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Less than two years after going out of business, wool giant Ibex Outdoor Clothing is making a comeback with new owners, a new designer, and new designs—plus some rejiggered old favorites.
Shuttered in early 2018 after struggling to find its footing in a fast-moving and ever-shifting omni-channel market, the 20-year-old brand best known for its Vermont roots and high-end merino apparel, Ibex, was sold to New York investor group, Flour Fund.
Flour Fund is relaunching Ibex later this month under the leadership of Boulder, Colorado-based Bonie Shupe. We spoke to Shupe, whose passion for the Ibex brand is evident, as she prepares to unveil the first collection of Ibex 2.0.
What’s your role in the relaunch?
I’m the general manager. I actually started as the director of product, and I’ve been working on this relaunch since March 2019. The guys in New York asked me to take on this larger role.
Tell us about your background.
I was an artist and musician for a number of years, and I went back to school for apparel design with the idea that I was going to work in merino wool. I’ve had the opportunity to work for really large companies; I’ve done work for Cabela’s and Spyder and Stonewear.
You’re a one-woman team at the moment. What’s your plan for growing the company and where will it be headquartered?
I am the only full-time employee; I’m in Boulder. And then I have a team of contractors that have been working for me—I tapped into some the previous Ibex employees.
The board of directors consists of the Flour Fund team along with additional key CEO’s from the active and technical apparel sector. Flour Fund worked to surround me with industry leaders who could provide mentorship and insight wherever needed.
Do you hope to see the full-time team get bigger?
Oh yeah. Definitely. Part of why I did get this job originally is because I was very conscious [that Flour Fund] was spending a lot of money to define what made the brand great and relaunch the brand.
What does new Ibex look like?
With this collection, we really went back to basics. We took a core group of the classic items that people really love and made them better, and we’re bringing them to market.
Will sales be direct to consumer, or will it be going into retail?
Why was that chosen as the sales model?
That’s where we wanted to be. The direct to consumer model is really popular right now. And we feel like we can get a better price point overall by doing that. We’re not necessarily excluding wholesale down the line; this is just where we wanted to start.
What about retail storefronts?
We have actually not discussed that yet. I know a lot of people want to see stores—we’ve heard that from consumer feedback.
What kind of classic items are you starting with?
You know the Shak jacket? That’s one of our highlighted items. We started with thinking about how we’re going to cover the body. We really went back to the basics. We already have a lot of loyal customers telling us what they want to see for future collections.
How many SKUs will you launch with?
We’ve intentionally reduced the SKU count. The old Ibex had 450 SKUs when they closed, and that’s way too many. I hope we never get back to that number! We’re launching with less than 30 SKUs.
In addition, we’ll have the Ibex Heritage Classics line, which consists of limited edition classic pieces from Ibex 1.0.
Ibex always had “hero fabrics,” like the Shak material (100 percent merino wool double knit), the Scout material (boiled wool), and the Izzy (thick knit with spandex). Our strategy in adding new products will be to evaluate the ones within these fabric groupings, take customer feedback, and combine features to make better overall product with less SKU’s.
The old Ibex had casual wear as well as technical wear. Are you focusing on one or the other with this first collection?
I was really inspired by Ibex because they were city-to-slope before anyone else, before it was cool. It’s wool you can wear from mountains to corporate settings to your favorite restaurant. I kind of think of it as urban performance wear.
Any sense of when more collections are coming?
We have more in the works. We’re definitely not going to be a spring/summer, fall/winter traditional thing. We’re going to come out with products as we improve them. We’re also planning to collaborate with other companies for limited edition collections moving forward.
Will you attend the Outdoor Retailer show?
Because we’re direct to consumer, we will not have a booth, but I definitely go every six months.
Who do you see as the quintessential Ibex consumer?
I am! I dress head to toe in merino pretty much every day. I want more merino clothing I can wear to the office.
Since Ibex shut down, there have been more wool brands than ever. How will Ibex 2.0 establish itself in a crowded wool apparel market?
Even as other merino brands are launching, they’re still after this typical active consumer. We, too, have a typical consumer that is active, some are in urban active areas like Boulder, Seattle, and California, but what I really want to do with the relaunch is bring it to a broader market. I’m also looking to attract young professionals in urban areas. With urbanites, how to get that market first is with under-layers. Once I switched to merino underwear and socks, I never looked back.
And I’m thinking about going after the eco-conscious fashion consumer, people who are interested in reducing their footprint and shopping the transparent supply chain.
Where will Ibex pieces be made?
We source from a number of different areas. Some are going to be overseas, some are going to be the U.S. For me the most important thing is really looking at the source, and looking at if they have fair labor standards, are they becoming more carbon neutral. I’m not of the strict USA-made mindset, like the old Ibex was. I’m a global citizen and I just believe in well-paid jobs and good working conditions.
Did you have a checklist of qualities that suppliers met?
As a board we sat down and wrote out our mission and values: quality and integrity, transparency, respect, sustainability and stewardship, and mindset over skillset. So with that, I’m looking at suppliers who will provide me with the best products in the best possible way. We’re not going to sacrifice that or cut corners. Transparency, from sourcing of our raw fibers to the final product, is really important. Especially for today’s consumer and for younger consumers. Respect: We ensure that everyone who works on an Ibex product, wherever they are, does so in a fair, safe, and nondiscriminatory and empowered workplace. Sustainability and stewardship: We’re going to pursue higher environmental standards for our products.
As you look at the industry now, who is your competition?
I think that Ibex stands alone. Obviously other merino players are competition, but there’s nobody else like Ibex. There’s no merino brand out there that does what they did. They were the first, really, to do seamless merino. They came out with the first 100 percent merino wool rain jacket, with merino denim. No other wool brand is making product that you could use on a New York trip and look good.
Where will we see Ibex aside from the website?
We’ll be on Instagram and Facebook. We started an Ibex insider’s page on Facebook. Ibexers know their gear. I’ve gotten two-page emails from people who go into painstaking detail about how I should improve a product. As a technical designer, I love all that feedback. I’m just soaking it in.
Will Ibex get a new logo?
No, we like the logo. We like the Ibex. We like the meaning behind it–an ibex can traverse mountains and migrate from season to season. I have a grand vision that we should all be wearing merino, all of the time.