February 24, 2021
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This year we're celebrating 30 years of category-defining fabric innovations with Featured Partner posts highlighting our collaboration histories with brands who've shared a first with us. This week we're telling the story of how Melanzana spawned the First Fleece Cult Classic.

The First Fleece Cult Classic

Newspaper clipping

Melanzana has the best possible business problem. They can't make their limited product offerings fast enough to meet demand. The locally owned and operated outdoor brand from Leadville, Colorado, offers a limited collection of hoodies, beanies, and dresses — all made with Polartec fleece — that are so popular you can only buy them through online lotteries set up when a new batch becomes available.

But Melly fanatics from Denver to Dover are content to wait for the same reasons we're excited to gush over a brand we've worked with for decades. Melanzana exists to fulfill a foundational commitment to the environment and their community, and nobody, I mean nobody, can convince these folks to cut corners that would infringe on that promise. For over 20 years, the scrappy brand has brought sustainable jobs to Leadville by producing American-made pieces that have become authentic signifiers of the mountain lifestyle.

If you're reading this and unfamiliar with Melanzana, you probably already care about materials made sustainably in America and root for homegrown brands with lines of fans around the block. Well get ready to fall in love.

Man on a Mission

Fritz kevco

New England-native Fritz Howard founded Melanzana in 1994 with his childhood buddy Kevco. Using Polartec fleece remnants bought at an outlet in Lawrence, Massachusetts, they made the first Melanzana garments by hand — a short-sleeve shirt and tank top for raft guides, some pants, maybe shorts, memory's a little fuzzy. They wanted to establish themselves in a real mountain town, not a resort town, so Fritz chose Leadville to pitch his hand-sewn tipi for two winters to save money for the fledgling venture.

After a name change, four Leadville relocations, and nearly 30 years of slow but steady growth, Fritz enjoys an enviable work/life balance with a ski lift almost always in walking distance. Hestill has a laser focus on fulfilling his company's ​raison d'être​: 1) Serving the community, 2) by producing sustainably, and 3) American-made products from fiber to finish.

But Fritz will be the first to tell you, Melanzana's no one-man band.


The Heart of Leadville


Never one to sacrifice on quality, in production or life, Melanzana does things at their own pace, the right way. When — we'll go with 'less civic-minded' — companies would've moved production somewhere cheaper at the whiff of growing demand, Melanzana dug in deeper to become one of the largest private employers in Lake County.

All their products are hand cut and sewn in a 100% solar-powered, 7,500 sq. ft. production and retail facility in (and some would say constituting) ​the heart of Leadville​. It's not the fastest way to do things, but by-god it's the most sustainable. Their 50 full-time employees earn a competitive wage, profit sharing, and health benefits and most meetings are conducted in two languages with the help of an on-staff bilingual interpreter.


When the pandemic was forcing layoffs and furloughs, Melanzana paid the entire staff for the seven and a half weeks they were shut down by state order. Though normal production was halted, a part-time staff churned out 24,000 masks for local essential and healthcare workers.

Melanzana fulfills the role of manufacturer for a community that once, like many in the USA, had a booming manufacturing sector that has all but dried up. We're proud to work with a company that provides sustainable jobs and the dignity and security that should come along with employment in the richest country that has ever existed (*Descends from soapbox*).


Material Ethos


As Melanzana's sole supplier of premium fabric technologies, it's our job to make sure they can follow through on their community and sustainability promises. That's why the ​fabrics​ Melanzana usesWind Pro, Power Dry, Hard Face, High Loft, and a new 100% recycled Micro Grid — are sustainably made in the USA.

Fabrics knit in Gastonia, North Carolina and finished in Cleveland, Tennessee, make their way to Leadville to be cut and sewn into modern staples of the mountain lifestyle. It gives us goosebumps just thinking about it.

Like we said, we knew you'd fall in love. You can see their full line-up of American-made outdoor wear on ​their website​. They've got great colors and classic fits, all durably and sustainably constructed by hand — but don't be surprised if you have to sign up for a lottery for the chance to buy one.

Trust us, it's worth the wait! That's why we chose their legendary Micro Grid Hoodie to be the grand prize of our Family Photo Album Contest — probably the quickest way to get your hands on one, you just have to do us a favor first!


As part of our year-long celebration of 30 years partnering with innovative Outdoor brands, we're releasing "music posters" inspired by some of our favorite bands and brands. Here's Melanzana's — find more on our ​Instagram​!


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