Innovation

What We’re Made Of: First Lite Entrepreneur – Scott Robinson

Sun Valley, Idaho is no Silicon Valley but it has certainly seen its fair share of startups in its day. Smith Optics, Scott USA, Club Ride, DECKED, Powder Magazine, and Snowboard Magazine all got their start in this small town. Now a slew of new innovators is changing the economic scene of Ketchum including hunting apparel company First Lite.

photo: courtesy First Lite

Believe it or not, co-owner of First Lite, Scott Robinson, had never even hunted before moving to Ketchum when he was 23. Robinson grew up living in Seattle but ski racing and visiting Sun Valley often, so the place always held a spot in his heart. “Kenton [Carruth, co-owner of First Lite] and I both moved to Ketchum in 1993 or 1994 for the same reasons most people do—to take a break from the real world, do some skiing, and have fun in the outdoors,” says Robinson. The real world he desired to take a break from was working as a CPA in Seattle. He continued to work in financial management roles for 10 years in Ketchum before leaving Ketchum for a three-year stint at Nike. In 2004, he came back and worked for local company Smith Optics, running their protective eyewear division and their international business, skills that taught him enough to do anything product-oriented.

photo: courtesy First Lite

The idea behind First Lite originated from Robinson and Carruth wearing Merino wool base layers archery hunting in the mid 2000s. “When Ice Breaker moved to Ketchum, Kenton and I began wearing their stuff for sports and hunting and loved the fabric,” explains Robinson. “It didn’t smell and it kept you warm but they only made it in black.” In 2007, Robinson and Carruth figured out how to print camouflage on wool. “No one was printing on wool then. We got it out there and, in the market, and have been building off the concept ever since.”

From those humble beginnings, the now over ten-year-old business creates hunting apparel for all types of hunting, accessories like binoculars and scope covers, and layers from outerwear to base layer.

Much of First Lite’s manufacturing and other facets of their business is outsourced, but Robinson prioritizes keeping First Lite’s nucleus in Ketchum. The avid outdoorsman loves being outside, skiing, biking, hunting, fishing, and hiking and couldn’t imagine doing business anywhere else. “Kenton and I call Ketchum home because it gives our product the authenticity factor,” Robinson explains. “We can literally go outside and test a product any day, we’re actual hunters.” Smith Optics had a flexible policy that allowed people to go outside and do what their brand represents; First Lite has that same culture, making hunting and being outside easily accessible for their employees.

photo: courtesy First Lite

Robinson credits the rise in technology for making it so easy to run a business from a town like Ketchum. “A big misconception people have about starting a business in Ketchum is that it’s expensive or hard to find people out here but the reality is that with modern technology, you can work anywhere and model around it,” explains Robinson. “I would like to see more businesses open here; money spent locally diversifies the economy. All of First Lite’s money stays in town; we’re pulling it in from the outside and injecting it back into our economy to create a more diverse economic base. Hopefully our story is a good role model in that regard.”

With the continuing growth of resources for entrepreneurs in Ketchum, there’s no telling what kind of innovation and companies might happen in the next few years. “It’s easy to come here and say, ‘It didn’t work out’ and leave, but the people who stay here want to be here,” says Robinson. And he and the other people that make up First Lite couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

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