March 02, 2022
There’s a new start-up in Montana that’s promising to add not just fresh looks, but new technical performance in outerwear. Skwala founder and owner Kevin Sloan got his start in the outdoor industry first as a fly-fishing guide in Colorado and New York, and then as a product developer for Orvis, and then the general manager of Guideline Polarized Eyewear. He helped with the start of the hunting apparel company Sitka Gear, and for a decade was that company’s president. In 2018, he dove into another start-up: As CEO of MeatEater, he helped turn Steven Rinella’s TV show into a full-fledged media company selling its own branded merchandise. But finally, after those successes, he found himself in a place where he could follow his true passions—fly fishing and product development.
“I’m a product guy at heart,” said Sloan. “I felt like the fly-fishing space needed a kick in the butt, and I knew there were a lot of good people out there who also had some different ways of looking at products, especially in the textiles arena.”
The new Bozeman-based Skwala (skwalafishing.com) has 10 employees with a staff of product designers with backgrounds at companies like Burton, Sitka Gear, Yeti, and Patagonia. The company launched in March 2022 with 10 key styles: two waders, two shell jackets, two insulated jackets, two shirts, and a pair of pants and shorts. The entire line is built for consistent comfort with a clean, minimalist look, and very subtle branding for those who don’t want a billboard-type look.
Skwala is starting with two distinct product lines—the RS wader, shell jacket, and insulation are built for rugged durability in the worst weather. The Carbon wader ($499) and jacket ($399), on the other hand, are built for light and fast expeditions and are highly breathable. The outerwear is designed to be worn as a “kit” and they work best when worn together. For instance, the zipper openings in the RS jacket line up with the fleece-lined pockets in the RS waders so you can easily slide cold hands into the warm pockets.
Sloan believes there are a number of firsts in the product line. The Carbon waterproof jacket for instance, is a 4-way stretch shell for casting comfort, and the Fusion Hybrid Puff ($199) also has 3 inches of stretch across the shoulders. The Carbon waders have a shoulder suspension system that uses magnets to lock the waders in the high position or slide down into the waist-high position. Instead of a wraparound belt, the RS waders ($799) have an internal heat-bonded polyurethane lattice from the Italian company Framis in the lumbar area. This allows the waist to cinch up tightly when you close the partial belt at the front. The result is a fit that is more comfortable than a belt. Skwala also uses fourchette side panels in the wader legs for an articulated fit without the associated seams. “So many companies build waders big so you can move around inside them. We build fitted waders that move with you,” Sloan says.
Even the warm weather wear has some interesting twists—the Tactical Hoody ($119) has a scuba-shaped hood that provides extra face coverage when you pull it over a hat, and stretch woven panels to hold gear and in high-wear areas for extra durability. The quick-dry Sol pants ($119) and shorts ($89) use Toray’s Dot Air textile that looks solid, feels light, but on close examination is perforated so it keeps you cool and dries quickly.
“We’re a company that believes in textile-first design, and we’re using some of the best materials in the world,” said Sloan. “These are the best products I’ve been involved with in the past 25 years.”
Skwala sells direct to consumers online, and is also available at a few specialty fly shops that Skwala considers flagship vendors, where consumers can get a hands-on feel for the products and try them on. Those dealers are Headhunters in Craig, Montana; Grizzly Hackle in Missoula, Montana; WorldCast Anglers in Victor, Idaho; and Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado.