By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
Mountain Khakis started in 2003 in Jackson, Wyo., with a genuine, stylish and well-made product and a knack for grassroots marketing.
The vision for the brand was sparked by a Jackson resident who noticed a trend: locals and second homeowners wearing a technical jacket or a $300 sweater, and Carhartts.
From there, “a dedicated pant collection and brand for an authentic mountain lifestyle” was born, said Jen Taylor, MK’s director of creative development. The focus was on quality, authenticity and durability, Taylor said, and retailers quickly bought in.
“It took off with the ‘hockey stick’ growth path.”
In the nine years since, the company has grown. It now has a complete apparel collection for men and women, including accessories; offices in four states; approximately 1,000 retailers between the U.S. and Canada; and international distributorship. In 2010, Mountain Khakis merged with the Freedom Group, which owns the Remington Arms Company.
Taylor, who has been MK since 2006, says it’s still a small company, and the partners and employees still wear a lot of hats.
“It’s important for us to think big and act small,” she said. “It keeps us poised and resourceful. And we’re all uber-dedicated and passionate about what do.”
Case in point, Taylor herself is a partner who resides and works in Grand Junction, Colo. She is the company’s director of creative development, which includes roles as MK brand manager, marketing director, public relations manager, and heads development of the accessories program.
While the product design and development are still based in Jackson, the main business office and eastern distribution center are in North Carolina.
“The heartbeat of the brand is out here in the West, right here were it needs to be to stay true to our roots,” Taylor said. “And the horsepower is in Charlotte, where there is a diverse workforce and opportunity to hire the best of the best.”
Having diverse regional presence also drives the brand and product appeal beyond the mountains—to the field, the coast and the city, she said.
Mountain Khakis has stuck to its grassroots core, Taylor said.
“We all live that lifestyle, the mountain lifestyle, and everything we do—the marketing strategy, the newsletter, mission, vision, values, culture—emanates from that philosophy.”
The proof: The MK Fund.
The fund makes donations and in-kind contributions to organizations working to “protect and promote the diverse values of the outdoor lifestyle and the communities in which MK is present,” its mission proclaims.
By saddling up with other smaller, community organizations also aligned with the same philosophy, MK can “drill deeper” into a community and have more affect, Taylor says. “It keeps it real, and it’s a hell of a lot more meaningful. We’d rather make a bigger splash and build a relationship than make a drive-by drop in the bucket.”
The partners include environmental and conservation groups, raptor rehabilitation centers, mountain bike associations, cancer groups, avalanche centers, and community radio stations.
The Teton Raptor Center has been involved with the MK Fund for two years. Mountain Khakis invited the center to bring some of its birds to the winter 2012 Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City, donated profits from discounted gift cards, outfitted the raptor center staff, and featured them in its catalogue.
The clothes work for giving presentations about the raptors in front of an audience, and also dirty work in the barn, said the raptor center’s executive director Amy Brennan McCarthy.
“A little organization like ours doesn’t have a marketing budget to get that level of outreach,” McCarthy said. “We’re so appreciative that they’ve taken our work to the next level and shared it with their customers.”
MK is also the official après apparel of several community ski areas, including Showdown, a mom and pop shop in Montana’s Little Belt Mountains, where MK sponsors events and outfits staff.
(the MK pieces we love)
Original Mountain Pant
Mountain Khakis’ first three styles of men’s pants continue to be its bestselling pieces today. The pinnacle of this trio, the Original Mountain Pant is made for people who spend time in the outdoors and are blessed with skier thighs.
The thick yet comfortable material makes you realize you’ll be owning them for many years. Thoughtful pocket placements include a great double pocket on the hip. Be aware that after one wash they may shrink a bit, and that you’ll want to wear them daily. Men’s and women’s sizing and colors. ($82.95) – Eric Ladd
A MK staple, these pants can go from coastal big water fishing, to the airport, to epic off trail hikes in the Spanish Peaks.
They’re pants/shorts convertibles, and are comfortable, light, quick drying and stain resistant, according to our tester. He wore them out to dinner, hiking and everywhere between, and said the zip on and off is easy (and also color coded so you know right from left). The lower zip even fits over his size 11 shoes.
He particularly liked all the zip hideaway pockets in front. “You can put things in there that you don’t want to mess with but you can make sure you’ve still got them (i.e. keys, knife).”
The waistband doesn’t have elastic, so it won’t bind or bunch. Scotch guard is the secret behind the stain resistance, and the fabric’s weave makes them abrasion resistant.
Constructive feedback from our tester: “Add a wallet pocket on the left side of the back—there’s only one on the right side, and I put my wallet on the left.” ($89.99) E.S.
The fabric on this shirt is lightweight, and the epilette dart on the chest pocket adds a vintage feminine flair.
Our tester particularly liked the cut around the shoulders, which she described as broad enough for her athletic shoulders, but still trim and attractive. She also said the length is just right—she wore it tucked in for the PBR bull riding event in Big Sky this summer, but untucked to an office meeting last week (and still looked like a pro).
Also of note: “It washes well and doesn’t wrinkle, which is good because I don’t iron.”
And, she said, the Oxbow is good for work or play. At the last minute, she was considering taking it on a September trip down the Grand Canyon, where she’d dunk it in the water and wear it wet to stay cool.
Part of MK’s spring and summer line, the Women’s Oxbow Long Sleeve shirt will be on sale at mountainkhakis.com this fall. ($79.95) E.S.
When it comes to women’s flannel, the new Peaks Flannel by Mountain Khakis gets it right. The blended wool is tough, warm and stretchy. Side gussets add a feminine curve and the longer hem is sure to keep you covered.
As fall approaches, it’s ideal for chilly evenings or as a cover up after an afternoon jump in the river. Fold it, smash it or roll it up in your pack for the day without worrying about wrinkles. The flannel is available in men’s and women’s sizing and colors, and comes prewashed so there is no need to fret about shrinkage. ($89.95)
– Renae Counter
Find a retailer at mountainkhakis.com.