With winter still in full swing around the country, we thought it apropos to feature Jeff and Susan Russell, the founders of Ridge Merino. Ridge is a premium performance outdoor apparel brand and the first to offer affordable, Woolmark-certified 100% Merino wool baselayers. So whether you’re braving the negative temps or just going for an early morning jog, Ridge Merino will keep you warm and comfortable. I’ve even traded in my go-to H&M leggings for these – capitalizing on the athleisure trend, they transition beautifully from my AM hike to coffee with girlfriends!
1. Tell us about Ridge Merino.
Ridge Merino designs outdoor apparel to keep you warm during cool-weather activity. Our products are made from Merino wool. Most people think “wool” and they think warm, but scratchy. Merino wool is different. Not only is it buttery soft, like a smooth cotton, but the natural benefits of the fiber are almost too numerous to list…
For anyone who needs (or wants) to be outside in cold weather, Merino wool is the gold standard in terms of outdoor apparel made for performance– noted for its breathability, warmth and comfort. Our products offer a natural “climate control,” meaning they insulate when it’s cold and let heat escape when temperatures rise. Also, Merino’s antimicrobial qualities resist the growth of bacteria that cause body odor, allowing the wearer to feel fresher longer. All this occurs naturally, without the use of chemicals.
Of course all of these amazing benefits come at a price. Merino is typically very expensive.
What makes Ridge stand out in such a competitive category?
We love to be outside in the winter – skiing, snowboarding. As anyone knows, you need to layer your clothing to stay warm. Up to this point, we had been rocking synthetic baselayers made of polyester. They were a skin tight, unflattering, always smelly, yet functional option. We knew Merino wool was the best, but honestly couldn’t justify the high price tag-even though we knew we would use it often! We thought, “if we feel this way, surely other people do as well.”
Since we couldn’t find a high-quality, low-cost 100% Merino wool option, we decided to create our own. We wanted to be different in the following ways:
- Lowest cost: Normally, you might pay more than $100 for a fine Merino wool crew top. That’s because the fabric is expensive, yes, but ALSO retailers have mark-up that Ridge doesn’t. Because we sell online only, our prices will always be less than the competition. Ridge sells direct, cutting out the middleman, to provide the same (or better)-quality Merino wool outdoor apparel at a price everyone can afford – sometimes up to 50% less than leading brands. (Our baselayers start at $49 and our accessories are all under $30.)
- Experience: Ridge Merino was created by a ski industry veteran with extensive experience developing technical apparel for professional athletes and outdoor enthusiasts who demand the very best. We’re obsessed with design-driven quality and attention to detail.
- Enviro-friendly: Whenever possible – we use sustainable, renewable – and in some cases – recycled materials to create our apparel and accessories.
- Social conscience: Giving back has been part of our mission since the company’s inception. We are a member of 1% For the Planet, a global organization comprised of more than 1,200 companies in 48 countries who donate 1% of sales every year to environmental causes. For a bigger company, this is a major commitment. For a small company, it’s huge.
How can a startup like Ridge start engaging their potential customers from day one?
The benefit of being a small company is that we are able to engage with our current and potential customers on a more intimate level. We know exactly who our customers are. They are active. They’re outside during cold weather. We listen to them to understand exactly what it is they need, what they like about our products, what they’d change, what they’d like to see more of. We hope to identify more people who could benefit from our clothing (especially with the harsh winter most of the country is experiencing) because we truly believe we have created a top-quality product. We strive to develop a meaningful dialogue with our current and potential customers and deliver amazing content via our social media communication – like fun contests and promotions – so they can see our products in action and be a part of the Ridge experience.
Where do you see the most potential for the brand this year?
There is a subtle shift happening in clothing: people are starting to care where their garments come from and what’s in them. We’re excited about this, because what many people don’t realize is synthetic blends (like polyester) can contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment and potentially harmful to humans. Our direct model gives us the freedom to create top-quality Merino clothing at prices in-line with traditionally cheaper man-made fabrics, like polyester. Our hope is that this lower cost option makes Merino more accessible, giving winter outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to realize the truly awesome power of this fiber.
What apparel brands are you inspired by?
There are a lot of really great companies out there, but when it comes to authenticity, quality of product and unwavering commitment to environmental causes, we have always admired Patagonia. Yvon Chouinard is a visionary.
Can you share some words of advice for LA’s ecommerce entrepreneurs?
Be patient. It takes awhile to build a brand-especially if you’re only doing it exclusively online. You’ll hit some roadblocks along the way, but don’t give up. Also, there are many opportunities you may discover as defined by your customers. For instance, our products were originally designed for skiing and snowboarding, but we’re getting tons of feedback from customers who use it for everything from cold-weather hikes to jogging and even everyday activities like shoveling the driveway! Ridge Merino develops the highest quality premium Merino wool outdoor apparel and accessories that perform as well in daily life as they do in the most rigorous outdoor conditions.