DAEGWALLYEONG-MYEON, SOUTH KOREA Two weeks ago, when Ralph Lauren unveiled its U.S. Olympic athletes uniform for the PyeongChang Games' opening ceremony, Bradford Peterson's phone blew up with ecstatic messages from friends.
"Even today I'm still getting congratulations," said the Denver-based co-founder and creator of the distinctive Astis brand of mittens and gloves. The company's high-cuffed, handmade leather ski gloves combine old-school American Indian and Western influences with high-tech wicking fabrics.
Thing is, the gloves Ralph Lauren designed for American Olympians at the opening ceremony -- described by the iconic clothier as "brown suede explorer gloves with fringe and hand-beading" -- may look a lot like Astis, but they are not Astis. They probably were inspired by Astis, though.
Peterson said Ralph Lauren's people spent a couple of years talking with him and his team about the design and domestic manufacturing of the distinctive mitts.
It was 2016 when Peterson received a call from a senior vice president of luxury lifestyle fashion, design and media. (He read that off an e-business card when retelling the story.) The executive loved Astis. They talked about partnering and working together to accessorize the Olympian parade uniforms. Peterson and his childhood friend and business partner, Charlie Brown, were excited. They sent the executive potential pictures of patriotic mitts.
"We thought it was great, that's our dream and it would be the most amazing thing," he said. "And then they went silent."
A few months later, Peterson fielded another call from someone at Ralph Lauren who this time didn't share their title. He asked about manufacturing locations and material sourcing. Peterson pushed the caller about the curiosity.
"Because we are thinking about partnering with you," Peterson recalled the caller saying, which he remembers because he sent an email to his business partners saying Ralph Lauren was again possibly pondering a partnership.
Then last month, the week that Outdoor Retailer arrived in Denver -- a rally of the outdoor industry's retailers and manufacturers -- Ralph Lauren announced its made-in-America opening ceremony athlete kits. The water-shedding, red-white-and-blue parka has a battery-powered heating system. The jeans have "moto-inspired seaming." The uniform includes red-laced waffle-stomper boots and those fringed, beaded "explorer gloves."
A spokeswoman for Polo Ralph Lauren declined to comment for the record, but emailed a statement noting the company explores relationships with many partners while producing garments.
"The American West has been a well-established source of inspiration for Ralph Lauren, and the design team had always conceived of creating a Western-inspired glove for Team USA's opening ceremony uniform," reads the statement. "The gloves were inspired by vintage ranch gloves and rugged Western style, and we explored production with a number of manufacturing partners to execute the design vision."
Peterson spent more than a decade skiing in a pair of leather gauntlet mittens a friend had made by a Cree woman. Then Peterson's sister's dog ate them.
When he went looking for a replacement, he saw a market opportunity. Joining his pal Brown, the duo in 2010 minted a design that mirrored the craftsmanship of the Cree, with long cuffs, ornamental beads and tough leather. They lined the mittens with technical Polartec fabric.
"This all started because I run super cold and I just needed a warm mitten," Peterson said. "We didn't invent the wheel. We just made this glove for the ski market because we saw a hole there."
Ralph Lauren sold out of the $995, limited-edition Team USA Ceremony suede gloves in the first weekend. Peterson and Brown sell their Astis long-cuff mittens and gloves for $195.
Peterson admits he's disappointed. But he's taking the high road. He's not about to get in a spat with Ralph Lauren. Maybe folks will see those gloves and find Astis, he said.
"Ralph Lauren is introducing them to so many people. So many more people will be exposed to that style and that's a good thing," he said. "They are not making them for the long haul, and if people really like them, we are here."
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, [email protected] or @jasonblevins
© Copyright (c) 2018 The Denver Post Corp., source Newspapers