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I’m Jewish and grew up eating pierogies stuffed with mashed potatoes that my dad would make at home. The first time I went to New York City he also took me to a Polish restaurant and we ordered heaps of these delicious dumplings. They’re hands down one of my favorite foods and I have to admit I never expected to ski in a fleece jacket by the same name.
But sitting in my closet right now is one of my favorite midlayers that’s called the Pierogi jacket and it’s made by Flylow, the Lake Tahoe, California-based apparel company co-founded by Dan Abrams and Greg Steen. Abrams is Jewish too, so that’s why the word pierogi shows up in his catalog, but you have to admit it takes real chutzpah to name a jacket after a dumpling.
To find out how Abrams and his team landed on pierogi and many of the other unique names that Flylow uses for its apparel, I called him up a couple of weeks back. Abrams is one of the most approachable and good-natured people in the ski industry and he was more than happy to dive into the history of the company’s naming conventions. The short answer, he said, is that they don’t put too much pressure on themselves.
“To be honest, we just come up with names when we have to. We’ve always been way more focused on materials, fit, and performance. To say that we plan the names out in some sort of clever way would be disingenuous,” he said.
Flylow built its reputation on creating bomber ski apparel that would put up with the abuse Abrams, Steen, and their friends would dish out every ski season during their twenties. Their first big success was the Chemical pant (the pants are still in the line), which came with a burly outer fabric and 1,000-denier Oxford reinforced cuffs and knees and they were the company’s answer to the flimsy ski pants Abrams and his crew would often rip after a few days into each ski season.
He came up with the name “Chemical” because he liked the sound but also because he realized the pants were just made up of a bunch of different plastics, which are made out of various chemicals. Abrams says Flylow has always been environmentally invested by making gear that will last (and the company is currently investing heavily in recycled fabrics), but he wasn’t kidding himself about what materials were being used to make sure the pants kept skiers dry and warm.
“That name got me thinking about science, and that’s how we also eventually landed on the Quantum jacket,” he said.
When I asked Abrams about the Pierogi jacket he said the team was talking about how the jacket has a protective wind-resistant outer and soft inner fleece and he said the dumpling popped into his mind immediately.
“We were basically describing a pierogi when talking about that jacket,” he said. “At one point we also considered calling it the knish jacket, but that one is too hard to spell and there’s nothing sexy about a knish. There is something sexy about a pierogi.”
Nowadays when you visit the Flylow site and look for the Pierogi Jacket you also get clever copy written by Abram’s wife Megan Michelson that says, “Just like the doughy dumpling they’re named after, this midlayer is warm but lets off steam.”
I apparently wasn’t the first person to ask Abrams about the apparel names because he also pointed me to a blog post that has on its site called, “How That Jacket Got Its Name.” That post goes in-depth on various apparel names, but highlights include the Higgins Coat, which was named after the Higgins character in the 1980s crime-comedy TV series “Magnum P.I.”, the Brosé Work Shirt “for guys who drink rose,” and the Johnny Shirt which they suggest matching with the Cash Short. The Phil A Shirt is named after Abrams’ dad Phil who spent his life wearing a similar button-up shirt.
On a more serious note, there was the Jim Jack-et, a shirt-jacket hybrid named in honor of Jim Jack, a close friend of Flylow’s who died in an avalanche in 2012. There was also the Rudolph Jacket, a puffy named for Chris Rudolph, another friend who died in the same slide.
One time Abrams said the company decided to reach out to their customers and let them name a product. Hundreds of suggestions came in and they ended up going with the Larry Vest.
“Larry is just a fun word to say,” Abrams said.
Over the years Abrams has collaborated with other larger companies and seen the hoops those companies often jump through when coming up with names. Their marketing and legal teams end up having control so that the products don’t run into copyright violations and are named in such a way that they’ll sell as easily as possible.
Abrams has run into copyright issues, like the time he tried to name proprietary insulation “Yeti Loft” and was contacted by Yeti the bike company, but that still doesn’t keep him from airing it out and having fun. And while he owns a business, selling through isn’t his only goal.
“When we talk about names we don’t talk about what’s gonna sell, but instead we talk about not giving people a reason not to buy,” he said.
Whenever Abrams needs naming inspiration he likes to get outside. During the winter it’s a ski tour and during the summer it’s a mountain bike ride. He can recall several places along snowy or dirt trails where a good name came to him and he had one of those “ah ha!” moments. But day-to-day he never puts that much effort into product names. He knows the names will come to the team when they need to.
“To be honest, we’re not that worried,” he said.