Mountain Khakis makes a place in casual clothing
This is a scenario many recreationists will recognize.
It’s 5 p.m., and you’re going out for a late-summer after-work hike. The sun is setting, but it’s still warm. Your Carhartts are too hot, but your quick-dry hiking pants aren’t rugged enough for off-trail movement or the bushes that overhang the trail.
This dilemma is what Noah Robertson and his partners set out to solve in 2003 when they launched Mountain Khakis. They wanted an all-around pant that wouldn’t be out of place “from the base camp to the board room.”
Robertson, the CEO of the company, worked at Cloudveil as it was growing into a thriving outdoor brand, doing everything from marketing to supply chain management.
“That experience at Cloudveil taught me a great amount about the entire industry,” Robertson said.
The company has come a long way since 2003 and now offers a compendium of clothes that includes shirts, sweaters, an array of pants and outerwear. The News&Guide spoke with Robertson about the brand’s evolution, and he answered questions in an email. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
Q: What is the origin story of Mountain Khakis?
A: Born as an idea sitting at the bar of the Shady Lady Saloon, moved to a full day of rowing and fishing on the Snake River brainstorming about the positioning of an outdoor brand focused on bottoms only, and here we are 15 years later, a full-blown mountain lifestyle apparel brand.
At the end of the day, we saw a void in the outdoor industry for an everyday pair of pants supporting outdoor retailers with waist sizes and inseam lengths for everyone. Inspired by the community we live in — Jackson Hole — we set out to make the perfect canvas and twill pants to fit our lifestyle. They had to be durable, timeless and true to the mountain culture. The first three styles were the Original Mountain Pant, Alpine Utility Pant and Teton Twill Pant.
Q: The company has grown a lot since 2003. What have been the keys to success?
A: First, we live in a product-driven industry and society — you have to make great product. Second, and equally important, you must work with and hire great, talented people. All the success we have had to date is driven by Mountain Khakis people (or what we call the MK Tribe), which includes our employees and all our customers. As a result of the people, we continue to make great products and have created an incredibly inclusive brand culture that people enjoy being a part of.
Some brands put their emphasis on lifestyle, and other brands put the spotlight on product. The very best brands combine both. This has been a huge key to our success.
Q: What have been the difficulties in growing a company that makes clothing for professionals and ski bums?
A: Who wouldn’t want to be a ski bum, fishing bum, climbing bum, river rat or ... many professionals aspire to do this. Look how much Jackson has changed over the last 10 to 15 years with the influx of professionals who’ve decided they want to be ski bums and bought homes here.
The basic values of Mountain Khakis, quality, style, fit, durability and fun, transcend socioeconomic divides and can actually unite. We all have something in common. In our case, it’s great pants and the outdoors.
Q: How does the ethic of durability and the outdoor lifestyle translate into making clothes?
A: The best example is our first product, the Original Mountain Pant. How do you create a pant to withstand the rugged nature of living in the mountains? Through personal experiences, we found canvas pants often suffered a quick death when pitted against the fortunate rigors of the live-work-play balance of Jackson Hole.
In our research and striving to make a better product, we found pants looked and felt tough, but in reality the weave of the fabric was not, thus their short-lived lives at times. Most pants we tested were a weave of 1-by-1 or 2-by-1 yarns. So, we created a 10.4-ounce canvas fabric that was slightly lighter in weight and much more durable because of a proprietary 2-by-2 weave construction.
The result: Mountain Khakis launching a fabric that was lighter, woven tighter and, by doubling the yarns on the warp and weft, more durable. It takes 30 percent more steps to make a pair of Mountain Khakis than a traditional pair of pants, and today the Original Mountain Pant is made of organic cotton.
Q: Your website says your employees are your greatest asset. What do you do to support and grow the people who work for you?
A: Yes, our employees are our greatest asset. Every year we ask our employees to think about what is something they want to achieve personally and/or professionally. This could result in volunteering or taking a professional class to help propel their careers. We support this by allowing time off to pursue giving back or will assist financially to enhance their skills. We encourage personal endeavors because we want our employees to be inspired by so much more than just designing, selling and marketing apparel.
Another way we support and help people grow is by creating internal committees that are often led by people who are not in a formal leadership role. An example would be our internal Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility Committee, which focuses on improving our footprints in these topics to help us achieve our pledge to be a B-Corp [meaning the company meets certain corporate social responsibilities] by 2020.
Q: Many outdoor companies have become more vocal on social issues recently. How has the social philosophy of Mountain Khakis evolved over the years?
A: One of our primary social focuses is to become a B-Corp by 2020. And, second, we were the 12th outdoor company to take the Camber Outdoors CEO Pledge, which focuses on gender diversity in the workplace. Today 52 percent of all Mountain Khakis employees are women, and 52 percent of them are managers or directors.