A scrappy, rebellious, brand founded by a dirtbag bike and ski bum, Ripton & Co., might be the first company to positions cut-off jean shorts as technical mountain biking gear. Call it hokey, but Ripton has hit a nerve with the millennial crowd. The company sold through its first order last winter. With sales of Action Jorts 2.0 proceeding at the same blistering pace, expect to see them on a trail near you soon.
“I never wore jeans when I lived in Vermont—they were too heavy and hot,” said Ripton founder Elliot Wilkinson-Ray, who named his company after a town in the Green Mountain State. “I moved to California, and everyone was wearing denim. It was the fancy hip alternative vibe.”
Wilkinson-Ray worked on the marketing team for California-based Kitsbow, makers of stretchy cycling jeans, and other bike commuter-styled apparel. That’s where his obsession with technical denim was born.
“Riding jeans are classic and iconic, but also work really well,” said Wilkinson-Ray. He pitched Kitsbow on jorts, and they laughed him off. So Wilkinson-Ray went back to the daily grind, eventually leaving Kitsbow’s and California for marketing jobs in Utah and Colorado, and a return to the mountains.
But jorts were still on his mind. He’d bounce the idea off entrepreneur friends, and apparel-industry friends after bike rides over beers. All encouraged him to make the shorts himself.
“One of the biggest problems with commuter apparel, whether it’s from a hip brand like Kitsbow or a historic brand like Levis, is that commuting is drab experience,“ said Wilkinson-Ray. ”I didn’t want my shorts to evoke the dread of going to work on a Monday morning, but the vibe of spending time with friends riding bikes and having fun.”
With no meaningful business background or entrepreneurial experience, but strong instincts, Wilkinson-Ray finally took the plunge. He enrolled in London’s Central St. Martins fashion school to learn pattern making and product concepting.
“Other students were training to be the creative director for Gucci,” he laughed. “No one else was building a business based on cut-off jeans.” While his classmates designed dresses for celebrity red carpet events, Wilkinson-Ray scoured thrift stores for old jeans, and cut and sewed jorts. When he found a promising fabric or thought he had nailed the fit, he’d hop on his bike and hit the trails to test them.
Wilkinson-Ray, his brother Tyler, and a few discerning friends slipped on prototype jorts and toured the world, riding across the U.S., Colombia, the U.K., Thailand, and Mexico before Wilkinson-Ray was satisfied he had found the right fabric weight for summer biking denim, and the perfect ratio of cotton to spandex so that the shorts felt good to wear, and stretchy enough without being saggy. He hired a Los Angeles denim maker to manufacture for him, and convinced 200 friends to pre-order, which paid for production.
Jorts aren’t just whimsy for Wilkinson-Ray. “We’ve added technical performance to one of the most iconic silhouettes in American apparel. Cut-off jean shorts that fade with adventures are emotionally evocative in a cool way. We’re balancing innovation with nostalgia and form. And we’re doing it with stretchy summer-weight denim made in the U.S.A.”
I’ve been wearing them, and every time I do they put a smile on my face, and catch the eye of other shredders. And I don’t just wear them for biking. Gardening, camping, lakeside chilling, bare-leg spring skiing, and other warm-weather fun and antics are all within these shorts job description. The gusseted crotch didn’t restrict my riding or anything else. And they just feel good to wear.
That Wilkinson-Ray was able to sell through his stock of jorts in winter was an auspicious start—he launched in October and ran out by December. The Action Jorts 2.0 is available for preorder now. It’s longer, so compatible with kneepads, and available in two washes. Ripton is also selling 100 pairs of limited edition Action Jorts with an engineer stripe back pocket.
[$89, riptonco.com]Preorder Here
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