For the record, Klim is pronounced climb. As in up snowcovered hillsides on a hot-rodded sled or over long, steep stretches of single-track. Just as the name of the apparel company was born in the actions of those who wear it, so are the products it produces.
Founded, as a brand, in 1999 by Justin Summers, Klim is the primary product of its parent company Teton Outfitters, an outfit started by Summers to produce custom apparel for ski patrol and search-and-rescue crews of Utah's ski resorts. With roots like this, you can see how Klim grew from apparel for hardcore snowmobiler to gear for diehard adventure riders. In all instances, a person needs their riding kit to perform without fail.
Since the beginning, Summers has remained highly involved with the Klim brand, from product conceptualization to material sourcing to testing — the whole shebang. Word has it that he can even be found unloading inventory shipments and sorting orders in the Rigby, Idaho warehouse where Klim is headquartered.
We wanted to get a bit more background on the company itself so we talked with Klim's communications coordinator (hello syllables!), Jesse Ziegler. You may remember Ziegler from his years as executive editor of Dirt Rider magazine before he left the austere world of publishing for the fast-paced excitement of apparel manufacturing.
Dealernews: Klim is known for its hardcore, high-end riding gear. Why did the company settle into this niche?
Jesse Ziegler: I wouldn’t say Klim settled into this niche. I’d say Klim lives in the high-end motorsports gear market out of necessity. In the beginning, the gear the guys at Klim were playing in wasn’t performing — plain and simple. So, they decided to make it better. Then, they listened to the people riding in it and made it better again. This system and set of principles still drive the company today — make it better so the ride is better, to oversimplify.
Klim is well-known as the best snowmobile gear brand in the world. Justin Summers and friends brought their backcountry apparel experience and ability to listen to the motorsports market and they’ve been leading the charge ever since. They had experience and ambition to build better gear for the snowmobiling world and they did it — forever changing how snowmobilers dress, ride and enjoy themselves.
Klim is a company of enthusiasts. And I don’t mean enthusiasts in the sense that everyone here wanted to work in the moto industry and drive trucks with gigantic energy drink stickers. I mean it in the way that all these people think about is the next ride or next outdoor trip of some kind. You’d think the riding season here would be short, but really it’s just a cycle of toys we play on. There are after-work trail rides, emergency out-of-the-office epic powder days and plenty of after-dark unplanned returns. You’d be hard-pressed to meet a more concentrated group of motorsports and outdoor enthusiasts.
DN: When did Klim begin its partnership with Gore? (For more on this relationship, click here.)
JZ: Klim started using Gore materials such as Gore-Tex and Windstopper in 2000. From the beginning, Klim was dedicated to building gear that kept people dry, stayed supremely breathable and could hold up to the abuse of intense backcountry snowmobiling. It didn’t take long to discover that the other materials out there weren’t holding up. Nothing we’ve tested in the lab or in the field and through production has come close to the all-around performance of Gore materials. The partnership is more than providing a good waterproof/breathable solution, though.
DN: The partnership with Gore seems to be very collaborative. How does this relationship work?
JZ: If you look at it from an over-simplified supplier/manufacturer relationship point of view, Gore is a material supplier who provides an ingredient to our final product. In reality, our relationship isn’t like that at all. Yes, we buy raw materials from them. But the actual purchase and delivery to the factory is a tiny part of the equation. Klim brings a passion to the motorsports world to build better gear that enhances riders’ experiences, keeps them more comfortable and lasts for years. Gore knows a lot about human physiology, comfort and fabrics, layering systems and more that can enhance [the] products. If you look at the power of combining those, it’s pretty awesome.
Klim isn’t building a textile jacket and slapping a Gore-Tex liner in or over it and calling it a technical piece of riding equipment. We’re incorporating everything riders need into all-in-one, waterproof, breathable and supremely durable riding jackets and pants. We lean on Gore for testing our designs and ensuring they meet the strictest standards. In fact, before we go to production, every piece of Klim gear incorporating Gore technology is sent to their labs for performance testing. Then it’s tested after production. Then it’s tested again.
Look at our new Latitude adventure pieces, for instance. That jacket and pant is the lowest price point in our adventure lineup. But it has apparel industry firsts all over it. Gore and our partners at Cordura worked intensely with our designers to offer the first 840D Cordura Gore-Tex laminate. That process alone is about four continents broad and involves dedication and resources from all players to make it happen. It opens the door for a lot of exciting stuff down the road. And that’s how we keep pushing the envelope of a better ride.
