Our Collaboration With Kletterwerks

BY Taylor Rebhan

Kletterwerks was founded in 1975 by Dana Gleason and a few friends who determined that the gear available at the time was insufficient for serious Rocky Mountain climbing and skiing. With a focus on functionality and durability, their first four bags—the Flip, Day, Rock and Terraplane—would quickly become legendary in the climbing world. 

Although Kletterwerks halted production in the early ’80’s due to a  difference of opinions among business partners, Gleason would go on to found some of the most recognized backpack brands in the outdoor industry, including Dana Design and Mystery Ranch. Then in 2010, in response to overwhelming consumer demand, Gleason revived Kletterwerks from a 30 year silence. 

We’re proud to have four custom American-made Kletterwerks bags in our Shinola retail stores through the month of May. To mark the occasion we sat down for a conversation with the company’s brand manager, Ben Nobel. 

SHINOLA: Kletterwerks is 100% American made, correct?

KLETTERWERKS: That’s correct.  

What would you say are some of the advantages to making your bags in America?

The big advantages are design, development, and M&E (Monitoring and Evaluation). I don’t want to use the word rapid in terms of development, but we have, much like you guys at Shinola, the opportunity to engineer something in our heads and bring that to sampling very quickly. Sometimes within a day or two. So we can get that piece out into the field for testing, immediately. And we do all of our testing in-house with all of our own employees. 

That’s a huge advantage, to quickly get feedback into what needs to change. Then we can have prototypes rapidly produced, and obviously we have a very short lead time when it comes to production. We don’t necessarily need to forecast a year out. We have access to about 300 industrial sewing professionals amongst five facilities on the west coast. By sourcing all of our materials in the United States and having all of our sewers in the United States, shipping times are drastically reduced and we can employ inspectors very easily at any one of those facilities before products head out to the customer. So when we do launch a product, it’s perfect.


Are there any disadvantages to making your bags in America?

Some of the disadvantages, or challenges, can be price, and scalability. Finding employees is not always easy. We try to set up our facilities as a career-oriented path, and we have the opportunity to create a workplace that really embodies the Bozeman, MT mountain culture. We have the mountains in our backyard, and people really want to work here. 

How did Dana Gleason originally get into bag making? Was it through his mountain climbing?

Yeah, he was from New England, and he eventually made his way onto the Appalachian Trail. And he got by financially by repairing people’s gear on the trail. He had this old VW van and he had a sewing machine in it, and people would come to him with their blown straps or torn tents. He noticed that a lot of the gear that was available was not up to par, so he started tinkering around with building a few things and getting more experienced with pack repair. Eventually he ended up in Bozeman, decided that the gear that was out there was not adequate for serious Rocky Mountain climbing and skiing, so he launched Kletterworks. And he had four sizes. Three of which we’ve replicated to date. 

And those are the bags we have in our stores, right?

Yeah. One of those is called The Flip, and it’s one of our flagship models and a best seller internationally. 


Do you have any advice for someone setting out to start a business today?

I think the biggest thing is that you’ve got something that you think the world needs and wants, and is real. That’s hugely important. And by real I mean the product has a purpose. The product has a function. The product has a real reason for existing. And the branding does too. I think it’s easy to drum up a story for your brand that may coincide with your product. But I think the more you really take your vision for what you want your business to be, and what you want your product to be. And have your branding tell a real story that people can relate to. Because having a genuine product and a genuine, authentic story combined is as powerful as you can get.


How would you define quality?

In our world, we’ve been striving for almost 40 years, and we’ve really focused on function. And finding a solution for carrying things. It’s easy to think about features, tricks, and gimmicks. And to fall into the idea of more, more, more, more. When, deep down, the real goal for us is providing something that does its job. And carrying things is a job. So that means making something that does its job really really well—and that means organizing things, and allowing the user to carry it comfortably.

I think if you do that, you are almost forced to create a product that will last a long time, because that’s part of its duty. But I don’t think that should define quality independently. There needs to be a combination of function, comfort, durability, and approachability.


Be sure to check out Kletterworks American-made bags in our flagship stores in Tribeca and Detroit. For more information on future collaborations with brands like Kletterwerks, connect with Shinola on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates.

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