Grays Harbor Unders, a line of innovative dual layer under garments, has been manufactured in Hoquiam since 2013. With inventiveness, determination, hard work and love for the Harbor, Mario Winkelman and his son, attorney Ben Winkelman, have succeeded in building a thriving business in Hoquiam.
Marius Winkelman, whose name mutated into Mario in his new American home, was born in Hoensbroek in the Netherlands. His family immigrated to Canada to seek opportunity after their home was devastated in World War II. In 1962, the family relocated to Compton, California, where Marius graduated from high school in 1971.
Fleeing city life, which he finds “wrong and unnatural,” Mario mounted his motorcycle. He found himself in Grays Harbor, building roads for Simpson Timber Company in the historic Grisdale logging camp in the Olympic Mountains. His girlfriend Gail followed him north. The couple got married in 1973 and raised four sons.
Where the Grisdale logging camp was receives 160 inches of rain per year. Working outdoors in this climate for 14 years made Mario aware of the importance of good underwear. “My cotton underwear created a slimy layer which tenderized my skin making it soft and wrinkly,” he remembers.
Underwear stayed on Mario’s mind long after Grisdale closed down in 1985. A 32 state motorcycle trip made him painfully aware of another underwear problem: sitting on seams. He tried out many kinds of base layers on the market, without success. Two problems caused discomfort: moisture on the skin and protruding seams.
“After much suffering, I decided to make my own motorcycle underwear, “says Mario who had no sewing experience except watching his expert seamstress mother. A friend who owned a clothing factory was willing to sew Winkelman prototypes. “There were no motorcycle shorts available on the market. We constructed shorts with end seams low down the thigh where they did not create friction. Using flexible cotton spandex fabric, we were able to make the shorts from two halves with a center seam only. After some trial and error, we came up with a good pattern. However, the cotton spandex still held moisture against the skin.”
The Winkelmans‘ breakthrough discovery was a dual-layer micro fiber. Even after being immersed in water, this fabric will instantly transfer the moisture to the outer layer leaving the inner layer dry.
After earning a B.A. in International Business from Evergreen State College, Mario began producing his evaporative cooling base layers for the international motorcycle market under the brand name LD (Long Distance) Comfort in 1998. The shorts were soon followed by tights and more garment designs including tops, socks and helmet liners. While motor biking in the Mojave Desert, Mario invented the perfect cooling system. He watered his under garments and opened the cuffs of his leather jacket allowing the wind to cool the water filled outer layer. The company’s new ‘Power Temp Cool Sleeve’ is based on this principle. The LD Comfort product line has been enormously successful in motorcycle competition. Long distance riders win new records wearing it because they need fewer stops to cool down.
Underwear For All
The Winkelmans found that the drying properties of their fabric also kept the wearer warm in the cool and wet climate of the Pacific Northwest. In order to market their clothing line outside the motorcycle community, they launched Grays Harbor Unders in 2013. The high-end prices of a superior quality, locally manufactured product, were offset by durability. Customers including loggers and fishermen, the police force, skiers, sport fishermen, hunters and athletes soon discovered the cost effectiveness of GHUnders.
Today, the GHUnders line includes special designs for women, youth sizes, large sizes up to 4 XL and custom designs for individuals with special needs. Products are sold locally onsite as well as online from the GHUnders website.
Planned obsolescence or out sourcing to overseas cheap labor markets never entered Mario’s mind. He loves the Harbor and is proud of his community. When he was able to purchase the former Aquatic Center building in 2005, he hired local labor to turn the pool into a floor-heated manufacturing hall. The heating system was installed by Robbins Air. The Winkelmans preserved as much of the original Aquatic Center structure as possible including the bathrooms and Hoquiam artist Jenny Fisher’s colorful mural of swimmers.
The manufacturing process is enhanced by one of Mario’s inventions, a rail suspended from the ceiling which keeps the power cord of the electric cutting tool always straight above the hand of the cutter along the 50 foot cutting table.
Today up to ten locals are employed by GHUnders. Mario and Ben are planning an even greater community involvement in the future: the onsite manufacturing of their fabric. “We need to save up. The machines are expensive, “says Mario with a confident smile.