What We're Made Of

What We’re Made Of: Chums

Referring to your eyewear retainer simply as “Chums,” like you might call tissue “Kleenex”
shows just how much this global brand dominates its market. With humble origins that can be
traced back to a guide on the Colorado River in southern Utah, Chums is celebrating its 40th
anniversary this year. Chums came to Ketchum in 2002 after local Chuck Ferries purchased the
company along with his son, Tom, and son-in-law, Mike Neary. Many of the company’s
products are still made in the original Hurricane, Utah, facility and five employees hold down
sales and marketing in Ketchum. 

Chums co-owners Tom Ferries and Mike Neary

How it Started

In 1983 Mike Taggett was a dory boat guide on the Colorado River. Tired of seeing his clients
lose their sunglasses to the water, he came up with the idea for what is now the Original Chums
eyewear retainer, producing the first batch on a $60 sewing machine out of the back of his VW
van. Named for Mike’s yellow lab, Chumley, Chums has always been about those who feel
called to the water: guides, river rats, dirtbags, anglers. As demand grew, Chums began mass-
producing its retainers and selling to retailers nationwide, though the Original cotton eyewear
retainer is still the company’s best-selling product (and is still made in the original facility in

Chums first location in Hurricane, Utah

Coming to Sun Valley

The story of Chums coming to Sun Valley begins with professional skier and outdoor industry
entrepreneur Chuck Ferries. Ferries is a former Olympian and the first and only American to win
the Hahnenkamm slalom in Kitzbuhel, Austria (a feat that landed him on the cover of the March
1963 issue of Sports Illustrated). He also coached the US Ski Team, was elected to the US
National Ski Hall of Fame in 1989, and later served as the head of the board of directors of the
US Ski Team. Ferries moved his family from Vashon Island, Washington, to Ketchum in 1977 in
order to launch Pre Skis after leaving his role as president of K2 Skis, and then later acquired
Scott USA (and ran it out of the building that Chums currently occupies in downtown

After selling Scott USA and taking some time between business ventures, Chuck set out to find a
new business opportunity to pursue with his son, Tom, and son-in-law, Mike. Through a mutual
friend with a second home in the area, Ferries got connected to Taggett and bought Chums in
2002, officially establishing Chums’ sales and marketing office in Ketchum. The first five years
of owning Chums came with an intense travel schedule for the Ferries men: twice a month,
Chuck would fly Tom and Mike from Hailey down to Chums headquarters in southern Utah in
his Cessna 340.

After growing up in the Valley and attending college at the University of Idaho, Tom moved to
Portland, Oregon, to pursue new opportunities, but he very happily moved back to Ketchum once
the deal with Chums went through. Mike Neary, Chuck’s son-in-law, moved to Ketchum in 1987
after visiting post-college and falling in love with the place. Before becoming an owner of
Chums, Mike sold beer and wine in town, ran a restaurant, and then worked for Sysco selling
food to the Valley’s restaurants. 

Chuck, Tom, and Mike understandably grew tired of the demanding commute to the Utah desert
and decided to cut back on the travel, thus facilitating the need for a larger office space and the
expansion of the sales and marketing team in Ketchum. After moving between various office
spaces throughout Ketchum and the base of Warm Springs, Chums finally settled in its current
location behind Smoky Mountain Pizza, where an unassuming door with a Chums sign over it
leads to a spacious (and dog-friendly) office.

To say that the company has grown over the years isn’t just evident in the office upgrades, but
also in the employee numbers. The brand now employs 75 people between the three office
locations of Ketchum, Idaho; Hurricane, Utah; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

For  a global brand that requires its sales and marketing employees to travel frequently for
meetings and trade shows, one might question the choice to continue operating out of such a
small town. “I think the lifestyle is what keeps us all here,” says Tom. Mike agrees, saying it was
the fishing, hiking, and skiing he experienced when he first visited in the ’80s that made it feel so
special. “Once I got married, I realized this is where I want to live,” says Mike. “And just being
part of the community for so long—it never occurred to me to move or change it.”
Marketing Director Ben Falkson says that having the Salt Lake office allows the small Ketchum
office to keep operating. “It allows us to have the best of both worlds, having that centralized
urban hub for a lot of our business operations, while also having our Ketchum office that
provides us amazing access to passionate outdoors enthusiasts, endless content creation
opportunities, and a strong connection to the outdoor lifestyle that is so important to our brand.”

The Gear

While their Original eyewear retainer is still the bestseller, Chums moved into making more than
just retainers starting in 2007. Today, Chums sells a variety of eyewear retainers, from silicone to
wire to rope to neoprene; floating keychains, wallets, and phone protectors; splash bags and
sacks; and high-end rolltop dry bags—and that’s just for gear to take on the river. For everyday
life off the water, they also make wallets, waist packs, water bottle slings, cross-body bags,
glasses cases, and winter accessories like suspenders, ski boot slings and carriers, ski pass
retractors, and ski straps and carriers. About 70% of the products Chums sells (by volume) are
still made in the Hurricane, Utah, facility, which manufactures upwards of 15,000 eyewear
retainers a day.

Giving Back

As a brand so embedded in the outdoor lifestyle, it’s only natural that Chums gives back to the
environment. The company supports many green initiatives, like printing all marketing materials
on recycled paper, manufacturing locally to reduce their carbon footprint, and bulk-packing
shipments using minimal filler. Chums also works with many nonprofit organizations across the
country, like Redside Foundation, Fish for Garbage, Coastal Conservation Alliance, and Fish for
Change, to help drive environmental conservation efforts and support the communities of guides
and anglers whose lives revolve around the water.

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