The Trials of Being TREW

Despite manufacturing challenges, outerwear company remains true to logo - thumb's up

Challenges for ski startups like TREW extend beyond finding idyllic parking spots for branded motor-homes, like 'Harvey the RV.'  Photo: Lance Koudele

Challenges for ski startups like TREW extend beyond finding idyllic parking spots for branded motor-homes, like 'Harvey the RV.' Photo: Lance Koudele

By John Clary Davies

On Saturday, Tripp Frey boarded an airplane from Portland for Hong Kong. For the third time in three years, Frey is looking for somebody to manufacture TREW outerwear, the company he and his friends, the brothers John and Chris Pew, started designing three years ago in Hood River, Ore.

TREW had expected their 2011/12 line no later than September. But now, with the lucrative holiday shopping season all but behind them, the entirety of their shipments are still a couple weeks out. TREW’s plight exemplifies the challenges for startups entering the ski industry. In TREW’s case, Frey said, their orders are too small for a big factory but too technical for a small one.

Despite challenges, the TREW crew remains optimistic about its prospects—and true to the company logo. Photo: Lance Koudele

Despite challenges, the TREW crew remains optimistic about its prospects—and true to the company logo. Photo: Lance Koudele

“When North Face or Arc’Teryx or Patagonia is in one of the factories and say, ‘Oh, we need 5,000 more of the Powder Storm Jacket,’ then they write me an email—‘By the way, you’re not getting your stuff for another month,” said Frey. “There are dangers either way, being a small fish in a big pond, and ironically, being a big fish in a small pond, which we thought would be better, but it wasn’t.”

TREW had their first pants and jackets manufactured in a factory in Vancouver. When that became too expensive, due to a weakening dollar and increased production costs, they switched to a factory in China. There, they lacked the quality control they sought. The 2011/12 line is being manufactured in a small factory in Nepal. Frey says the technical detail of their gear overwhelmed the production crew.

There is a reason the TREW gear is so expensive. (The Pow-Funk jacket retails for $480, while the Trewth bib pant costs $420.) The company insists on using materials that will last, and unique color schemes, so the product is both technical and stylish. Frey said the result is a very labor-intensive manufacturing process.

Justin Harvey, a TREW sales rep who covers Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, said that while retailers are frustrated with the delays, they’ll stick with the company in the long term because it’s high-quality gear. Harvey said he asked TREW to rep their gear because he “wore the shit” out of a pair of their pants he bought, and they barely looked worn.

“I originally thought it would be [a problem with retailers],” said Harvey. “Then, this product we just got in went to Greenwood Ski House and Round House in Bozeman, and the product is so kickass. Once they see it, it reminds them why they order.”

Just before Frey took off for a tour of factories in China and Vietnam, he said he was determined to find a unique approach to manufacturing their gear. He hopes to find a factory that will work with TREW for the long-term.

“Then I‘m coming back,” said Frey, “and I’m getting in the RV and I’m going to go skiing.”

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  • RandySki

    Big fan and No hate but Trew shoulda stayed in Vancouver, been a downhill slide since then. Last years stuff was kinda junky. Try stateside production?

    • schralper7

      have to agree with the above post with what I have seen of my buddies jacket. hopefully they can work things out….

  • BDoubleya

    I own a TREW jacket and its hands down one of the nicer jackets I’ve ever owned. Love to see start up companies make it in a demanding and competitive market. It’s a sad but true reminder that we live in a dying country when we can’t even produce/manufacture something as simple as a coat at a competitive and reasonable cost.
    Best of luck to the boys at TREW. Your gear is bomber and I hope you guys make it last!

  • http://www.bootdoctors.com Galena

    We will patiently await the arrival of our TREW shipment to our stores. Despite the fact that it is Christmas week, I know it will still sell because TREW is different from any of the big corporate companies. The brand encompasses the philosophies that real skiers identify with which are: quality, not quantity and always keep it real. I hope they can keep it afloat.

  • Tripp

    hey RandySki and schralper7– just wanted to encourage you to check out this year’s product that is made in Nepal. despite the fact that it’s late, the quality is as good if not better than Vancouver. i think you’ll be impressed. also, i looked into USA production and it’s just not feasible from a cost standpoint. it would cost more to make than what we sell our products for!! and people won’t spend $800 on our garments…. if there was any way to make it in the USA we would do it no question.

    if you ever have any questions, feel free to hit me up: tripp@trewgear.com

    Tripp

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