Made in the Northland
By: Beth Probst, Living Green
Ely is often considered the end of the road. This end of the road gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness seems to breed explorers and
entrepreneurs alike. In some cases the two personalities mesh to create the perfect storm—or in this article’s case,clothing line.
Wintergreen Northern Wear is the product of Susan Schurke. Long-time northlanders might recognize the name that took center spotlight in the mid-80’s when her husband Paul Schurke, Will Steger, Ann Bancroft and their
expedition team gained international recognition by reaching the North Pole in the first confirmed trek to the top of the world without resupply. The journey was well-documented in the book “North to the Pole.” But, what northlanders might not know is that keeping them warm, even in 70 degree below zero temperatures, was Wintergreen clothing.
Susan designed Eskimo-style clothing made of new synthetic fibers. The quality design combined with her understanding of how the clothing is used made the clothing line an instant success among hard-core explorers. Today, the company remains focused on catering to extreme clientele.
Becky and Curt Stacey purchased Wintergreen Northern Wear in 2009. “We grew up in northern Minnesota,” Becky explains. “We really wanted to return to a slower pace of life and purchase a business that our kids
could be involved in.” While they hadn’t heard of Wintergreen Design, when they learned it was for sale, it was love at first sight.
“The founders of the company were really passionate about us keeping the business in Ely,” she says. Their commitment to keeping the company local, paired with the high-quality product, sealed the deal for the Staceys.
Wintergreen Northern Wear clothing items are made in the USA. The company employs about 25 workers who sew each and every stitch of every garment, including the bright signature pattern trim. Keeping it local comes with
a higher price tag, but this isn’t stopping folks from purchasing. “We’re not as cheap as chain stores. But, our products last for years so, long-term, it is a good investment,” Becky says of the clothing’s price point which can run well over $300 for a jacket. The couple is also
finding that people want products made locally because of high quality control and the knowledge that they are supporting American workers. Last but not least, the unique design of the coats is a big sell as well.
“Our customers oftentimes want to be like the explorer,” Curt says. “They want to wear something that you won’t see in every store in the mall.” At the same time, the couple is also trying to stay fashion current, recognizing that not everyone buying their coats will be trekking to the North Pole.
“We get that a lot of our garments, which are loosely fit for those active in the outdoors might not be the most suitable or coolest item for the Twin Cities or Chicago,” he says. To help combat this, the couple is slowly expanding into the urban marketplace with more fashionable
garments, while still remaining committed to outfitting extreme adventurers. The change is needed for the local company to remain competitive in an international marketplace.
So far, their plan is working. Internet sales are booming in places like Hawaii and Chili. To date, they’ve sold to customers in more than 40 countries. Online sales increased 50 percent last year.
As for what the future holds, the Staceys have high hopes for their main-street American-based business. Within ten years they dream of being a common name in the United States with growth in multiple areas – while
still producing all of their products right here in the Northland.