Training Apparel That’s Made in the USA
A new startup called Vast Terrain taps U.S. suppliers to make top-shelf goods
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For Carrieann Banacki-Gillert, the path to Russia’s Mount Elbrus started on the steamy streets of Tampa, Florida. That’s where the private equity company where her husband, Carl, works is headquartered, so Banacki-Gillert logs a lot of Florida mileage training for her high-mountain goals that include climbing the Seven Summits. She’s notched Elbrus and Kilimanjaro so far. “The stairmaster is my best friend,” she jokes. But she wasn’t impressed with the training apparel she found on the racks at shops like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Lululemon.
“It was almost impossible to find workout clothing that was made in the U.S.,” Banacki-Gillert says. The few companies that do make training apparel domestically (such as Rabbit running apparel and Boathouse rowing gear) don’t always use American-made fabrics. The few all-American pieces that she did find fell into the athleisure category, so they didn’t meet her expectations for moisture management and odor control. She prefers to buy local whenever possible, “Because when you don’t transport a T-shirt for 4,000 miles, it’s better for the environment.”
So in 2015, Banacki-Gillert started thinking about launching her own apparel brand. She’d already transitioned out of a position as an adjunct art professor to work for an online apparel retailer. That second career taught her about the clothing retail scene. Meanwhile, she spent three years researching an all-American supply chain and ended up developing her own proprietary fabrics. “There are no activewear mills here, they’re all overseas,” she says.
Carl’s income was able to provide the $250,000 the couple needed to create and trademark their own performance fabric called XeroHydro, which is milled in Unity, North Carolina. The synthetic fibers in XeroHydro yarns have more surface area than most, so they not only mop more sweat but also dry faster and feel cooler, thanks to speedy moisture evaporation.
The couple didn’t stop there. They also formulated their own superstretchy fabric for leggings, and they developed an antimicrobial fabric—called Argentum—that doesn’t get stinky even after a week of hot-weather workouts without laundering. That’s because bacteria-inhibiting silver salts are embedded in the fabric, so they never wash out. The couple discovered the technology at a mill that makes antimicrobial bedsheets for hospitals, and working with that mill and chemists in Los Angeles, they were able to translate the innovation to activewear.
“I wore that sample shirt on six runs in the Florida heat, and just air-dried it between workouts, and there was no odor,” Banacki-Gillert says. “That’s when we knew we had something good.”
With her fabrics dialed, she turned to a freelance designer and patternmaker to turn her wish list into wearable clothing. Her must-haves were dictated by Florida’s climate, which is buggy enough to make capris more practical for running than shorts. But she needed maximum ventilation, given Tampa’s temperatures. “I tried to build in features that runners and hikers would like, not just stuff that would look pretty,” she says. Even the company name—Vast Terrain—nods to horizons beyond gym walls.
The first Vast Terrain products for women and men hit the market in April 2018, using a direct-to-consumer model. “That keeps the price at a level where people would give it a shot,” says Banacki-Gillert. “We wanted to make something that was better than Lululemon but was also affordable,” she explains. Vast Terrain expects $500,000 in sales by the end of 2019.
The initial launch included the Perpetual Motion capris and Infinity Techincal tee, but has since expanded to yoga leggings for women and long-sleeved crew necks (the founders’ favorite for mountaineering), workout shorts, and tank tops. The collection morphs comfortably from the gym to the trail.
Vast Terrain’s Perpetual Motion capris ($85) features flatlock seams; Banacki-Gillert located the only U.S. factory that’s capable of creating true flatlock stitching, which chafes less than other seam types. Mesh panels behind the knees provide a lot of ventilation, and a waterproof pocket on the back of the waistband protects a phone from unexpected rain.
Testing the capris here in Colorado, I noticed that the waterproof pocket traps sweat, but it was the only part of these pants that ever got clammy. Vast Terrain’s proprietary Mollia fabric feels comfortably soft and breathable and resulted in zero chafing while running and hiking.
I’m even more impressed with the Aeris Technical tank ($40), which uses Vast Terrain’s antibacterial Argentum fabric. After several weeks of wear, it hasn’t developed the lingering odor that typically collects in my synthetic tops. And it stays dazzlingly dry during supersweaty workouts. I’ve been testing it at indoor spin classes, where I generally drench whatever I’m wearing, but the Aeris rarely feels damp. It’s among the best-performing synthetics I’ve ever worn.
I also like the fit of both pieces, especially the tank. The racerback design allows for full freedom of movement, and the hem stays put during exercise. According to Banacki-Gillert, that’s because the hem is bonded rather than stitched. “It adds a bit of weight and clings to the body a bit, so it doesn’t keep sliding up over your hips,” she explains.
Plus, she adds, the fabrics don’t snag or pill. “You can wear them beneath a backpack or wear them through mud and scrub, and they can handle that kind of abrasion,” she says. The Via Long Sleeve top ($62) is her favorite for summit bids. (Aconcagua is next on her list of Seven Summits, after a climbing/hiking trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.. “It was really important to me that these pieces be performance-oriented, not athleisure.”