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Old-country comforter inspired clothing industry

Immigrant StoriesGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Klaus Obermeyer
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Klaus Obermeyer came to the United States in 1947 looking for a career as an aerospace engineer. After a series of odd jobs he quickly made his way to Aspen, where the ski industry was burgeoning. It was the cold lift rides in heavy wool clothes and something his mother insisted he bring with him from Germany that inspired Obermeyer’s international clothing industry.Gallacher: Do you remember when the wheels started turning for you as far as the making of clothing?Obermeyer: Yes, those cold rides up the ski lift made the wheels turn in my head for warm, comfortable clothing that would allow me to not only ride up the lift but also ski down. I could stay warm in wool going up but coming down it was heavy and confining. I had this down comforter that my mom made me take to America. She said, “You are going to North America, it must be cold there or else it wouldn’t say North America, so you better take this.” And I said, “Oh no, I’ve got all these skis and poles and boots and clothing.” “Nope,” she said “you’ve got to take this comforter.” So I cut up the comforter and made a down parka out of it. It was probably the first down parka, I don’t know. But it looked like Michelin Man with those big puffy arms, but I could ski in it. I was really warm going up and really warm coming down, and I could ski freely. A student in one of my ski classes wanted to buy it from me for a lot of money. He said, “Let me try that parka of yours,” and he tried it and thought it was fantastic. He paid me $350 for it, which was unbelievable because the lift tickets were only $4 a day. Gallacher: Then the wheels really started turning.Obermeyer: Yes, oh my god! I thought if somebody is willing to pay that much for comfort, warmth and freedom of movement, then I have to make more of them. I went back to Europe the next summer and I went to see a friend of mine in Munich who had a bedding factory. “You’ve got to make me down parkas,” I said, “I have enough money for about 75 of them.” And he said “No. I make pillows and I make comforters, I don’t make parkas.” “C’mon,” I said, “Let’s go have a few beers and talk about it.” So we had a few beers and that softened him up a little bit and he said, “OK, I’ll make you those bloody parkas, but you’ve got to bring me the zippers and the knitted sleeve cuffs.” I agreed to get the zippers and the cuffs, and he made me 75 parkas, and they looked so much better. They had nice arms and they didn’t look like Michelin Man anymore. When I brought them back to the United States they sold like hotcakes, they were just gone, like that. There was just a wide open market back then, if you had the right things.Gallacher: Did you have any competition?Obermeyer: Are you kidding? If I had had competition I would never have made it. (laughs)


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