Stephen Sullivan — or “Sulli” to his friends — simply loves creating stuff. For instance, he spent a whole summer constructing his kids’ tree house. In the outdoor gear business, the Colorado native devoted 13 years to creating the Cloudveil line. Started in 1997 with business partner and ski buddy Brian Cousins, Sullivan’s first foray into the industry built a faithful following first around its Jackson Hole, WY, home base, then around the world. Cloudveil Mountain Works also attracted interest from big corporations wanting to buy the business. After a few ownership changes, Sullivan finally parted ways with the brand in 2010.
Sullivan and Cousins remain good friends, but Sullivan is going solo into his second entrepreneurial venture in outdoor apparel. His new company, Stio (pronounced “stee-oh”), is again based just down the highway from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The brand launched its first line last fall.
“The biggest difference this time was that because I had some street cred. I was able to raise a significant amount of money to start this in good fashion and get it off the ground with a meaningfully sized line,” Sullivan said. “The difference this time is that I know how to make clothes and I still thought I had a lot of good design concepts in my head.”
Obviously relative to when Cloudveil started, e-commerce has grown exponentially, so Sullivan decided this time around to sell his new company’s products primarily though the Stio website. Along with the website, Stio does have a print catalog and one brick-and-mortar store on the town square in Jackson.
Although Sullivan used to achieve the hardcore Holy Grail of 100 ski days in a season, he was still able to notch about 50 days of at least some time on the mountain last season. Some of those visits served a practical purpose to test new designs. Sullivan said he does about 60-65 percent of the design work himself. Technical offerings such as the Environ Jacket and Pant typically go through 30-40 total days of on-slope testing with different staffers before the design is finalized.
“It’s amazing especially when you are designing apparel for skiing or an athletic pursuit outside. You find that this zipper needs to be moved a centimeter or I don’t like how this pocket back hangs down on the front of my leg. It’s too far down. We find all sorts of little details in that process,” Sullivan said.
While Cloudveil often has been associated with its soft-shell Serendipity Jacket (that ironically was not the company’s biggest seller according to Sullivan), time will tell what develops as Stio’s calling card in the marketplace.
“You never know what’s going to catch on and what you’re going to be known for,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a product as much as it’s going to be an ethos and a lifestyle, a reflection of the mountain culture. That is what we are trying to embody with the brand.”
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