By Justin Damasiewicz
Residents of the Pacific Northwest are faced with a unique set of climate challenges. It can be very hot or very cold, and humidity and precipitation are often present. The issue is compounded for people who are active. Whether the activity is work related or recreational, moisture in their garments is unavoidable.
Mario Winkelman has spent years creating and perfecting a solution to this problem. Along with his son and business partner, Ben Winkelman, Mario started a company called Grays Harbor Unders in 2013 and released a line of undergarments that is specifically designed for inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest.
Grays Harbor Unders’ product line is very popular with workers, outdoorsmen, hunters, runners and athletes in Grays Harbor County. This comes as no surprise, since the garments are designed specifically for them. Grays Harbor Unders even carries youth sizes and products that are designed specifically for women.
“Here in the Northwest, we fight the moisture all the time,” Mario said. “Whether it’s raining and you’re outside, or you’re working and you sweat. Whatever you do, your skin should be protected, and nothing will protect your skin better than the fabric we use.”
“People in Grays Harbor were uppermost in my mind when I decided to make Grays Harbor Unders because we work hard here and we play hard here and we are in extreme environments, like massive amounts of rain, high humidity and heat,” continued Mario. “All of the garments that were out there could never really provide the kind of performance that I knew we needed. I searched and searched for a long time, but never found a garment that performed as well as I needed it to, so I just made my own. I began by making them for myself (in 1972) because I knew the extremes I was going through.”
In 2005, Mario started a company called LD (Long Distance) Comfort, which sells undergarments that are designed for motorcycle riders. In 1999, Mario designed the first motorcycle riding shorts with a seamless seating area.
The material that is used for Grays Harbor Unders’ products, which Mario orders to meet his exact specifications, remains dry on the inner layer by forcing moisture to the outer layer. So it keeps skin dry, preventing irritation, and also uses evaporative cooling to regulate body temperature. In other words, a long-sleeved undershirt from Grays Harbor Unders is the ideal garment to keep you cool on a hot day. According to Mario, the garments can even be pre-loaded with water before activity to provide extra cooling power.
“I first designed these products years ago, predominantly for motorcycle riding, because I was riding one thousand miles a day, and it hurt,” Mario said. “So I fixed the problem by the design of the undergarments. Then I started researching fabrics until I found one that allowed me to always stay dry. It helped me stay dry, which is very important, but also, I can pre-load the outside layer with water and I used it as an evaporative cooling garment when I was going through the desert and it was 120 degrees. It gives you climate control inside your garments and helps you maintain your body temperature quite easily.”
Grays Harbor Unders’ products have become very popular in Grays Harbor’s local youth football leagues this year. The purpose that the undergarments serve is an ideal fit for football players in full pads.
“If you have ever worn football gear, you know that it gets pretty warm when you’re in full gear,” Ben said. “If you’re wearing those pads over a 100-percent cotton or polyester shirt it just feels slimy. Whether it’s hot or pouring down rain, moisture is an issue. Our products keep you dry, which keeps you cooler when it’s hot, or warmer when it’s cold.”
Mario moved to Grays Harbor County in 1972, just before he turned 19 years old, and has never regretted his decision. He spent the majority of his childhood and teen years in Los Angeles, California.
“I wanted to turn a 360-degree circle and see only nature,” Mario said. “I wanted to live where families knew each other, looked after each other and appreciated each other. So I left (Los Angeles) when I was 18 years old looking for a proper place to work. I stopped in the Northwest, and I was very pleased to find Grays Harbor, then I moved here. I’ve been here every since. I have traveled, maybe not extensively, but enough to recognize that I have no other choice in the world than to live right here in Grays Harbor. I have four boys and now ten grandchildren, and I believe that (Grays Harbor) was a great place to raise my family.”
“This is where I’m raising my three girls as well,” Ben added. “I only left to go to school, then I came right back.”
Grays Harbor Unders’ business office is on “K” St in Hoquiam where the Hoquiam Aquatic Center used to be. According to Mario, people come by often to see the pool. The pool itself has been turned into a heated floor in Grays Harbor Unders’ warehouse, but many elements of the location still spark a nostalgic feeling for long-time Harborites, and Mario is always happy to give them a tour.