MIKE BRAUN Gillies Gear wants to clothe anglers, and everyone else
If you are a fly angler worth your salt, then you know that there are some good trout and steelhead waters within driving distance of our area.
What you may not know is that there is a local company -- Gillies Gear -- producing clothing that will make it more comfortable to catch those brookies, steelies, rainbows and browns.
The brainchild of a Canfield man, David R. Lewis III, the company began about four years ago with the fly angler in mind.
Now, however, Lewis hopes to continue his company's production of fly-fishing related clothing and accessories while opening his line up to all outdoor enthusiasts, even those who just want to wear the clothing.
"I've been doing this for about four years," Lewis said. "But it's really taken off in the last two years."
Got a vision
Lewis had been kicking around the sales and marketing fields for several years -- quality control for Guinness Beer and the medical equipment sales field to name two -- when he started envisioning a better way to make waders with waterproof zippers and neoprene. Being an avid fly angler was one reason for his vision.
"I started researching clothing and clothing design," he said and eventually started to design his own line of angling togs. The company name came via a friendship he had made while working for the Irish-connected Guinness company.
Gillies is an Irish-Scotch name for someone who guides fishermen, and after checking trademark rights and spelling derivations, Lewis discovered he had the perfect name for his new company.
Now, four years later, he says with confidence, "We make the best lightweight, breathable waders you can buy. The only other company making something like this is Simms."
There were the usual problems with a small company start-up, Lewis said, but after getting the kinks worked out, he started finding more and more customers.
"Success started slowly," he said. "But we recently won the Retailers Choice Award from a national fly-fishing retailers association."
Lewis also said the company recently completed designing its 2002-03 line of products. Other areas Gillies Gear is looking into involves the acquisition of companion companies to help widen its offerings, completing work on some of the patents that are pending and expanding product lines.
Made to exacting specifications, Lewis' company offers a line of clothing that includes lightweight and guideweight waders that look and feel far superior to most others on the market as well as comfortable and warm sweaters, coats and jackets and a wader pack that could replace the usual bulky vest.
What set Gillies Gear apart from products made by rival companies is just how far ahead of the curve Lewis is on fabrics and features.
For example, in the Gillies Midland Wader, a lightweight version of the company's top-of-the-line Highland wader, there is double fabric in the leg area, an "exclusive" water-dam that helps prevent water from spilling into the bottom of the wader, flip-out interior Velcro pockets, thicker gravel guards and a removable suspender system.
In addition, Lewis said, the waders are made of fabric from Squires Hightech of Connecticut.
"My niche is in the Saddle-Cloth and StormSeal materials from Squires," Lewis said. StormSeal is 100 percent waterproof, burr proof, and best of all, completely silent, he explained.
Lewis said with these materials there is no "swoosh-swoosh" sounds one gets with standard materials when casting fly equipment or even just walking in the woods. "Nobody else has these materials," he said. "I have the license for them."
Other Gillies products include the Irish River Coat, for wading in harsh conditions, water repellent commando sweaters, the aforementioned Highland and Midland waders and wader packs, two separate multi-pocket, attachable/detachable packs that are worn on the wader suspenders.
He has his sights set firmly on such industry giants as Columbia, Patagonia, Orvis and others. He said that some of the other companies have settled into a routine -- few innovations, few new colors -- one that he thinks he can target.
"People don't want to pay $185 for a fleece top they can get at Target," he said.
He added that Gillies Gear is interested in making clothing that people will want to wear while hunting and fishing or out for the evening. "People want functionality as well as fashion," Lewis said.
Other items in the works include a line of bags "for all types of activities," he said, adding "they will not be just for fishing but for traveling or kayaking or skiing, whatever activities you have in mind."
Sold all over
So far Gillies Gear is spreading very well sales wise. "We sell all over," Lewis said, "but we have a heavy concentration in the Pacific Northwest and the Rockies." However, he said, sales are starting to take off in the Midwest and the Northeast.
His products are starting to get noticed all over as well. Many fly-fishing magazines have featured the waders and coats. Notable consumers include film producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Top Gun," "Armageddon," "Black Hawk Down") and Robert Mondavi of Mondavi Wines fame.
Lewis, who got hooked on fly-fishing while angling with friends in college, gets a bit irked when he mentions his product to someone not from our area and is met with a surprised look.
"I get asked 'What do we know about fishing in Ohio'," he said. "I tell them about our steelhead fishing, which is better than even the Northwest, and about the trout fishery in Pennsylvania."
Gillies Gear is available locally at Books & amp; Hooks Fly Shop, 110 Maple Ave. in Girard (330) 545-1906, online at www.gilliesgear.com or at (330) 533-6490.