Flylow: Building A Core Audience One Step At A Time

Published on 11/07/2020 · 8 min readCurated expert and ski journalist Donny O’Neill connects with Flylow Co-Founder Dan Abrams on what it takes to build a company that produces ultra-durable apparel for diehard skiers.
Donny O'Neill, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Donny O'Neill

Photo courtesy of Flylow Gear

Diehard skiers, the real core of mountain communities, are intimately aware of Flylow. And by diehard, we’re not talking about the two-plankers who wear that badge as a status symbol, but the ones who are working multiple jobs to sustain a 100-ski-day per winter schedule; the ones who are in the ski area parking lot before 8 a.m., every day, regardless of conditions; the ones who blow by you in a blur on the mountain, their demeanor and self-promotion even quieter than the brief “whoosh” that causes you to turn your head in their direction before they disappear. And that’s because Flylow authentically speaks to their needs in the mountains. The company builds ultra-durable and deliberately functional apparel that can stand up to the years of abuse diehard mountain town locals require.

Photo courtesy of Flylow Gear

“I don't think of being an entrepreneur or starting a business as a super risky game if you take it one step at a time,” says Flylow Co-Founder, Dan Abrams.

Donny O'Neill
Camping Expert

The route that Flylow has taken to its present-day success is quite similar to the process of alpine touring—a sector that Flylow’s gear caters well to. You start at the bottom, and if you just take one step after another, and focus on moving forward, no matter how slow, eventually you deposit yourself above a delicious stash of powder that you worked hard to achieve.

“I don't think of being an entrepreneur or starting a business as a super risky game if you take it one step at a time,” says Flylow Co-Founder, Dan Abrams.

Photo courtesy of Flylow Gear

“I just knew that I wasn't going to go to jail for making a bad business decision, I wasn't doing anything illegal. And, so that helped me sleep at night,” says Abrams.

Donny O'Neill
Camping Expert

Abrams looks at Flylow’s progress from its inception as a passion project to its current status as a beloved apparel brand as a series of steps or milestones that eventually got it to where it is today. Flylow began as a simple idea in 2004, which turned into a sketch on a piece of paper, then a logo, a T-shirt, and a website. Once Flylow made the big commitment to borrow money to make its first round of jackets and pants, Abrams just kept tabs on how many pieces of apparel Flylow would need to sell to break even. And he set a timeline for breaking even at three years.

“I just knew that I wasn't going to go to jail for making a bad business decision, I wasn't doing anything illegal. And, so that helped me sleep at night,” says Abrams.

Photo courtesy of Flylow Gear

By 2008, Flylow had picked up the pace, but still wasn’t yielding profitability. Yet, the word was spreading about Flylow’s quality, and Abrams was beginning to be invited on trips with other members of the ski industry, and it was only a matter of time before Flylow would emerge as a real player in ski outerwear.

“There’s that ‘aha moment’ once you get paid by your company, and you don't have to have a second job or a third job. That’s when you move into a pinch me state, which I’ve been in ever since, for over a decade now.”

Donny O'Neill
Camping Expert

“On August 27, 2010, I quit bartending at the Wash Park Bar and Grill in Denver. And on September 1 of that year, I started getting paid by Flylow,” describes Abrams. “There’s that ‘aha moment’ once you get paid by your company, and you don't have to have a second job or a third job. That’s when you move into a pinch me state, which I’ve been in ever since, for over a decade now.”

Flylow’s loyal consumer-base is a direct reflection of the mentality that Abrams and co-founder Greg TK relied on to build their company. Flylow’s products are meant for people who aren’t afraid to put in the work to live the skiing lifestyle, and, in turn, live out their dreams. Flylow caters to skiers who work hard to get their turns and need apparel that’s built to last. That’s why the basis of all Flylow products is durability.

Photo courtesy of Flylow Gear

“We didn't know how to make nice clothing. We just knew how to make it super tough. Or, rather, we were willing to make it super tough. We weren't reinventing it but it resonated with our people. What we realized was that our people were not afraid to work for it,” says Abrams. “We saw that our people are value oriented, they're not looking for the cheapest thing, but they're not looking to spend an exorbitant amount of money without having a good value-added reason to do so; it's not about having a specific brand’s clothing as some sort of status symbol. They wanted something that was going to last and that's where we started.”

