From necessity comes invention. Always has, always will, and especially holding true to anything involving sports. Whether it its a new type of shoe to keep from slipping, a different design of headgear for protection, a lighter type of clothing for speed or warmth, or any number of items to provide some kind of comfort while physically performing. And probably one of the sports where additions and developments are always changing shape would be on the slopes with skiers and snowboarders, always seeking refuge from the cold while still being able to do their tricks with ease. Which is how we got the local product we're talking about today.
--- Caro facemasks were designed out of a need for comfort and warmth while still being able to breathe and last beyond a single day's use. Creator Grey Walter took it upon himself with his sewing experience to design his own brand of mask for himself, which in turn after frequent use at the resorts spawned a breakout among local boarders for his unique and durable product. Over the past five years Caro has been steadily growing at a local level and is making a push onto the national scene, while still producing a good product that holds far better than some recognized names. I got the chance to chat with Grey about Caro, along with his thoughts on the sport.
Gavin: Hey Grey! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Grey: Well, I’m 32 years old originally from South Carolina. I grew up skateboarding during the Powell/Peralta and the Bones Brigade days. I’ll still watch "The Search for Animal Chin" and "Propaganda". My Dad used to take me to one of the only skateparks in SC called Transitions. I learned how to sew during my hippy days in college in Charleston, I had a friend that would make me patch work pants and so I asked her to teach me. I got a hold of a sewing machine and pick it up pretty quickly. I would go to concerts and sell clothes that I had made. Who would’ve thought that my hippie days would help me to start a business. In 2002, I moved out to Utah to work for a wilderness program and have been here ever since. I’m in grad school right now at the U.
Gavin: How did you first get into snowboarding and what was it like for you learning to ride?
Grey: I first tried snowboarding in NC and I hated every minute of it. Some friends took my up to Sugar Mountain and dropped me off at the top with no direction. It took me an hour to get down the run. I tried it cause I thought that it would be like skating. I swore I would never do it again. After moving out here to Salt Lake City nine years ago, I tried snowboarding again. It took some convincing from friends that it would be different than trying to learn on a slab of ice. My first real day was up at Brighton and I was by myself just figuring it out. I fell in love that first day and have been stoked on it ever since.
Gavin: Have you made any efforts to compete, or do you simply do it for enjoyment?
Grey: I’ve never really considered competing. I don’t think I would do well with the stress and limitations of competitions or maybe I’m just not consistent enough. I just love shredding with friends and pushing each other to learn new tricks and have fun.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to make a special facemask for yourself?
Grey: About five years ago, I decided that goggle tans and skin cancer weren’t that cool so I started to use basic bandanas to protect my face. But when it was cold, the bandana would just freeze up and was worthless. Since I knew how to sew I thought that I could make something that would be similar to a bandana but would keep my face warm and not freeze up instantly.
Gavin: What was it like developing the initial design and the changes you implemented?
Grey: It was interesting coming up with new ideas and making prototypes. Back then there really weren’t any other companies selling anything like it. I would make something and then would try it out on the mountain. Then I would go home and refine it until I got to what you see today. I honestly just started out trying to make something that would keep me warm and not freeze up.
Gavin: When did you figure out that you could turn it into a business? And where did the name Caro come from?
Grey: After I got the design just right for myself, I started to get comments on the mask when I was out riding. Friends started to tell me that I should try to sell them. At first I didn’t take them seriously. I just figured they were being nice. But more and more people would ask about it and say they would love to have something like it. So with some push from friends I decided to give selling them a try. I started with just offering to make custom masks for people. You give me a general idea and color scheme to work off of and I’ll make a dope one-of-a-kind mask for you. Lately, more and more companies have started to make some kind of mask to sell with their clothing line. So I thought of offering a line of masks that are not completely custom. Although, I’m small enough that if you get one, you’ll probably be the only person you see on the mountain with a caro facemask. When I was trying to think of name, I knew I wanted something short and simple. I figured it would be easier to remember that way. I was actually standing in my bedroom and sitting in my window was an old South Carolina license plate. I looked at it and saw CAROlina. So it didn’t seem worse than any other name I could come up with so… I also like that it puts a little southern flavor in the business and who couldn’t use some of that.
Gavin: The designs are made for simplicity and the ability to breathe with little flash or art. What made you go for more practicality than creativity?
