Posted: April 01, 2013
Made in Colorado 2013: Miscellaneous sportsBy Eric Peterson
Jerry Wigutow started making sleeping bags in 1986. Today, his 35-person company is the only domestic manufacturer of sleeping bags in existence.
His competitors “all left the country,” says Wigutow. “Nothing’s changed. They still don’t make any money on their bags because they aren’t any good.”
Wiggy’s sleeping bags, on the other hand, are very good, thanks to Wigutow’s trade-secret Lamilite insulation, which he spins from continuous filament fiber on a custom machine, just like he did a quarter-century ago. “Heat retention in my bags is superior to anyone,” he says. “And if moisture gets in, it doesn’t make any difference.” For this reason, you’ll find Wiggy’s sleeping bags in everything from Air Force jets to Coast Guard boats.
Wigutow estimates he’s shipped a quarter-million bags in all. And Wiggy’s exemplifies the “Made in the USA” credo. “All of the vendors I use are in the United States,” he says. “Even the zippers are domestically produced.”
Gymnastics, CrossFit and occupational therapy equipment
When Brian and Tamara Smith bought Gibson Athletic in 2006, the company, originally founded in 1972 by Holly and Gary Gibson, had nine employees and $1.5 million in annual revenue. Now those numbers are 80 and $15 million, respectively, and Brian expects them to grow even more in 2013. “We’ll probably be at 120 to 140 employees by the end of the year,” he forecasts.
What’s behind the Gibson boom? Brian says the company broadened its focus in 2008 from its traditional gymnastics market and moved into CrossFit-oriented gear with its new brand, Rage Fitness. Thereafter Gibson added another, Moving Mountains, geared toward occupational therapy.
“Both Rage Fitness and Moving Mountains have taken off,” says Brian. The company is going into retail for the first time after 42 years of targeting the institutional market, with Rage on the shelves at Sports Authority and Dick’s Sporting Goods locations.
“The Gibson brand wouldn’t have an opportunity to lead in the big-box space,” says Brian. But Rage does and “it’s helping across the board in all segments,” leading Gibson into broader retail channels.
Brian says the “explosion in CrossFit” made for an exponentially escalating growth curve that went from 5 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2010 to 69 percent last year. For 2013, he’s projecting it to be even higher.
Gibson makes a wide range of gear in Denver, from medicine balls to barbells to gymnastics equipment. Of local manufacturing, Brian says, “I think it’s important to grow jobs here in Colorado.”
Backpacks, bags and outerwear
Mark Hansen co-founded Topo Designs with Jedd Rose in 2008 between Denver and Louisville, long after most backpack manufacturers had moved production to Asia. In 2010, Topo’s production ramped up as the market took note of the company’s simpler designs, with fewer pockets.
“The Klettersack is our flagship,” says Hansen. “The style resonates with a lot of people. It reminds them of a pack their uncle or dad had.” Topo also makes jackets and has additional plans to move “beyond bags” in 2013, says Hansen.
Manufacturing in the U.S. requires a commitment, he adds. “It takes more effort to get something made in our back yard than it does halfway across the planet.”
Custom Caddy Werx
Custom golf carts
Golf carts that look like baseballs and more.
Denver Tent Co.
Tents and fishing bags
Established in 1890, Denver Tent makes tents for sportsmen and events, plus Arcticreel fishing bags.
Custom roller skates
This Denver store makes flamboyant custom skates for the roller-derby crowd.
Handcrafted wooden longboards from the Western Slope.
Judd’s Custom Cues
Cue-master Judd Fuller makes 50 to 100 superlative cues a year.
Melanzana Mountain Gear
Performance hoodies and shirts handmade on Leadville’s main drag, Harrison Avenue.
Home of the Colorado Classic brand.
Digitally designed and hand-milled.
Scott Fly Rod Co.
In business since 1973; Colorado-made since 1993.
Backpacks and bags
Based in Boulder, Spire sews its bags in Denver.
The Glesser family makes many high-end knives in Golden.
Trango makes its eGrips brand in Colorado.
The largest manufacturer of rustic walking and hiking sticks in the U.S.
Packs, racks and accessories for motorcycle travel.
Wright McGill Co.
Eagle Claw fishing tackle and other brands
The Eagle Claw brand is one of the best known in the fishing industry and the only manufacturer of fish hooks in the U.S.
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com