Alps & Meters is raising the bar for the future of mountain-ready apparel. We traveled to Boston, Massachusetts to meet the man (and the sweater) behind the brand.
It’s fitting that Mr. Lou Joseph’s earliest memories are from the year his parents moved their family to Massachusetts — during the blizzard of 1978. As the man who today runs alpine apparel company Alps & Meters, his story has been marked by snow since day one.
“My mother would cart my twin brother and I as kids to learn how to ski at Blue Hills Ski Area, a 309-foot hill of hard pack,” says Lou Joseph. He smiles and leans back in his chair. “We’d ski in jeans and gators and smelly long underwear on 200 cm skis as thin as toothpicks. I’d say nothing is more pure than that.”
And while those early days in Massachusetts hold a romance for Mr. Joseph that is unrivaled, the nostalgic entrepreneur has since skied some of the most notable terrain in the world, from Aiguille du Midi to Jackson Hole and Park City. And in 2008, amidst his busy schedule as Head of Global Product-Marketing at Puma, Joseph took an impromptu trip to Sweden. One that would lead him to discover the key ingredient to his newest adventure: the ingredient of inspiration.
Upon visiting Åre Resort on his trip, Lou came across a vintage ski sweater at the local thrift shop. Beyond its coarse, dense yarn, it exuded a romance unlike the technical gear he was used to wearing.
“I think what I really responded to was the time and place the garment represented,” says Joseph. “It had this interesting, analog exterior. So I started wearing it on all of my trips.” And wherever he did, Lou would get mobbed in lift lines by curious skiers. “People would ask why I was wearing it as an outerwear garment and where it was from. I think it just transported them to a different time. A different place.”
When enough strangers offered to buy the sweater off his back (one individual for as much as $3,000), Lou’s idea for an alpine brand with a traditionalist bent gained steam. “I wondered, ‘where are the brands below the tree line that are simple, traditional, and believe in the way that alpine sport used to be?’ That was the genesis of starting Alps & Meters.”
Launched in winter 2014 and now well into their second season, Alps & Meters is designing and producing small collections of products that fuse classic garment construction with a blend of technical and organic materials. The result of which is an altogether unique line of elevated alpine gear. In a market that has mostly become homogeneous when it comes to outerwear, Alps & Meters offers part nostalgia, part performance, and a heaping dose of originality.
“I want our pieces to be very striking,” says Joseph. “I want people to see our product on the slopes and be able to say, ‘That’s an Alps & Meters jacket.’ I think we’ve set a pretty high benchmark for the optic of our pieces, as well as with their unique forge performance characteristics. It’s got to jump off the page to us. I’m just not into making things that people have seen before.”
And you haven’t seen things like this before. Take their Shawl Collar Jacket, made with water repellent full grain leather and knitted lambswool (lined with a waterproof inner layer). Or their Alpine Anorak, cut like a snowboard jacket but constructed of a fortified British Millerain waxed canvas exterior and internal 10k/10k waterproof membrane. There’s nothing else like it on the market.
“I found it really interesting that nobody was using leather. I worked with a lot of leather in my footwear career and it’s a really bomb-proof material. Plus the knicks and scratches offer this nice, memory-keeping effect.” When used where other brands select polys and blended materials, the result is stunning. But getting there hasn’t been easy.
Most supply chains make it difficult to bridge such original construction techniques alongside both performance and organic materials, so it’s taken Joseph some time to find factories that can execute to his standards. But now that he has, his vision has come to life in a collection of pieces that would feel more at home in Barneys New York than REI. “After combining all these elements into the pot — the right fabrics, the right designers, the right people on our team — I’m stirring it up and…I don’t know. It tastes pretty good to me.”
Like his melting pot sensibility for creating his brand, Lou is well attuned to the coming together of unique people with a common spirit. He’s spent enough time with alpinists across the globe to understand what makes them tick. He’s one of them himself, after all.
“There’s some interesting connective tissue between everyone. Between Las Vinas, Argentina and Queenstown, New Zealand. If you put alpinists and skiers in a room, it’s an instant family. It doesn’t matter what kind of other differences exist.”
When we press into that concept further, Lou pauses for a moment, almost as if to recall the faces of those he’s met on lifts and lodges in years past.
“I think adventurers are less skeptical,” he says, breaking the silence. “They believe in possibilities. And that’s why they’re willing to take risks. Adventurers have this faith that things are going to work. You’re probably not going to try to climb a mountain if you don’t believe in a positive outcome. Life is challenging. Everyone gets bumped and bruised, but I think the ability to keep some degree of momentum and not suffer from inertia is what it’s about.”
He pauses again. “That’s the key to adventure, whether you’re in the Alps or just hanging out on your local hill, riding a double chair and enjoying another day in the mountains.”
Visit classfare.com/shop for our favorite items, or go to alpsandmeters.com for the entire collection.