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INDUSTRY EVENT

In Asheville, NC, a cadre of outdoor brands is intent on making Western North Carolina a hotbed of innovation for outdoor gear brands. By Charles Lunan

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trade association that grew out of weekly gatherings at Asheville's growing microbreweries is on the cusp of securing state assistance that will help several of its smallest members exhibit at one of Europe’s largest outdoor trade shows. The Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina (OGB) could hear as early as this week whether the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina will sponsor a trade mission to the Outdoor Show in Friedrichshafen Germany in July. The mission would use government grants to help OGB members defray the costs of exhibiting at the show and help put a spotlight on the region. The trade mission would mark an important milestone for OGB, which was formed in 2013 by employees of such companies as SylvanSport, Eagle Nest Outfitters (ENO) and Liquid Logic kayaks who would gather over beers at one of Asheville's microbreweries to talk shop. On March 19, the group held its second annual Get in Gear Festival on a lot along the French Broad River cleared in 2008 by more than 200 people participating in the Timberland Service Project during the Outdoor Industry Association's annual Rendezvous networking summit. When the event returned to Asheville in 2012, volunteers also returned to the site to do more work, including removing dozens of tires and other debris from the river. Two dozen of OGB's 35 members exhibited products at the site on March 19, while local breweries and food trucks sold locally made beer and food. Proceeds from beer sales went to Riverlink, the same non-profit organization 14 SGBWeekly.com | MARCH 28, 2016

that partnered with OIA for the two Timberland Service Projects. Liquid Logic, which makes its boats at a state-of-the-art roto-molding facility in nearby Fletcher and WASUP, a startup that builds Fiberglas standup paddleboards in Asheville, offered demos on the river. Simpleshot Shooting Sports showed folks how to shoot its slingshots, while kids swung gleefully from ENO hammocks and a hawker coaxed bystanders to get up on a trailer and try to squeeze through a contraption designed by the caving brand Swaygo to simulate a narrow cave opening. "This is all about collective marketing power," explained Kyle Mundt, an OGB co-founder and marketing chief at Sylvansport, a maker of gear trailers. "We want people to come out and learn about some of the outdoor gear made right here in their backyard. We also want to let some of the bigger companies out West know that if they are going to have a presence in the East, they should consider Western North Carolina." In 2014, OGB’s 26 members employed 470 people and sourced more than $6 million in goods from the region. The biggest cohort had annual sales of $1 million to $5 million, followed by those with $100,000 to $500,000 and less than $100,000. Only about 15 percent had annual sales of more than $5 million. Judy Gross founded LightHeart Gear after she attempted a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2006. Using her skills as a seamstress, Gross set out to improve the design of ultralight tents she encountered on the trail. In 2009, after friends suggested she could sell them as kits,

she traveled to the Appalachian Trail Hiker Fool Bash in Franklin, NC with nine tents and sold three. By 2012, she had outgrown the workshop in her basement and late that year she leased a space, where she began taking on contract manufacturing jobs. Today, LightHeart Gear employs three fulltime seamstresses and offers three models of tents, rain coats, pack ponchos and rain skirts hikers can drape around their waste to keep dry without removing their packs. The company sells almost exclusively direct in the United States because it can't provide the dating and other terms demanded by U.S. retailers. But during a series of exporting seminars arranged by OGB last year, Gross learned how exporting might help her finance her growth, particularly if she was able to find a distributor in Europe willing to pay for inventory upfront. That lead to conversations between OGB facilitator Noah Wilson, who once worked by the regional economic development authority, and the EDPNC about a trade mission to Friedrichshafen. "I would not know where to start with that, but the state would screen potential distributors and set up meetings" said Gross, who has already mocked up a miniature version of one of her tents for the show. One of the busier booths Saturday featured a “Micro Camper Conversion System” from Fifth Element. The system of wooden cabinets can be clipped into the seat anchors of a Honda Element to quickly convert it into a micro camper. Co-founders Nick Spero and Sara DeFosset began working on the concept while living in

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SGB Weekly | March 28, 2016

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