How Simms waders are made
By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor
With dealers in places like Argentina, New Zealand and Australia, Simms Fishing Products sends waders all over the world. These waders, used by anglers to keep from getting wet, have humble beginnings, starting out as many pieces of fabric hand-cut in Bozeman.
From a modern industrial building at Four Corners, designers and lab managers test and identify the best materials and most cost-effective pattern designs; the three- and four-layer Gore-Tex fabrics are cut out by hand; and every stitch is made with a hand-fed sewing machine.
Made in USA
Founded in 1980, Simms was purchased from Life-Link International and moved from Jackson, Wyoming, to Bozeman in 1993 by owner K.C. Walsh. In 2012, the company moved from Evergreen Drive to their current location off of Jackrabbit Lane, where headquarters and production are housed in a three-story, 75,000-square-foot facility.
According to the company website, “There’s a reason Simms is located in Bozeman. Actually, there are many—one of the biggest being the people, or, in our case, the anglers, attracted to this area’s great rivers. Simms believes our waders reflect the heart and soul of those who make them. … Not only do they know what an angler needs in their gear, they’ve experienced firsthand the power fishing has to bring us all together.”
Simms is the only U.S. manufacturer of fishing waders and one of two Gore-Tex-certified wader manufacturers in the world. Because of this, a large portion of the facility is dedicated to raw materials, lab and production space. In an effort to create more space to allocate to wader-making, Simms moved its warehouse operations to a third-party company in Seattle earlier this year.
Employees working on the production floor will tell you it’s something to do with pride. David Dexter, one of the production specialists, said during an Aug. 27 tour that every step in the process can be tracked to one of 65 individuals who make these waders for a living. “There’s accountability and traceability,” he said.
But more than that, this tracing allows for better communication and pride in workmanship. “When we win, we win together. If we fail, we fail together,” he added.
Currently, Simms offers 16 different waders, available in men’s, women’s and kids’ sizes, with stocking feet or boot-foot options. Recently, the company released a line of river camo patterns and they will launch an additional five models in spring 2019.
How it’s done
Concept. Even before the wader is launched into production, materials are tested in the lab and in the field to identify which are best for a design. Simms’ quality assurance technicians use high-end equipment, as well as machines they’ve built themselves, in order to test things like the durability of fabric, longevity of glue, and the neoprene’s insulation value.
Pieces. Once the patterns have been developed for each wader size, the cutting team uses a design program to develop cutting patterns that achieve the highest fabric utilization. Once they’ve finalized the cut pattern, they will print it on a large format plotter and that paper is positioned over many layers of Gore-Tex fabric. These layers are then cut by hand using what looks to be the industrial version of a very sharp jigsaw.
Pressing. Belt loops, back labels, reinforcement panels and pockets are pressed onto the wader pieces before they are sewn together. The wader pieces are then grouped and bundled by style and size.
Sewing. Wader torsos and leg panels are sewn separately and then together to make up the wader body, which involves about 12 different sewers. At this point, the wader is beginning to take shape.
Seam taping. After thousands of holes are punched through the fabric to stitch together each piece, the seams are adhered with Gore-Tex seam tape, which is how Simms ensures that the sewn wader is waterproof. The taping machine, which involves a unique balance of time, temperature and pressure, as well as the ability to run the machine efficiently using three foot pedals and manipulating the wader with both hands, can take a skilled applier as long as six months to learn.
Finish work. Once the waders are fully seam-taped, they proceed to the final step in the wader-body production. The hem at the top of the wader is finished, suspenders are sewn in, and any other final sewing steps are completed.
Feet. While the body sewing and taping process is taking place, there is a separate team of builders that is cutting and piecing the neoprene foot pieces together and then seam-taping inside and out to ensure waterproofness and durability. Like the wader bundles, Simms has bins of finished stocking feet, in sizes ranging from men’s four to 16, that are ready to be attached to the wader body. Waders destined for a stocking foot are fitted with neoprene feet through an attachment process that is unique to Simms, including a patented process for the built-in gravel guards. The boot-foot version follows a similar process, sans foot-building or gravel guard attachment.
Tests. Every wader that leaves the production floor is tested for quality. They are filled with water and positioned on a test bed at a specific angle to simulate the same pressure as a river. The waders must hold the water for 15 minutes without leaking in order to meet stringent quality standards.
All of this happens Monday through Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. There are 22 wader-makers that contribute to the manufacture of a Simms wader, with the company’s most technical wader, the G4Z, incorporating over 120 steps. In a normal production cycle, it takes about five days to make a wader.
Visit simmsfishing.com/discover/stories/wader-makers to learn more.