You may see their products in our pages, but how much do you know about the small companies that make up a critical component of the outdoor gear industry? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at Seattle-based Feathered Friends.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Who: Juna Hickner Gates, General Manager and daughter of founders Peter and Carol Hickner
Favorite Hike: “Up in the North Cascades. Anywhere within the national park there is just spectacular.”
The Mantra: “We do one thing, and we do it well: keeping you warm.”
Beginnings: “1972 was when my parents first started making the goods. My mom grew up sewing most of her own clothes … so she had a lot of sewing experience. She didn’t have any outdoor sewing experience, so I think there was a lot of trial and error at first … Together her and my dad worked out the patterns and the materials and how to translate that into outdoor gear.”
Inspiration: “[My parents realized] that what they wanted wasn’t available to them, whether it wasn’t made or just was not affordable for them. So they thought, ‘Hey, we can make exactly what we want, and we can afford it that way. We can get out, we can start making it for our friends and they can come out and join us.’”
Gear and Growing Up: “You know, it’s funny. We always ended up with the failed prototypes or the duct-taped-together pieces. You would think that being a gear manufacturer … we would always end up with the stuff that didn’t sell, or needed to be repaired or something. … We were all kind of pieced-together on the trail.”
A-Ha Moment: “In the 80s it really started to take off through mail-order. I remember one of my first jobs was having to sort our catalogues by zip code … and realizing at some point, in the mid-80s, that we were sending them around the world. There were pieces going to Europe and Japan. So that was pretty cool to see.”
Comments Welcome: “We always get feedback from [regular users] around the world … We love hearing from folks [about] how they use our products, what works, what they want to see. So we’ve started getting more of that, just people reaching out.”
Sustainability First: “We don’t want people to buy new stuff every two years, which is kind of odd for a company. We want somebody to buy a sleeping bag, or a jacket, or a comforter and use it for a long, long time. We make gear to last for a long time, and we want people to use it for a long time and not send it to a landfill.”