At its inception, snowboarding was beyond a fringe sport—it was forbidden. While corporate sponsors, TV deals and tail grabs on Wheaties boxes are now a part of the sport, the early days were marked by rebellion and inventive pioneers who went against the grain at mountains around the world. NYC-based outerwear and apparel label Owner Operator is an ode to snowboarding’s grassroots, championing the rider-owned, creative ethos of the industry’s early days. “Owner Operator is continuing along our own idiosyncratic path, and giving idealistic snowboarders like ourselves something to believe in,” says co-founder Steven Kimura. “We’re deeply invested in sticking to our guns, making our gear in the USA, and bringing new ideas into the world.”
Kimura and fellow co-founder Pete Sieper opted to base themselves in NYC for the creative energy and to bring a new perspective to the industry—most of which is based in sunny Southern California. With a commitment to staying involved in the manufacturing process (hence the brand’s name), Kimura and Sieper make daily stops at their factory, just a 20-minute bike ride from their office. “Every new jacket we develop is done from scratch with our own hands,” Kimura explains. “Snowboard companies—and outdoor companies especially—are guilty of underestimating their constituencies, and offering interchangeable product lines with corny backstories. They’re focused primarily on mass-market products made in third world countries. While they’re emailing illustrator drawings to a factory on the other side of the planet, we’re hands-on with every aspect of our business. Independent companies can afford to offer a kind of transparency that the mega-corporations cannot.”
With such intimate control over design and production, Kimura and Sieper are able to ensure that every product they sell meets their high standards for quality. And, in a sport where gear is generally considered dated after each season, Owner Operator is built and styled to last. Color-blocking adds a bit of ’90s nostalgia without feeling too kitschy or retro. After all, the outerwear utilizes leading materials technology so it performs on snow. “We bring in new gear and ideas that respect snowboarding’s heritage,” Kimura tells CH. “We keep it special while the big businesses are selling out, or bailing completely as fast as they can.”
Shop the winter 2014/15 collection of outerwear, apparel, luggage and accessories from Owner Operator, available now from their webstore.
Images and video courtesy of Owner Operator