Grey: Yeah, I think that if they don’t perform and hold up for what you need them to do then it’s just a waste. I also wanted the design to have a simple and classic style to it. I think that in today’s industry companies tend to do patterns and colors that are cool for about a week and then they are out of style again. It’s crazy; you can get masks that make you look like Mr. T or the nutcracker. I don’t wanna look like that. I wanted to make a mask that you could buy and then use for more than one season cause its classic and will go with whatever crazy patterns and prints that comes out every year. The masks also can be used more like a neck gaiter if that’s your thing. Companies design their boards around function, I didn’t see any reason to design my masks any other way.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when making one, from design to final product?
Grey: It’s pretty simple. I have templates that I use to cut out the fleece and the outer color material. Then, I just start sewing them up. Once they are sewn and ready, I get out my screen printing tools and I print each one based on the order. They are made to each order. I just got an order for four masks and will be making them in the next day or two and then I ship them out first class mail. They are a little time consuming but when I’m making multiple masks I try to use as much of an assembly type of system to make it a little easier. I love making them as much I love riding with them.
Gavin: What was it like for you when you started marketing them, and how did other boarders and skiers react to it when riding?
Grey: Marketing started very slow. I gave some out to friends and made some custom ones for others. Anyone that noticed the mask when I was wearing it would ask about it and seemed to get excited about it. It’s just been hard getting brand/logo recognition out and then to get word of mouth to start helping you. It’s also hard to fight with a person’s need for instant gratification. Most people want to ride to the store and pick one up right then. They don’t want to order them and have to wait. Without having my masks in stores I know that keeps Caro from being known. But this season, it seems that things are actually starting to pick up. Cross your fingers.
Gavin: I saw that you slightly branched out into t-shirts and headwear. Are there any plans to fully expand beyond the masks or will that be your main focus for now?
Grey: Until I can get the masks rolling out and going well, I’m not really focusing on much more. The next branch would be to start getting beanies and hats going and from there who knows. I never really thought that I would get this far so I’m just stoked for any opportunity to talk about them and spread the word that people really do have options other than Burton and Neff. And that they can support a truly local business and get cool stuff that is handmade and will last. Bigger companies have their stuff made by people who have no passion for snowboarding in some third world country.
Gavin: A little state-wide, what's your opinion on the way snowboarding is handled by the resorts? And is there anything you wish you could change?
Grey: I think resorts around here are getting on the band wagon. I’m glad to hear skiers are starting to recognize the contributions of snowboarding. The industry was dying and The Shred saved it. I’m stoked to see resorts constantly getting new features made and updating parks. It’s fun when a resort changes things up several times a season. I do wish though that some resorts would put a little more effort in mini-shred types of parks. Some of the stuff they build is so big and dangerous that 70% of people can’t really enjoy these 80 to 90 foot booters. But overall I’m glad resorts are stepping their game up to provide us with good fun to shred. Oh, and down with the Hitler ban from Alta and Deer Valley.
Gavin: Do you see any major changes on the horizon for skiing or snowboarding?
Grey: Every year I wonder what new stuff will be thrown down in videos and I can’t imagine what riders will come up with next. I just hope that we can somehow keep the snow falling so that there will be a horizon for skiing and snowboarding.
Gavin: Are there any local shops you like to work with or shop from?
Grey: I love Milosport. They are so nice and helpful when you go in. I have never seen or felt judged by any of their employees. They are the shit. I like Blindsight as well. I would love to work with Milo, level9 sports, or anyone that would support a business model like mine so...
Gavin: What's your take, both good and bad, on the way "extreme sports" are presented nowadays with the X-Games and time on ESPN?
Grey: I think it’s great that they cover our sport. I think they put a little too much emphasis on pipe riding, but it’s something. And I would love to see more of it shown instead of the 91st game of the braves that season, but what can you do.
Gavin: What can we expect from Caro and yourself over the next year?
Grey: You can expect to see me pushing it to try to get the name out. I’m just stoked to have the idea and the chance to do this. Support your local shops and companies! Also, I hope to maybe give some small sponsorship deals to young up and coming riders.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Grey: Support local businesses. Lenitech was a cool shop near the U, and they closed. Everybody is always looking for the cheap product. If we don’t watch it we’ll all be shopping for Burton, Rome, and Holden at Wal-Mart. Oh, and buy a Caro mask!
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