Our Story

THLETE (Pronounced Athlete, without the “A”):
We built our brand on the idea that outdoorsman are athletes. Hunters have the wherewithal to withstand harsh conditions and require the physical and mental toughness to endure the ups and downs that go along with the sport we love. Our determination to succeed at our craft is what drives us to be better in the field.  When the moment of truth presents itself, a superior athlete will capitalize and excel.

Midwestern Hunter:
I hate to categorize myself, but first and foremost, I am a whitetail hunter. Growing up in the midwest I had access to some of the best whitetail hunting in the country. The inspiration behind THLETE is strongly influenced by the experiences I have had in the midwest whitetail woods, and the design/concept behind the majority of our outerwear has the whitetail hunter in mind. This is especially evident in the Phantom Series. The Phantom is heavier than most soft-shell outerwear on the market but what sets it apart is a windproof membrane. The Primaloft softshell that we are using in the Phantom Series is available as fabric both with and without a membrane. We debated for quite some time on which style to launch our brand with and eventually the decision was put to the vote. The results strongly favored the membrane style with a final tally of 17 to 9.

Western hunters tend to prefer fabrics that have very high breathability ratings whereas whitetail hunters in harsh climates need garments that will cut the wind and allow maximum heat retention while on stand. To combat the lower breathability of the Primaloft softshell, we integrated a zippered cross ventilation system in both the jacket and pant to allow the hunter to maximize air flow throughout the garment while on the move but also to have the capability to close the zippers when stopped or on stand. We are also designing garments that will utilize fabric without a membrane so that hunters will have an option to choose the style that best suits their hunting style in the future.

Driven:
THLETE, Inc. was conceived in the fall of 2012. After being a part of the outdoor industry for a few years, I saw a shift in where the market was heading and decided to jump at the opportunity. There was only one problem; I had no idea what I was doing. My inclination was to follow the mold of what the other large clothing manufacturers had done because they seemed to have it right. My first phone call was to one of the largest fabric manufacturers in the world. I figured that they would have all the answers and help me fulfill my dream of becoming a big time clothing manufacturer but oh how wrong I was. I was contacted by a “big box” representative who went on to inform me that my dream was too big and the cost would be astronomical. His exact words, “You cannot do this, not with the budget you have allocated, and it is simply not possible; especially not in the US.” I was crushed, my big plans were hung out to dry in a matter of minutes. Right there I had two options; I could continue down the same path as a retailer or I could prove him wrong.

Start small and specialize:
We are not an apparel giant, and we are not owned by a larger umbrella company. That means that we make specialized gear the way we see fit. There is no board of directors overseeing our every move, and we have the freedom to do what we want. We are a small company that maintains the idea that good gear is made by hand, in short runs, with extreme attention to detail. Honestly, we do not have the capability to mass produce our apparel, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It is very gratifying to see our gear being made in the USA and the hands on approach we take is very important to the high standards that we set on our line of outdoor apparel.

The five%er:
In the fall of 2014, I started sharing all of my hard work with some industry insiders. I figured it was time to introduce THLETE, Inc. to the rest of the world and see what type of feedback would come my way. As expected, there was criticism, but the majority of responses were overwhelmingly positive.

Criticism is an interesting thing, especially when there is no one else to blame. I started THLETE, Inc. from the ground up so I knew that any criticism would fall directly on my shoulders. One of the most intriguing responses I got was, “with a company structure like that, you will not even appeal to 10% of the industry, probably more like 5%”. At the time, I did not recognize the value that the statement held. The more I thought about it, the more I could apply the company’s core values to the five%er ideal.

-We manufacture in short runs with extreme attention to detail.
-We utilize only top end, researched fabrics from reputable sources. For real.
-Our price-point is competitive for the end product.
-We use custom in house designed macro camo patterns.
-We sell consumer direct allowing for more generous price points.

What can I do that my competitors don’t? What will set us apart from the rest of the market? In my opinion, the camo clothing market has already become saturated with brands. The majority of clothing manufactured today is made with sub-par fabrics in cheap labor factories overseas. We hand select fabrics with tested attributes and have our gear hand made by industry specific professionals who are passionate about what they do. Bottom line, we raise the bar and demand more out of our product line and the people who manufacture it. It is our attention to detail and hands on approach that sets us apart from our competitors.

The process:
I amped up my research and spent the majority of my free time compiling ideas, info, and contacts. I started attending fabric trade shows and meeting with people that could help me achieve my goal. I learned quickly that I had barely scratched the surface of fabrics and manufacturing and it was not until I attended the OR show in Salt Lake that I saw the big picture. I learned more at that show than I had in the previous six months of research.

I quickly realized what was possible and what was not. By networking with the right people, I saved months of research and development time. I left the OR show in 2014 with a solid idea of where I was going and how I was going to get there and had a much better vision of the path THLETE would follow.

I revised my plan to fit a niche market and go after a more select group of hunters. I decided that if I couldn’t make a lot of gear, I would make less but make it very well.

I did not come into this industry an expert, and I still do not consider myself one. That may sound strange, but at the pace that fabric technology is moving, it is challenging to keep up. Every year we are astounded by the innovations in the textile market, and we do our best to stay in contact with reputable fabric manufacturers that push the limits of fabric tech each year. The fabric manufacturers are the real experts in textile innovation, so we rely on them to help us keep our brand innovative. Where I feel that we do excel is in design. Our hands on, USA designed approach gives us an edge in R&D which in turn leads to more functional apparel.

Why I do this:
I do this because I appreciate good gear. Good gear can make or break a hunt. It is truly a good feeling to know that you are completely prepared for your trip and know that every aspect is covered and your preparation will pay off. Your gear is a reflection of that feeling and having the right gear that will not let you down and will perform at the highest level is paramount. That is what we are trying to do here, prepare you for that hunt.

“Do something you love, and you will never work a day in your life”:
The main reason I do this is passion, plain and simple. I love the outdoors, and I love to hunt. While the above quote does ring true to an extent, this endeavor has been one hell of a lot of work but with the work has come an overwhelming amount of gratification. This journey has had its ups and downs, but I can honestly say that it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. As for me, I simply love this sport. The outdoors and bow-hunting are among the deepest loves I have outside of my family.

I want to provide our customer with a product that he/she is proud to wear and I hope my passion for the outdoors translates into the gear that we manufacture.

-Mike Zaudke
CEO
Thlete, Inc. (Backcountry Athlete)