John Fernsell, CEO of Ibex, is an iconoclast. That makes him both relevant and successful.
Fernsell, a Boston investment banker turned manufacturer, has headquartered his company in White River Junction, Vermont. That unusual choice alone makes him a maverick, but there’s more to it.
In the September 2012 issue of Outside magazine, Fernsell was quoted as saying, “in the investment business my mantra was, when everyone else is doing something, you don’t want to go that route.” True to his words, he applied that anti-herd mentality to building an outdoor apparel manufacturing business in the United States. It was the late 90’s. Nonconformity was not the norm.
Fernsell and his business partner and friend Peter Helmetag started Ibex in 1997. Their vision was to create outdoor clothing for the more than casual outdoor enthusiast: mountain climbers and backcountry skiers, for example. Their vision, at the time, flew in the face of prevailing conventional wisdom. Ibex did not follow the trend of using synthetic materials for their apparel. They chose instead natural and renewable wool. Nor did Ibex choose to manufacture, like many others in the outdoor industry, all their apparel in China. According to Fernsell, “we wanted at least 50 percent of our production to be done in the U.S.—and we’ve never strayed from that.” Crazy? Nope. Spot-on. Today Ibex is a company of 12 employees with revenues exceeding $20 million. Not too shabby. Ibex continues to make wool clothing, and they continue to manufacture in the United States. Their product line now includes baselayers, midlayers, jackets, and accessories.
The eponymous ibex is a tough and unique mammal in its ability to survive in harsh mountain climates. John Fensell and Ibex are unique in their ability to buck trends and prosper while doing just the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Ibex, in both regards, are not sheep.
For more information about John Fernsell and other outdoor gear manufacturers in the United States check out the full Outside article.