Twin Cities athletic-wear firms Podiumwear Custom Sports Apparel and WSI Sports already have won it big in this month's Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, where they'll outfit ski teams from the United States, Australia, Great Britain, Argentina and Canada.
Eagan-based WSI Sports will dress the U.S. ski jumping team in special high-tech undersuits, while St. Paul-based Podiumwear Custom Sports Apparel is making competition and warm-up suits for the Argentina cross-country ski team, the Australia Nordic team, the Canadian combined ski jumping and Nordic team and Britain's Olympic biathlon team.
It also made the ski training suits for U.S. and world Nordic ski champion Jessie Diggins of Afton, as well as for U.S. cross-country ski champion Brian Gregg of Minneapolis. Both wore Podiumwear's suits when they qualified for and were named to their respective U.S. Olympic Nordic ski teams last month.
Podiumwear traditionally makes high school and semipro sports uniforms, and has made uniforms for Olympic teams in the past, but it now has more international teams wearing its gear. "It really is a validation that we are making world-class sports clothing," said Reid Lutter, owner of the 11-year-old company.
Podiumwear ski suits have a Made in Minnesota label, Lutter said, adding that he and his 18 workers are excited about the Olympic contracts, which generated tens of thousands of dollars in revenue for nearly 30 uniforms.
The company spent 12 hours a day this summer and fall cutting and customizing patterns, printing and dying fabrics and turning out quality, professional uniforms. Podiumwear shipped most of the ski uniforms to their respective countries by early January, but Lutter shipped Canada's last week. Monday, he received a call from Australia saying that the team needed three more customized ski suits for female competitors.
"It's a cool uniform," Lutter said. "It has the Sochi logo plus a kangaroo on it."
Lutter is excited about the entire Olympic affair. He coaches on the side, and watched U.S. Nordic skier Diggins grow into the sport from age 14. To honor her hard work, he asked her to become Podiumwear's ambassador in October.
Diggins, 22, rose from her post as a Minnesota state champion to become the national team sprint champion and Nordic skiing world champion. She was named to the U.S. Olympic Nordic team last month.
"We wanted someone really special to be the ambassador of the line," Lutter said of Diggins. "As a growing company that makes all our products here in Minnesota, we thought she would be the perfect representative. We couldn't be more thrilled."
Diggins helped design and test the company's new ski racing suit and training jacket. She wore her own design while qualifying for the Olympics. Because of Olympics rules, she can't wear the suit during the official proceedings in Sochi, but she's excited nonetheless.
"Representing a line made in my home state feels really good," Diggins said in a statement. "I feel awesome about supporting a line of ski clothes for girls. I have a lot of Minnesota and local pride in my community and ski culture. I think it's great that Podiumwear is made in the United States and specifically in Minnesota."
Minnesota's design and manufacturing muscle will be well-represented in Sochi. In June, sports clothier WSI Sports became an official sponsor and clothier of the U.S. ski jumping team. All uniforms will bear the "Made in the USA" label.
The 24-year-old WSI Sports is known for its breathable wicking fabrics, underwear and uniforms suited for skiing, football, hunting and other cold-weather sports. WSI founder and president Joel Wiens said his company has come a long way since being started at his kitchen table with just $3,000.
The U.S. ski jumping team will wear WSI's new high-tech, full-body undersuit at Sochi. The suit uses a special "Heatr fabric" to keep blood flowing and core muscles warm and a wicking material to keep athletes dry. The combination will help athletes stay warm and focused on winning medals, Wiens said.
Knowing how to tackle Minnesota's winters helped WSI win the U.S. ski uniform contract for Sochi, Wiens said.
"You know we're right in the heart of it as far as cold weather goes," he said.
Dee DePass • 612-673-7725