Mountain Khakis taps Jeremy Hale as president
A discussion with the Jackson Hole brand's new head about emerging trends, staying true to the heritage, and how Mountain Khakis is standing out.
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You won’t find Jeremy Hale wearing jeans. Whether he’s in the office, out hiking, or enjoying time off at his family’s cabin in New York, he’s wearing Chinos. Specifically, Mountain Khakis Chinos. “I’m a Chino guy,” he told us last week before he officially started as the brand’s new president today. His choice of pants, plus his experience leading brands in the action sports industry—most recently, he was the VP of international development at Billabong—make him the ideal fit to head the team. He will replace outgoing Founder and President Ross Saldarini, who’s leaving to pursue other opportunities.
We caught up with Hale, originally from Australia, to talk about a few mountain memories, his desire to be the best brand in America, how Mountain Khakis is standing out, and of course, his favorite kind of pants.
This is your first core outdoor job. How will you apply what you’ve learned at action sports brands to this heritage mountain brand?
Jeremy Hale: There’s a lot of crossover and parallels between the two industries. A lot of that similarity is because you’ve got similar products and product cycles, factory bases, and similar countries of origin. I think the beauty of both industries is you’ve got a collection of incredible companies who are constantly pushing each other through relentless progression. And what’s great about both industries is they’re not just dominated by the bigger players in the space. When you think about both industries, whether it’s in the mountain or on the water, both of the industries are bound together in creating enhanced user experience. I think it’s that wonderful flair each company brings and that competition. It makes it better for everybody who wants to use the products. Consumers are getting better value for their money and brands have really become a stamp of quality that people can get behind and trust.
What are some of the emerging trends that excite you?
JH: I think specific to Mountain Khakis, what they do incredibly well is make reliable and dependable pants that are all based around the original vision for the business, which was just to create something that the consumer could depend upon, that wasn’t going to fall apart, and that was consistent in terms of fit and quality. When you think about that, a company coming in to create the absolute best pants that they can, it’s an incredibly strong position from which they’ve been able to evolve with different product adjacencies over time. I think specific to the heritage and authenticity to Mountain Khakis, they’re staying wonderfully consistent in ensuring that they can deliver what they originally set out to do.
Within the broader outdoor space in both the outdoor industry and action sports, there’s been so much product progression in terms of the materials and what they’re capable of doing: lightweight, breathability, warmth, packability, stretch. The consumer is lucky and really spoiled because all of the different companies within the industry think with that competitive spirit have been finding their niche and thinking about what makes them different and special. Whether it’s the most reliable and durable product, or the lightest and stretchiest, the consumer is really served the whole spectrum and that’s not going to stop. All of those brands are pushing to find what’s next. As they look more globally, they’re having to think about all different climate conditions 365 days of the year and where their consumer is and what their consumer needs. Mountain Khakis is right there.
Do you have a favorite mountain story? What’s your connection to the mountains?
JH: Growing up in Australia, it was amazing. I was so lucky. It was largely because my family had come from the land as dairy farmers. My father was the first one to move from the country back into the city. Because I was only one generation removed from the land, all our uncles and aunties and grandparents were still out there. When spring break came around, my friends were thinking about what malls they were going to hang out in and I was just wanting to go to the country because it was sheep shearing season and I didn’t want to go to the mall. I wanted to work hard because I knew that if I worked hard, my auntie would reward me to go dirt bike riding or sport shooting or whatever it was. For me, it was such an incredible experience.
In more recent times, we’re really lucky to have a cabin at the foothills of the Catskills in New York. We’re up there every summer enjoying a place called Wolf Lake, which is a non-motorized so it’s super tranquil and peaceful. We’ve got bears and deer and all sorts of wildlife. There’s mountain biking and hiking. It’s just a beautiful part of the world and for me, it’s my happy place. You can go there and be totally disconnected from everything and be out fishing on the lake or kayaking.
To be honest, the best part is no cell service. Even if you wanted to work, you can’t. I think that’s important because everybody now is living these crazy busy lifestyles and crazy busy schedules. The ability to go somewhere for a week and truly disconnect? It gives you the opportunity to stop for a second and think about what’s important to you.
You’re from Australia. The brand’s offices are in Colorado, Wyoming, and North Carolina. How do you reconcile all the different cultures and backgrounds to continue Mountain Khakis mountain culture?
JH: That’s the beauty of diversity, right? It’s a whole bunch of different people coming together from different experiences to create something wonderful. I love the Jackson Hole, Wyoming heritage, especially growing up in Australia just being enamored by American culture, Westerns, buffaloes, horseback riding, and all of that. That’s something to celebrate and be proud of. I love the fact that we have an office in Jackson Hole and that we celebrate being from there. And I love the fact that we have a good presence in Colorado because Colorado is just such an amazing place and there’s so many amazing brands doing great things out of there, so for us to be side by side there’s just a lot of excitement there too. In Charlotte, North Carolina, you’ve got lakes and mountains and great people. It’s a great hub for where we can run the business. We have an incredible presence across three unique and diverse areas with unique and diverse staff all coming together to just continue on the path that Mountain Khakis has been on. We’re going to continue to deliver the absolute best product to enhance their everyday life.
The lifestyle category has exploded and has a lot more competitors than when Mountain Khakis first started. How will you stay ahead of the curve?
JH: I think we have incredible heritage products and that’s foundationally who we are. As we get in there, the important thing for us and any brand is asking, who are we? How do we keep progressing but how do we stay true to our roots? And what’s the consumer and retailer looking for from us? The space, the product, and the industry is as strong, if not stronger, than what it’s ever been and it continues to grow because of the consumer, whether they use the product for its specific use case or whether they are just inspired by the lifestyle. We have to remember that a lot of people in our stores buying the products are inspired and maybe aren’t participating in the sports or the activities for which we’ve designed the products. I think what it comes down to for us is to continue to do what we do best: adopt new technology when it’s right and when it works for us, explore product adjacencies when they’re true to our mission and vision for what we want to do with the brand, and most importantly, have a unique point of view on why our product is what it is and how we design it.
You say you’re a Chino guy. Tell us more.
JH: To be honest, I love Mountain Khakis’ pants. I like denim too, but I love Chinos so much. I haven’t owned a pair of jeans for at least six years, but maybe longer and it’s just because every day I’m a Chino guy. What I truly love about Mountain Khakis is you’ve got a combination of fit and it’s reliable and consistent. You buy the same size and you get exactly what you’re expecting, and I love that. I love the fact that you’ve got different pants for different occasions. I’ve got pants that I can wear when it’s cold out and outdoors or hiking. But then also, everyday chinos that I can wear to work or just through life. They’re doing an incredible job and that’s something we want to continue to build on. I’m certainly really passionate about that because Chinos are my favorite product. Being the president, it’s a match made in heaven for me.