True North has never been afraid of product innovation. In fact, the 15-year-old Seattle-based company thrives on taking risks in pursuit of new ideas, says Alyx Fier, president.

“Our business strategy has always been very simple — ask the customer what they need, provide an innovative solution at a competitive price that provides high value, and back it up with a great warranty and great customer service,” says Fier.

True North’s product line ranges from flame-resistant clothing, to backpacks and bags for firefighters and search and rescue workers, to hydration packs/systems for industrial safety.

“We have a corporate culture where everyone in the company knows that they can contribute their ideas to everything we do,” says Fier. “We’re able to take that input, either from inside the company or from customers, and translate it into new or improved products very quickly.”

From backpacks to industrial safety
True North began in 1992 with a line of backpacks that featured a patented suspension system, designed for the outdoor recreation market. By the late 1990s, according to Fier, the marketplace became dominated by a few large brands that started to squeeze out smaller innovators such as True North.

“However, because of the comfort and functionality of our patented suspension we received a steady stream of requests from wildland firefighters who loved the packs,” Fier explains. The company eventually designed its top-selling pack, the Firefly™, which began an ongoing series of design collaborations with firefighters to develop equipment based on their needs and performance-based criteria.

The company has since diversified into the industrial safety market with such products as Nomex® FR fleece outerwear under the DragonFur™ brand, and hydration systems under the Drink! label.

True North’s DragonFur™ flame- and arc-resistant Nomex® fleece outerwear, according to Fier, has been well received by the utility, construction and other industries where arc and fire hazards exist. Offering comfort, style, performance and security, DragonFur™ outerwear products for the industrial safety market include jackets, vests, pants, hats, and more. Jackets and vests are also available in high-visibility versions.

The company’s Drink! line of hydration packs, available in a range of models and with a variety of features, help prevent heat stress. The rugged hydration packs provide workers continual access to a cool beverage without having to interrupt work. There’s even an FR hydration pack made out of Nomex® for people working around arc and flash hazards.

A growing company
True North looks for distributors with expertise in specific industries such as utilities or construction, “where they really know their customers’ needs and have a demonstrated ability to sell into that market,” says Fier. “Once we sign up a distributor we provide them a range of training services and materials, including visits from our sales staff to offer hands-on training.”

A lot is happening at True North. The company is currently growing at about 35-50 percent a year, says Fier. That growth is being driven by producing new products that customers ask for, along with increasing distribution both in the United States and internationally.

In 2008 True North plans to bring out an FR thermal base layer to complement the DragonFur™ outerwear line. And for Drink! they’ll unveil a new line of insulated bottle holders that will accommodate 20-oz. prefilled water bottles and can be attached to regular belts, tool belts and lumbar support belts.

The company is currently in the final stages of achieving its ISO 9000:2001 certification, as well as getting some of its products NFPA 1977 and 70E certified.