Lava Gear lets business flow naturally

Like most good things in life, success in the outdoor clothing industry is all about location.

Competing with established brands like Arc’Teryx, Marmot and Patagonia has just as much to do with a company’s geography as it does their business model, philosophy and brand identity.

Not only that, but where a company chooses to do its business says so much about its image that a choice of zip code can often mean the difference between making it and raking it.

“We see an enormous potential for growth here in the Gorge,” said Lava Gear owner and president Mark Flaming, who moved to Hood River in June with his wife and co-owner, Karen Enns.

“There are a lot of businesses here who see the potential of promoting this area, and we felt like this would be the perfect place to market our product.”

But it wasn’t only Hood River’s burgeoning outdoor industry that lured Flaming and Enns away from Costa Rica — a place they called home for nearly three years.

Accessibility to the outdoors, a progressive community, and close proximity to Portland also played into their decision to relocate.

“Instant access to the outdoors is what made the Gorge such an easy choice for us,” said Flaming, who also considered Bend and parts of Colorado.

“But we also wanted to become part of a small community and help build upon a collective vision for a certain quality of life. And we’re finding that many businesses here are just as excited about it as we are,” he said.

Flaming and Enns don’t merely want to market a product. They are hoping to promote an overall lifestyle — one that will help build a brand, but also define a marketplace.

“Our goal is to build products that are a part of this new lifestyle,” Flaming said. “And we want to deliver them to our customers in a more authentic way. That’s the core of what we’re doing.”

So instead of focusing solely on the ever-changing world of retail, Lava Gear has been exploring other ways to promote the Gorge lifestyle through apparel.

One such method has been the forming of partnerships with companies involved in outdoor events, group excursions and corporate incentive programs. By aligning itself with local companies, Lava Gear then becomes a part of the Gorge experience.

“Companies have a sincere interest in maximizing their clients’ experiences,” Flaming said, “and we want to provide products that will add value to people’s outdoor experiences.

“At the same time, we’re hoping to help build the outdoor industry. This company isn’t only about commercial interests. We truly believe that these groups are integral to sustaining the entire outdoor industry,” he said.

Flaming pointed to companies like Julee’s Gorge Tours, River Drifters (Maupin), Timberline Lodge and Big Red Lizard as the types of organizations he would like to partner with.

One of the best examples is Big Red Lizard, a Portland-based race organizer that oversees events like the Columbia River Gorge Marathon, U.S. Snowshoeing Association Western Regionals and Mt. Hood Scramble.

“Big Red Lizard epitomizes the kind of company we would like to partner up with,” he said. “We came to the Gorge because of organizations like that. Another example is the Gorge Games. They choose to focus on sports that involve more personal challenges; not just the glory.”

In fact, that’s what formed the very basis of Lava Gear — a high-end brand of multisport clothing created for adventure racers, mountain bikers and watersports enthusiasts looking for more top-of-the-line functional apparel.

Flaming and Enns believe that the only way to build garments is to do so with human input, and they spend enormous amounts of resources on product testing before they decide if it is ready for the open market.

They have also set strict quality standards, and use only tested, trusted fabrics and materials that are made in the United States (mostly DuPont fibers).

“We chose to align ourselves with names like Patagonia and Arc’Teryx because people know that when they buy those brands, they’re buying quality,” said Flaming, who outfitted seven Eco-Challenge teams with Lava Gear earlier this month in Fiji.

“We pay close attention to construction detail and fit, and we engineer our products like a tailor. That’s what sets us apart,” he said.

Quality, authenticity, customer satisfaction and, of course, location. These are the things that Flaming and Enns hope will help Lava Gear carve a niche in the rapidly growing, but constantly changing outdoor clothing arena.


For more information on Lava Gear and its new Hood River home, visit

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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