Outerwear brands take design cues from a variety of sources: sales reports, fashion trends, competitors and athletes. But rarely is the end consumer involved in the process. Until now.
Northwest Tech (NWT3K) offers customizable outerwear, so consumers can order a variety of feature combinations, jacket styles and colourway options, without signing a pro athlete endorsement contract.
Nick Marvik, founder of Seattle’s NWT3K is a lifelong skier who started sewing his own ski jackets in college. Today, the 26-year-old has expanded operations into two Washington-based factories. With his idea of producing customized winter outerwear all sewn up, and NWT3K going into its fifth winter season, we sat down with Marvik to talk shop.
How did the idea of making customizable outerwear come about?
I’ve been a skier my whole life. I started when I was about 4 and get in 30-40 days on hill a year. Most average skiers that hit those day ranges usually buy a new outfit every year, or every other year. I was going to Western Washington University to study Business and Marketing, and skied at Baker a lot. Long story short, one of my buddies actually used to make his own gear and he kind of turned me on to sewing my own jackets. I sewed up this custom 3-layer waterproof jacket in this really cool colour, and being out at a community-based mountain like Baker, I started to get a lot of questions. Having a jacket that was literally one of a kind, people would come up to me all the time asking where I got it. And that’s where everything kind of took of from there. Kind of word of mouth.
So how does it go from sewing your own stuff to a business?
I started telling people, “Sure I’d be happy to make you a custom jacket.” And it started validating this idea that customization for a waterproof garment is something that people actually wanted. So in parallel to being in business school, I was learning a lot about online marketing and how to make a website. That’s how it got to the next stage. I started getting more and more orders. And at that time I was sewing jackets in my college dorm basement. It finally got to the point that as a full time student I couldn’t keep up with orders. I ended up hiring seamstresses I’d find on Craigslist. I ended up doing that through college. At that time Northwest Tech wasn’t really a business, but more of an idea and a project. When I finished college, I started thinking I could get some very professional, high-quality outerwear manufacturing facilities, an ultra slick website, and build the whole customization system. I had enough market validation; people were really interested in being able to customize a garment, especially skiers and snowboarders.
How does it work? How does a customer order a custom piece?
So a customer finds our brand, our website, through whatever media. On our site, they can customize a jacket, pant or bib, choosing the combinations of materials, colors and features. They place their order, and receive confirmation of the order details. The order goes into the cue, and it’s sent directly to the factory. The factory starts to produce the garment.
How long does an order take to fulfill?
We shoot for less than two weeks time from the time a customer receives the confirmation email.
Do you ship worldwide?
We sure do.
What do you find people want to customize the most?
It’s all over the place. Really, the colours are the main thing, from the arms to the body to the hood. And you can choose different zipper layouts. You can go from something simple, like one pocket on the chest, or something more advanced. I think the jacket maxes out at six pockets. But probably the coolest things are the features. We give the option to add wrist gaiters, side vents, pit zips, powder skirts. And there are lots of options with the pants. We actually have the ability to make a pant that can be converted into a bib.
What about sizing?
There’s definitely a big market for custom sizing, but we don’t actually fulfill that request—yet. We don’t have modular templates that we can adjust to size every cut. But we have a very large size range—about seven sizes—which is pretty big. We can cover young kids to people who way over 300 pounds.
What are the challenges to making custom outerwear?
The biggest challenge is that it’s not a traditional manufacturing process. Every order is different from one another. We’ve really had to find ways to optimize the process. It’s something we’re working at all the time. From preparing and pre-cutting materials, all the way to shipping and fulfilling right off the back of the manufacturing table. We ship 100 percent direct to consumer.
And you’re expanding?
Yes, we have both a business-to-consumer business model and a business-to-business model. Each has its own factory. Over time, we’ve gotten a lot of requests from teams, clubs and companies to make custom garments. It’s generally the same process, but even if the garment is custom, there could be between 10-100 units to produce. It’s nice to manufacture all our bulk orders in one place, and our consumer orders in another.
You’re only 26, do you think that helps you in this business?
I’d like to think it helps me. I’m younger, so maybe more relatable to the needs of today’s consumer. I’m driven; I like to do things a lot of people my age might not be comfortable with. I like to go outside most people’s comfort zone. That being said, I like to stay humble and there’s no argument around experience.
What about cost? When I think of anything one-off or customizable, it comes at a premium.
We’re actually very competitively priced to similar products on the market. So you’re looking at a 20K waterproof, breathable fabric in a hardshell jacket, optimized in design for snow conditions starting at $369 (USD) and our most expensive jacket and bib is $479. So for people with knowledge of the outerwear market will know we are very reasonably priced in that medium to upper price range.
For more on NWT3K check out: http://nwt3k.com/