Fans of ISIS outdoor clothing for women, take heart — the Burlington-based company isn't going anywhere, despite the fact that they were recently bought by the St. Louis firm Kellwood Company. Your puff coats, long underwear and raincoats will still be designed and marketed here in the Queen City. It's just that it will no longer be a fully independent company. And that's a bummer.
ISIS was founded by Poppy Gall and Carolyn Cooke in 1998 to fill a void in women's outdoor gear and has proved to be a game changer in terms of female-specific recreation wear. Before ISIS came on the scene, few other companies were making clothes cut to fit a woman's body. Rather, the technical jackets and pants were just smaller versions of the men's offerings. And few women want to wear clothing designed with their brothers or boyfriends in mind.
The sad part of the acquisition by Kellwood, which is an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners, is that ISIS is one in a long line of outdoor companies that began in Vermont and either left or were bought by a larger entity. Merrell was started here, as were Mad River Canoe and Tubbs Snowshoes. Other companies such as Rossignol, Karhu and LINE had offices here but then left, one presumes, for cheaper, more accommodating states.
We still have Burton, Eesa, Ibex, Rome, Drop, Darn Tough and Johnson Woolen Mills for all of your buffalo-check plaid needs. And the recent addition of Terry Precision Cycles is a positive step for the Vermont outdoor industry. Still, one wonders why Vermont can incubate these businesses, but not necessarily keep them around.
It seems that the economy is partially to blame for the owner's decision to sell the company. To say that it's tough going for small businesses these days is surely a gross understatement. And I imagine that, as more and more companies understand the importance of women-specific design, it's harder to stand out from the crowd.
Hopefully, ISIS and its 17 Vermont employees will be in good hands with Kellwood's subsidiary American Recreation Products, whose brands include Royal Robbins, Kelty and Sierra Designs. And hopefully they won't lose their women-centric focus, and hopefully they won't pack up and head to Colorado or California or Utah like many of our other Vermont outdoor companies.