August 08, 2023
A relative newcomer in the premium fly-fishing waders and apparel space continues to gain a foothold nationwide in the hyper-competitive fishing-wader market.
Rich Hohne describes Skwala’s “secret sauce” as its small elite team of industry insiders who live fly fishing. Hohne, Skwala’s chief marketing officer, migrated across Bozeman from Simms Fishing Products (following a stint at footwear company Oboz) where he was senior director of marketing and brand management. At one point, Founder and CEO Kevin Sloan said, the team consisted of five members with over 100 years of fly-fishing industry experience. Sloan himself has designed product for Orvis, was a founding member of the hunting brand Sitka, and played a large role in bringing the MeatEater brand to prominence (among other things).
Skwala officially launched in March of 2022, boasting its all-star team and introducing a number of firsts in fly-fishing comfort, such as a magnetic suspender system and four-way stretch in all the right places.
Its products are not built on a good-better-best platform, but on a use-case and need-driven basis, said Sloan. The RS Wader, for example, which comes in at $799, isn’t their best wader; rather it’s Skwala’s coldest weather wader. The Carbon Wader, which sells for $499, isn’t the budget wader–it’s the cold-water-during-warm-weather wader.
“Our pricepoints land where they do based on what that product delivers,” Sloan said.
The folks at Skwala design products that work in concert, creating a symphony of technical fishing apparel. A given shirt is built to wear under a certain jacket, over those waders. For example, Skwala has a package called the “Alaska Kit” that is compiled with a complete lineup of complementary layers, including the RS Wader, RS Jacket, Fusion 3/2 Puffy, Thermo 350 Hoody, Thermo 350 Pant, and Fusion 90 Pant.
Its gear, which includes sun shirts, snap shirts, layering, wading jackets, pants, shorts, and tees, is designed to fulfill the nuanced needs of anglers who live fishing. Skwala’s team boasted of exceptional knowledge of the details that go into comfort and range of motion–sometimes without the consumer even knowing. They just know they feel good. Details like the ability to raise your arm without the bottom of your shirt exposing your abdomen, the ability to pull off your waders without the assistance of a buddy, and wading pants made from an opaque mesh material that drains and dries quickly, called Poly Primeflex™ DotAir™ stretch with DWR.
And while Skwala doesn’t offer the hundred-product lineups of some other brands, it focuses on satisfying those needs in ways that advance fly-fishing clothing’s comfort, usability, and range of motion.
Many of Skwala’s waterproof breathable textiles use Toray or Koyoto fabric from Japan, companies considered to be at the forefront of fabric development that not many companies go to.
“So we were able to build a four-way stretch waterproof breathable air permeable three-layer jacket that weighs 15 ounces,” Sloan said. “You can’t do that with other materials.”
And with impending PFAS (carbon-based forever chemicals used in basically every durable breathable fabric) bans and/or restrictions coming from several states that will impact many technical outdoor apparel companies, Skwala is thinking ahead.
“That’s an interesting one that we’re all going to have to deal with,” Sloan said. “I think it looks like right now that we’re all going to be moving to C0 (pronounced c-zero, meaning zero carbon) technology... It will come off quicker. I think where we’ll end up is that people will have to get into the mode of re-treating garments. C-zero will not have the durability.”
As for the company’s aspirations, the designers at Skwala will concoct their next innovations when inspiration strikes.
“We’ll do it the right way when we feel like we can put the right effort toward and give it the respect it deserves,” Hohne said.
In the meantime, the passion and pride are obvious.
“[We have] a really deep understanding of end-use, as well as a lot of knowledge and history in technical apparel,” Sloan said.
“Fly fishing isn’t part of what we do,” Hohne added. “It’s what we do.”
Josh Bergan is Fly Fisherman's digital editor.