DN: Why did Klim opt to work with Gore and use Gore-Tex?
JZ: The reality is this, when and where our customers use our gear, survival situations are an all-too-common occurrence. Your riding gear is your body’s first line of defense against the elements when you’re spending the night in a snow cave during a blizzard at 10,000 feet elevation. Klim’s gear ingredients needed to be the best from the beginning — every one of them perform in the best of times and the worst of times. We’ve tried a lot of materials and our implementations of Gore products outperform the competition every time.
DN: Klim currently has distribution in 22 different countries. Are there plans to expand this reach and if so, where's next?
JZ: Klim’s distribution internationally has grown immensely. The market in Europe and other regions wants higher-performance gear and they definitely appreciate quality. Our distributors are key in helping us find market needs so we can build gear to satisfy them. That’s, essentially, where the Adventure Rally product came from. Our distributor in the U.K. (Adventure-Spec) had a lot of influence on that piece.
Selling in more countries and in every motorcycle dealership worldwide would be nice. We’ll get right on global-domination plans as soon as possible. But the important thing to Klim as a family is maintaining control over every aspect of the product life cycle — from concept to production to dealer education and customer support, we’d love everything to be done the Klim way forever. There’s a reason we don’t hire a distributor, design firm and/or marketing agencies to build and market our products and service our customers. We don’t trust how anyone other than those of us truly connected to the brand can give the attention to detail our level of product requires.
DN: Klim has a strong focus on customer support (e.g.; live chat feature on website). Why is this so important?
JZ: Klim was founded by focused enthusiasts with intense passion for their sports. But it is living and breathing and growing every year because our customers represent that same passion and push the development forward with their feedback. We’re nothing without our connection to the consumer. And, on the flip-side, we’re all Klim customers here. So, we can often be our toughest critics. It’s not a job to listen to customers—it’s an integral part of the production and quality process.
DN: Klim doesn't build to price point. What is so important about this open-ended approach to product development?
JZ: I’ve been in product development meetings for hours, John (Summers) practically lives in them one day a week. And the conceptualizing stages are insanely fun to witness as an idea from a test pilot or athlete like Jonah Street comes down to drawings on a piece of scratch paper or, my personal favorite; a Frankenstein-esque, one-off, custom sewed piece of gear that we bash around for a few weeks.
I’ve never heard anyone say, “This has to be under x-amount of $$$ or else.” I think the most important reason the product research and development team focuses on performance first is the fact that there is no way you can build something innovative when you’re tied down or restricted by price. Yes, costs come up. But that comes in way down the line in development and it’s not a key focus point. I’d hate to give up the golden goose here but this is a fairly simple process. If you’re building gear people want in the first place (say a pair of off-road pants with controlled ventilation like our Chinook or Dakar), then you don’t have to say, “How much would a guy or gal pay to buy …." If you did, then is the demand really there?
DN: When developing the Badlands Pro and Latitude, what did the designers have in mind for the end product?
JZ: Klim’s entry into the Adventure-class motorcycle gear market was big to say the least. The Adventure Rally jacket and pant have no equal and are so packed with features that it takes a very specific rider and buyer to appreciate and use every part. It is clear that not every man or woman on an adventure bike wants or needs the feature set that comes with that pinnacle set.
About a year after our Adventure Rally product came out, Klim introduced the Traverse off-road specific Gore-Tex enduro jacket and pant. During this time the Badlands and Latitude products were already in the works but once the Traverse hit dealers we were flooded with input by riders wanting options and feature-sets that fit in-between.
Riders wanted Klim’s all-in-one durably waterproof and breathable performance. They wanted it to be more road-worthy and adventure-tough than an enduro piece. They wanted cargo and armor and other functionality levels between the Traverse and the Adventure Rally.
Basically, the market was recognizing Klim’s value and was looking for more options. And that’s exactly what these two products deliver. The Badlands Pro is a supreme adventure jacket and pant. It offers nearly all the same features as the Adventure Rally with some things in line for us mortals. The Latitude is incredibly innovative and offers value like no other. Each piece holds strong to the Klim standard of zero compromise and can deliver a better riding experience for their owners — and that’s the whole point.
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