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SNEWS Qs: Brent Dehlsen, Purnell Gear

Brent Dehlsen, CEO of Purnell Workwear, tells SNEWS what his plans are for the future. After attending his first Outdoor Retailer trade show last summer, he said he's eagerly anticipating the second.

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Brent Dehlsen, CEO

Purnell Workwear

Tell us about the history of your company:

I spent most of my young adult life working for my dad’s wind energy company turning wrenches on wind turbines. It was back then that I experienced first hand the limitations of the work gear we were required to wear. On cold mornings you’re dressed for warmth as you transition from the truck to the tower. As you approach the top of the turbine, your body temperature has risen, and if you’re lucky, you enter a nice and warm nacelle. By now you’re sweaty and have to work in a confined area in bulky gear. It was tough to find work clothes that could accommodate such variable conditions and keep you comfortable at the same time. Fast forward many years later, as COO of Clipper Wind Power, I faced the same problem trying to outfit our guys who performed maintenance on the turbines. I looked in to some outdoor performance brands, but those clothes were made from mostly synthetic materials – the safety guys wouldn’t go for that – plus they weren’t durable enough to stand up to the wear-and-tear that tough, traditional workwear is known for. So in 2010, we set out to develop a line of clothes that combined the best of both outdoor performance apparel and traditional workwear worlds.

What makes Purnell products different from others on the market?

We start with workwear classics and work to improve on them. We approach making clothes from a utility perspective, meaning we don’t do something to the garment unless there’s a practical reason for it – like making it more comfortable, providing better ease-of-movement or better fit. We use a less-is-more approach and sometimes we take away as much as we add. That’s what makes our clothes easier to wear, easier to work in. We aren’t looking to reinvent the wheel, we just want to make it spin a little smoother.

Our company name was chosen to honor my father’s pioneering spirit and his great contribution to the wind industry. For more than three decades, James G. “Purnell” Dehlsen has been building wind farms all over the world. He’s always inventing, always evolving. I like to think that we’re carrying on that tradition at Purnell. It’s that pioneering spirit that guides us to make our gear work a little better than the workwear of the past. So it’s designed a little smarter, with improvements that might be small, but we believe make a big difference. We think of it as work gear for a new generation – one that respects the past but is building the future.

What new products do you have coming out that you’re most excited about?

We have been working with our design team on a few protos for a women’s line. We’re scrambling to get them ready for Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and are excited to see how they do. We approached the line from the same practical point-of-view as our men’s clothes, but we were careful to make sure these are clothes women really want to wear everyday.

Who do you want to compete against in the industry?

We see our brand as a modern alternative to the traditional workwear brands that have been around for decades. Our customer is looking for that alternative. They honor the classics, but they also appreciate innovation and seek out what’s new.

When did you first show at OR and what would you change about your experience?

Our first showing was this past August. We had lots of great feedback from booth visitors and our new company write-up in Outdoor Retailer Daily helped boost traffic. As a newly formed company, we didn’t have a sales team in place, so it was all hands on deck — we even brought my 17-year-old nephew to help work the booth!

–Compiled by Ana Trujillo