Female-owned Steamboat start-up launches ‘WhatVest’ for skiers and snowboarders
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Nadia Burton, Steamboat Springs resident and owner and designer of Big Hollow Designs, often jokes that she quit her 40-hour-per-week job in energy research at the University of Wyoming to work 80 hours per week.
It was a decision she made in 2016 to give her time to start Big Hollow Designs, a small business that specializes in river outerwear and gear and mountain-inspired jewelry.
“I often say that I got a degree in SHK — the school of hard knocks — learning through experience, through taking a risk,” said Burton, who splits her time between Steamboat and Laramie, Wyoming. “I just trusted my heart and artistic passion and made as many things as I could. It took believing in myself, trusting the process and learning from my mistakes in order to continue moving forward.”
For the 2018-19 ski season, Big Hollow Designs released a new, limited run of the WhatVest.
The new WhatVest line comes in four colors including camo, rasta, turquoise and rust, which is different than the color options found with other utility vests on the market.
Big Hollow Designs has also released two collaborative ski vests as part of the “One-Degree Collection” of Icelantic Skis, a company based in Golden specializing in high-quality Alpine skis.
Burton, originally from Castle Rock, was also Icelantic Skis’ first sponsored female athlete, designed the vest for those shredders who tend to travel light, carrying only the essentials for backcountry, side-country or in-bounds mountain travel.
“My take on the utility ski vest is more streamlined and purposeful for skiing and riding,” Burton said. “There are plenty of pockets, yet not so many that you can’t remember where you put something.
“Basically, it’s a very smart, functional substitute for a backpack on the hill,” she added.
Utility vests are typically made for hunting, flying, skiing and military purposes, and she was familiar with them thanks to her grandfather who was an outerwear designer, making technical ski vests back in the 1970s.
Burton, who has been skiing since she was 2 and skied professionally out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for most of the 2000s, is now a big mountain skier who travels the world. Burton said she started to get curious about utility vests after seeing them on various mountains.
Two years ago, she had the idea to make her first vest while she was apprenticing under Scott Ebinger of Atmosphere Mountainworks, a backpack and outerwear company in Laramie, Wyoming.
She created her first WhatVest later that same year, and it sold instantly. Her fourth vest was made for the CEO of Icelantic Skis.
“From that point on, I was fielding questions on the ski hill of where I got the vest and where they could buy one,” she said.
WhatVests are made from durable, coated Cordura fabric in a variety of colors with eight pockets, making them standout when seen on the mountain.
Burton and her husband, Josh, product tested the WhatVests at ski locations outside of Steamboat like Jackson Hole and Big Sky and even took them on a boat-ski expedition in the remote peaks of Patagonia’s oldest national park, Nahuel Haupi, near Bariloche, Argentina.
All fabrics used in the manufacturing of the WhatVest line are sourced in the United States, and all vests are sewn in Wyoming or Colorado.
In October 2018, Burton officially launched the “Ski/Snowboard Utility WhatVest” after completion of her first small-scale production run at a cut and sew facility in Denver the previous summer.
“It was challenging and more expensive to source U.S.-made materials and produce them locally,” said Burton. “But in the end, we have a high-quality product made of durable fabrics.”
Currently, WhatVests are available online at bighollowdesigns.com. Burton will also be selling them at a Big Hollow Designs tent at the T Bar during the first weekend of March.
“It’s long hours, and there will always be challenges that inevitably come up, owning your own business,” Burton said. “The immense support and stoke I feel from the tribe of friends, followers, supporters, you name it — they are the ones that keep me going.
“I’ve found my people. I’ve found my passion,” she added.
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“I could do that. It’s not that hard.” I think anyone who has a job has heard this comment, and it can be extremely irritating.