Many outdoor brands have their origins in the Wood River Valley; the easy access to the outdoors in so many ways (biking, hiking, skiing) gets the creative juices flowing in terms of how to improve on those sports—and then gives you a big playground to test out those improvements. Outdoor apparel companies Wild Rye and Club Ride are no different, with both company’s founders being outdoor aficionados in the Wood River Valley who found themselves staring down a gap in their respective markets; for Wild Rye, that gap was an outdoor brand exclusively for women. For Club Ride, that gap was casual bike clothes that could be worn from the bike to the bar. Read on to learn the origin stories of these two local companies, who are helping maintain Ketchum’s status quo as an incubator for innovation.
Wild Rye’s founder, Cassie Abel, has lived in and out of Ketchum since she was eight years old, but coming back full-time in 2012. Prior to launching her women-focused outdoor brand, Cassie worked in-house at Smith, learning all about the outdoor industry, its marketing—and its distinct lack of focus on women. “We were starting to see all these cool brands pop up for men, but none for women,” Cassie says. She also felt like women were being excluded from a marketing standpoint, with few, if any, conversations being led by and about women. After cutting her teeth in the industry at Smith, and feeling devastated when they left the area, Cassie realized that there needed to be an outdoor brand exclusively for women, based out of Ketchum.
As a lifelong lover of the Wood River Valley, Cassie knew she wanted to stay in the area and create more professional opportunities here as well. When Wild Rye launched in 2016, it was just her and her co-founder, with Cassie working out of Ketchum and her partner out of Tahoe. She bought out that partner in 2018 and moved all operations (that weren’t already there) to Ketchum in 2019, where headquarters has been based ever since.
Since launching in 2016, Wild Rye has created an extensive line of products in cycling, snow sports, and lifestyle. Their items include things like bike shorts, overalls, base layers, and more, all of it in either bright colors, fun patterns, or both. The products themselves are made overseas at highly vetted companies, allowing Wild Rye to maintain its B Corp status (B Corp is a designation that a business is meeting high standards of performance, accountability, and transparency.) Wild Rye is available in about 300 stores nationwide, including every REI.
Keeping Wild Rye’s headquarters here is a priority for Cassie, not just for the company’s eight full-time employees, but also for the alignment between this town’s entrepreneurial spirit and affinity for the outdoors. When a generation of Ketchum-based businesses (Smith, Scott, etc.) left, it made way for the next generation, like First Lite, Decked, and, of course, Wild Rye. “It’s a really special place to grow an outdoor business,” says Cassie. “We have such great access to the mountains and outdoor resources for testing. Ketchum just has such an incredible history of ski culture, mountain bike culture, outdoor culture in general, and it has so much soul and keeps so much soul in the Wild Rye brand.”
In addition to supporting women through the creation of her Wild Rye brand, Cassie is the founder of Women-Led Wednesday, an annual holiday on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that encourages shopping from women-led brands. It originated when Cassie was trying to figure out when to launch Wild Rye holiday sales. “Black Friday felt gross, with mass consumption; Cyber Monday felt like an easy way to get lost in big brands; and Small Business Saturday—a super noble day—felt very brick-and-mortar, and we’re not.” After learning that Amex had manufactured Small Business Saturday, Cassie decided that if Amex could do that, she could start her own shopping holiday for women-led businesses. Today, there are about 800 women-led brands in the directory and this year will be the 6th annual Women-Led Wednesday. In addition to creating Women-Led Wednesday, Wild Rye supports several causes, including 1% for the Planet, POW (Protect Our Winters), SheJumps, World Ride, and Planned Parenthood.
Mike Herlinger, the founder and CEO of Club Ride, came to the Ketchum in 2000. The LA native had attended school in Arizona and then moved out to New Hampshire, but by 2000 he had started craving coming back West. He eventually moved to Sun Valley, getting a gig as a remote recruiter for a Bay Area company.
The creation of Club Ride was a pure incidence of necessity being the mother of invention. By 2008, Mike was no longer in the recruiting gig, but working at the Elephant’s Perch and spending all his free time mountain biking and riding single speeds. “My life revolved around bikes and the outdoors,” he says. He had just gone on another bike ride, clad in a full, tight-fighting, lycra bike kit, and was supposed to meet up with friends for a burger and beer at the Wicked Spud after his ride. Mike was torn between showing up to the Spud in his bike gear or having to go all the way home to change. He opted for home, where he went to his closet and picked out a rayon, printed party shirt he had picked up in Hermosa Beach in college. “I don’t know what it was: the nature, the essence, the fun, whimsical concept of the shirt . . . it was really parallel to how I felt being on the bike,” Mike says. “And I was like, that would be so rad if I could go ride my bike in this shirt; it would be flowy and cool, a party on the bike.” Not only would riding in a shirt like this be more comfortable, he could also go straight from the bike to burgers and beers. Mike’s shirt wasn’t technical and didn’t have what he needed for a ride, but he figured surely some company out there must be making a bike party shirt.
As it turns out, there was no company making that kind of shirt—so Mike decided to start one. He had no background in production or design, but he knew what elements he needed in a shirt—flowy, pockets, stretch—and headed up to Portland after a bike race to pick up fabrics. Once back in Ketchum, he took some designs and sketches and the samples to a seamstress above Perry’s who previously worked in the LA garment market. Between Mike’s vision for his shirts, his experience with outdoor products working at the Perch, and working closely with his seamstress, he created what’s become Club Ride’s iconic product: western-style, short-sleeve, snap shirts in fun colors and patterns.
Club Ride’s first catalog was simple, showcasing just a few men’s shirt styles. Over the years, the company’s line of product has expanded into men’s shorts, women’s tops and bottoms, and full chamois, ultimately becoming a broad line men’s and women’s multi-season outdoor bike clothing company.
Club Ride has changed its distribution methods significantly in the last few years, going from about 250 locations nationally selling their product pre-COVID to about 50 now. After COVID, Mike decided to change the business model to focus on balancing out wholesale and direct-to-consumer and Amazon business, which meant moving away from wholesale business and focusing on key accounts that understand the essence of the brand, growing Club Ride’s direct channel, and creating a balanced holistic sales approach. Locally, the brand is available at Sturtevant’s, the Elephant’s Perch, and Galena Lodge.
The company’s headquarters have also moved to Hailey, to the former Marketron building, where Club Ride employs seven full-time employees (some working in-office, some remote). Keeping the company local is a priority for Mike, who calls this area home, both for him and his family, including his two children who he raised here. “This is where they were born. This is where my home is,” he says. Being able to enjoy the experience of living in an outdoor community is also a major influencer. “It provides inspiration and direction—almost a muse, if you will, of creation,” Mike says. “How I live my outdoor lifestyle really ties into the products that I make and have made.”
Club Ride gives back to both the local community and beyond, supporting organizations like NICA, AZ Cycling Association, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Adventure Cycling Association, and the Wood River Bike Coalition.