Winter sports isn’t so much an industry as a community. To drive innovation and economic sustainability, friends share insights as they collaborate. Inclusivity and the free flow of ideas fuel the outdoor business.
Perhaps no outfit encapsulates that spirit more than Seirus Innovation, an indie, family-run company that’s thrived since 1979 with a clear mission: to make us more comfortable in winter while doing the right thing by its customers, employees, and partners.
It all started in 1977. That’s when newlyweds Wendy and Mike Carey decided their honeymoon would be an entire winter of skiing Tahoe. Wendy bought Mike his first pair of ski boots for Christmas. He loved them, but he was bummed how quickly the soles wore down from walking in parking lots and base lodges. He did some research and discovered the damage wasn’t just cosmetic, it was a safety concern—worn boots don’t behave properly in the tight tolerances of releasable bindings. Mike used his inventive streak to cobble together detachable treads for his new boots. Two winters later the couple launched Cat Tracks, a simple accessory that added grip and protection to plastic-soled ski boots.
The pair invested in production, distribution, and marketing and then tapped the winter-sports world for endorsements. Binding companies wanted their company names on the boxes. Ski racers and instructors became early adopters and pushed the product to friends. A family-run business with community ties was born. Today, Seirus makes all manner of innovative products—mostly in the head-, hand-, and foot-warmth departments—for the winter crowd. “It takes a lot to pull off a multigenerational family business,” says 686 Apparel CEO and Seirus colleague Mike West. “Wendy and Mike have a yin and a yang thing going. Mike is the crazy idea guy. Wendy is calm, realistic, and methodical. They complement each other.”
A biracial couple, the Careys broke into what was in 1979, and still is, a predominantly white business. They did this through the strength of their personalities. If you watched Mike in his other career—he was perhaps the most respected NFL official of his generation—you already get it. If not, know that he has a presence. “Mike is a charismatic and confident individual,” says Wendy. “He found his way through the world using those skills. He’s also not the type of person to let bigotry or preconceptions get in his way. But when we couldn’t ignore the prejudice, we always thought that it was the other person’s issue. To change this culture we have to be intentional. It’s rewarding to watch people like our daughter Danica—now Seirus’s director of marketing—grow winter outdoors for more people. There are a lot of BIPOC people in the space already, but too many have been undervalued and this needs to be addressed. We need to listen to their voices.”
That community theme drives Seirus. Innovation is a great example. When he crafted those original Cat Tracks for himself, Mike had the advantage of a fresh perspective on winter sports. But he didn’t know it was a viable product until the binding manufacturers and racers supported it. That’s been the story of Seirus ever since. Internally, it relies on a creative and design team. Externally, it taps into a collaborative steering committee to generate ideas. But the goal is always the same: identify problems and find solutions. Perhaps the best example of that is Seirus’s Heatwave Base Layer. Base layers as a category hasn’t seen much innovation in 30 years beyond merino wool, polypropylene, and polyester. Mike and the team have incorporated Heatwave, a lightweight foil on top of hollow fiber polyester, which they’d co-created with a supplier years prior, into many different products. Heatwave produces heat kinetically (through movement) but also reflects that heat back to the body. In the Base Layer, wicking materials keep you dry. Mapped areas of Polygiene, an odor-controlling treatment, keep the stink down.
Seirus has a wellspring of forward-thinking products. Among its offerings in head and face protection are the MagneMasks, employing magnets to keep the material snapped in place when you need it and to open quickly for venting when you want it. This technology can also be found in the MagneMitts. With Heat Touch handwear—such as the Heat Touch Hellfire Glove and Mitt and the Heat Touch Atlas Glove and Mitt—a flexible panel wraps around the backs of your hands and fingertips. Push a button and your hands are warm. Seemingly simple innovations make a world of difference on the slopes.
It’s a world that, for Seirus, is always expanding. Take its nearly 20-year partnership with the Vail Veterans Program. When Cheryl Jensen founded it in 2004, she assumed the wars in the Middle East would be short. She forecast that the need to get injured veterans on snow would soon taper. In the first year, though, the program sent an athlete to the Paralympics. Someone went again the next year, and in came testimonials about how important adaptive skiing and snowboarding were to this community. The Vail Veterans Program was changing lives. “It was in year three when I realized that we’d be doing this forever,” says Cheryl. “But because so many of our veterans were new not just to skiing but to winter sports, we needed gear to keep them comfortable. Wendy Carey was the first person I called. She was like, ‘Whatever you need is yours.’ But the biggest thing they’ve given us over the years is their time. Mike has been an inspirational speaker to our group. The fact that he’s Black and has NFL credentials carries a lot of weight with the soldiers and marines we host. I recently got an email from one of the veterans that came through 12 years ago. He was getting tattoos on his legs above the amputation points to remind himself of the strength he’d rediscovered in himself on snow.”
Next up for Seirus? Whatever strengthens the brand’s commitment to the winter-sports community. Seirus now pledges 10 percent of the profits from all online sales of Shield products to winter outreach partners. Seirus also amplifies the voices of affinity groups and artists. For example, artist Lamont Joseph White’s “Represent” pattern can be found on head and neck protectors.
“As an industry,” says Mike, “we’ve made strides, but we’re nowhere near where we should be in terms of inclusivity. And it’s not just about skin color. There are too many folks that simply can’t afford to drive an hour to the mountains. Moving forward it has to be about access. Now we have this opportunity to ask ourselves how we can contribute. It’s the same way we approach innovation: identify a problem and find a solution.”
Seirus is an outdoor gear company keeping your whole body warm. Our mission: enable outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy any cold weather activity in the greatest comfort possible, while innovating for a more inclusive and sustainable outdoors. CEO Mike Carey wanted to create a business culture in which collaborative beings flourish.