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Apocalypse Design crafts arctic gear for Alaska weather

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Posted: Saturday, November 3, 2012 10:10 pm | Updated: 11:55 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The folks who work at Fairbanks clothing manufacturer Apocalypse Design have a simple way of testing their products for the arctic climate: Let them sit on the porch for a winter.

New materials must undergo the crucible of a Fairbanks winter, said Bobbie Calice, manager at the Minnie Street business.

“Periodically, we go out and crinkle it and pull on it and try to tear it and see how it’s going to do sitting out there being exposed to the cold,” she said.

Consider what happened to a new variety of reflective tape that was recently considered. It failed the test because it had the unfortunate characteristic of curling up at cold temperatures.

Richard Flaharty founded Apocalypse Design in 1983, an outgrowth of his hobby of designing tough gear he said was otherwise unavailable for sports such as mountaineering and spelunking. The business now employs five to 15 people, depending on the season. Most work building gear in the workshop.

The name comes from The Apocalypse, a mountain in the southwestern Alaska Range, but the association with preparation for the end of time has not been bad for business for a company that makes clothing designed to be tough.

Gear at Apocalypse Design is not cheap. Prices for the heaviest “Expedition” coat start at about $600 and go up if customers require personalized features such as additional pockets. The business caters to a niche of people who spend time outside under difficult conditions, and customers see purchases as investments, Calice said.

“You’re not going to have to come back in two to three years because your insulation has fallen or your seams are completely stripping,” she said.

The business also specializes in repairs and custom jobs.

Among its customers are long-distance dog mushers, several Alaska police and fire departments — the business makes flame resistant gear and vests that hold body armor — and the Wyoming-based wilderness school NOLS.

Originally located on College Road near Illinois Street, Apocalypse Design is now based in a former three-bedroom, two-story house on Minnie Street that is home to a workshop and retail store. The workshop, the largest room, contains a table with sewing machine and a table for cutting fabric. One sewing machine was running on a visit Thursday morning, stitching together one of Apocalypse’s lightweight coats. Also in progress was a type of custom job the crew has tackled before: creating weather-proofing covers for a set of amplifiers.

Although it has design in the name, only two staff members generally do design work.

At this point there are not a huge number of modifications to the businesses’ main items such as its three grades of parkas. The business is hoping to win the contract for the Fairbanks Arctic Winter Games parade uniforms, which would be a chance to showcase its employees’ creative side, Calice said.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.

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