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Wiggy's founder shouts gospel of Lamilite from Grand Junction factory

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By Jason BlevinsThe Denver Post


Jerry Wigutow, the founder of Wiggy's, holds the first sleeping bag he made. Wigutow and his dog, Cookie, were at his production facility in Grand Junction earlier this month. (Photos by William Woody, Special to The Denver Post)

GRAND JUNCTION — Jerry Wigutow is herding Cookie through his vast warehouse, keeping the black poodle from gnawing the sedan-sized rolls of Climashield stacked to the ceiling.

"Here it is. The only one in the world," he says, showing off the hand-built machine that laminates Climashield, converting the popular continuous-filament insulation into Lamilite, the water-shedding fiber that fills his Wiggy's sleeping bags and parkas.

Wigutow has been a boisterous prophet of Lamilite for several decades, urging gearmakers to use his version of Climashield, which is manufactured in Tennessee by Harvest Consumer Insulation. His proprietary laminating process makes Climashield easier to use, more economical and more efficient, he said.

Jerry Wigutow is surrounded by stacks of sleeping bags, which are stuffed with Lamilite, a water-shedding fiber. The U.S. military is a big customer of his. (William Woody, Special to The Denver Post)

Since 1988, he has been selling his Lamilite-lined Wiggy's sleeping bags and outerwear from Grand Junction. He was lured to town from South Carolina by a $30,000 grant from the local economic development group.

He has had 35 employees for nearly 20 years and has never pondered following nearly every other U.S. outdoor gearmaker to Asia. He's proud that every component in all Wiggy's products is from the U.S. That helped him become the largest all-domestic provider of sleeping bags to the U.S. military.

He scoffs at the notion that U.S. textile production was withered due to a lack of skilled labor. The workers are here and ready, he said. The problem, he said, is that most textile suppliers are in Asia.

"Most of that supply chain has to come back here if the U.S. wants to regain its lost production," he said. "I think it's going to be a long time before production comes back."

Still, Wigutow pushes his Lamilite to all outdoor gearmakers.

"I will sell Lamilite to anyone. I'm not interested in restricting it just to me," he said. "I'd like to see every jacket maker in the country using my product."
Jerry Wigutow shows the inside of the first sleeping bag he made. "When you are buying a Wiggy's bag, it's an investment," he said. "If you buy any other bag, you are wasting your money."

Wigutow was one of the first beneficiaries of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership's incentive program. The return on that investment "is obvious," executive director Kelly Flenniken said.

"That's the ideal — when a business comes and they stay," she said. "The outdoor industry is a target industry for our organization."
If you have never heard of Wiggy's, that's understandable. Wigutow doesn't sell to retailers, although he has a shop in Anchorage, Alaska. He won't provide magazine editors with free gear for reviews. He hasn't advertised for many years.

"I've never seen a buyer respond to an ad," he said.

He doesn't do any marketing beyond posting customer testimonials on his website, including a video from a Canadian buyer who slept comfortably in a soaked Wiggy's bag on a chilly night.

"I can't tell you many people saw that video and ordered bags. We are an online, mail-order company and a military supplier," he said, checking his laptop as it pings. "See, there's another order right here."

The U.S. military is his largest customer. In his warehouse, a vacuum pump packs his Lamilite parkas, mittens, overboots, balaclavas and pants into purse-sized emergency survival packs for the Air Force's B-52 bomber crews. Crates of his camouflage sleeping bags and parkas await shipment to California's Camp Pendleton. His victim-casualty hypothermia bag is popular with cold-weather rescue crews, including the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska.

"What I'm about to show you cannot be done with any other insulating material on the planet," he said, kneading a strip of his Lamilite in a water-filled basin. "As you can see, the loft of the insulation has not changed. Because of that thickness, the heat your body is producing drives the moisture out."
Wigutow doesn't mince words when it comes to his sleeping bags, which he calls "the very best in the world." His promotional push includes penning monthly online diatribes on what he calls "the fallacy of down."

Wigutow can veer into the bombastic when talk turns to down sleeping bags or other synthetic insulation companies. When down absorbs moisture from perspiration, it loses loft and warmth, making it "inferior" and "dangerous," he said.

"When you are buying a Wiggy's bag, it's an investment," he said. "If you buy any other bag, you are wasting your money."
The price of a Wiggy's sleeping bag is similar to that of any high-end bag.

Kyler Ross, a nursing student from Grand Junction, arrived last week to pick up a summertime sleeping bag after hearing about Wiggy's from a friend. The last time he camped at Lake Powell, a storm flattened his tent and soaked his sleeping bag.

"That bag never really dried," said Ross, placing an order for a second bag. "I'm excited to try this out. I want to support the local economy, and this is high quality."

jblevins@denverpost.com or twitter.com/jasonblevins

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