Because Flylow fans were the skiers willing to put in the work to find that perfect powder stash or heart-pounding descent, Flylow began expanding out from durability. Flylow’s Compound Pant is ultra-air-permeable, allowing coveted breathability for skiers who predominantly toured or boot-packed at the resort. They developed pieces like the Chemical pant and Baker bib, which are geared more toward the 50-50 resort to backcountry skier, who doesn’t need as much breathability, but more warmth in addition to the durability. Now, there’s a Flylow offering for every type of skier.

Photo courtesy of Flylow Gear

The purpose-built products Flylow was putting on the market were certainly a vital piece of building its brand following. But, the fact that the brand was so committed to the value of making gear that was built-to-last, Flylow’s authenticity shined through and built trust with hardcore skiers.

“We were that demographic, we were in our early to mid-20s, we were skiing 100-plus days a year and beating up our gear. We were climbing for powder."

Donny O'Neill
Camping Expert

“Everybody likes to talk about authenticity in their branding, and the reality is that maybe we were naive, but we were authentic and we were making products for ourselves in a lot of ways,” says Abrams. “We were that demographic, we were in our early to mid-20s, we were skiing 100-plus days a year and beating up our gear. We were climbing for powder. We were in and around that freeride competition setting. We were working with filmers. We were just part of the community. And so we didn't have to try to synthesize that and tap into what people wanted. We were just making what we wanted.”

Photo courtesy of Flylow Gear

Aside from product evidence, Flylow has tried to remain relatable with its branding, too. The company is building products that are designed for their own pursuits, which align with those of its customer-base. They’ve avoided unattainable imagery in their advertising, like helicopter-skiing or expedition settings. They understood that the customers who flocked to Flylow were the ones who needed to put in the hard work to both reach their skiing goals, in a physical sense, and sustain the lifestyle that was required for that.

“There were these certain underlying and esoteric aspects to what we were doing, this idea that you need to be ready to get your powder or to go skiing whenever it's good, which means that you need to work. You need to make money to facilitate this passion” says Abrams. “You don't have to be super-rich to do it. But you do need to be able to own your time.”

“It was this idea of modern values, not placing a value on the size of your home, but the experience that you have and the relationship you have with people,” says Abrams.

Donny O'Neill
Camping Expert

Flylow surveyed 100 of its top customers and discovered that its customers, like the company’s founders, had chosen professions that facilitated a lifestyle of being able to take time off work to go skiing, or take a Monday morning off for some powder laps.

“It was this idea of modern values, not placing a value on the size of your home, but the experience that you have and the relationship you have with people,” says Abrams. “We were a product of our generation that was evolving and coming into our own at that time. And I think that really tapped into people that didn’t want to be just ski bums anymore, they wanted to be professionals that could go skiing, live in a ski town, and live that life.”

Photo courtesy of Flylow Gear

That mentality was reflected in Flylow’s Westward video series, which profiled Flylow ambassadors that had successfully achieved that work-play balance that so many aspire to find. These skiers had given up traditional lifestyles and office-bound careers in order to follow their passions. Sacrifices were made, but in the end, each person found what fulfilled them.

Flylow has since expanded from just skiing to manufacturing summer apparel, specifically for mountain bikers, but its normal customer hasn’t changed, they’re just provided with more options from their favorite clothing manufacturer. With the uncertainties put in place for smaller companies due to the coronavirus, this ability to crossover into multiple areas of outdoor recreation will only serve as a benefit for the brand moving forward.

As Flylow moves into its next chapter, Abrams is optimistic the brand can continue its sustained growth. The company reinvests money into further product development, and the brand’s experience as a scrappy upstart has made it incredibly efficient in how it allocates resources. And with the pandemic placing further uncertainty on the resort skiing experience this winter, Flylow’s commitment to toeing the line between inbounds and out-of-bounds products has set it up for success where other brands may not be.

Photo courtesy of Flylow Gear

“Skiers are going to ski; they're going to go backcountry skiing, but a lot of people that are going to go into backcountry skiing right now, they're going to want stuff that they can use in the resort when the resorts open,” says Abrams. “And Flylow has just always teetered the line between resort and backcountry travel.”

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