a good one.

This is a bad time to launch a business, no? How are you going to break into a crowded market?
Everyone is crammed into a tight ski community. All it takes is one person at a mountain to get a jacket and then everyone knows about it. Still, the first year is going to be low, with start-up costs and what not. For the most part, I’m going to start with selling stuff online. I have measurement charts on the site so you can get a sense of how it fits. I’m also going to expand into the girl’s market. No one is catering to them and properly suiting their needs.

Are you still skiing professionally?
Yes. For Liberty, Smith, DaKine, and Booster Strap. That’s how I got the cash to start this, from ski earnings. First Drop has no investors, no loans, and not a penny from my parents.

And you’re looking for pros for your ski team. Do you think you'll make it?
[Laughs] I hope so. I’ll speak to the board of directors and see if I make the cut. I actually thought about putting myself on the team page but it seemed way too self-involved.

[From $190; firstdropouterwear.com]

(1)

Good luck to your new company. I think that unless the ski resorts see a tremendous drop in numbers over the next couple of years you will be successful. More choices lead to better sales. chris brown

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