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Longtime Chums: Utah company still going strong, protecting eyewear.

Published August 9, 2013 9:09 am

Outdoor Retailer • Chums celebrating 30th year of making sunglass straps and eyewear retainers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There are all kinds of ways to protect yourself while playing in the outdoors. Sunscreen, mosquito repellent, helmets and sunglasses, to name a few.

Sunscreen and mosquito repellent can be reapplied and helmets have straps, but what is to keep sunglasses from sinking out of sight when the whitewater raft hits a hole the size of a building or from disappearing into the Greatest Snow on Earth after that wicked wipeout in 2 feet of powder?

The Hurricane-based sunglass strap business is celebrating its 30th year of protecting the investment in the ever-growing cost of protecting eyes from the sun.

Chums — as in that good 'ol pal of yours — was born when river runner guide and ski bum Mike Taggett survived the epic high water on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in 1983, but many pair of sunglasses did not.

Taggett, living in Hurricane after the river season, started working on something to prevent glasses from getting lost in active outdoor adventures. His first effort included the hook closure of a bikini strap and a variety of sewn elastic and fabric constructed on a $60 sewing machine.

Taggett finally found his way to what would become one of the largest outdoor gear conventions in the world: Outdoor Retailer. He attended the inaugural Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Reno., Nev., 30 years ago. Company officials cannot remember missing the summer show since, including the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market held last week in Salt Lake City.

Operations continue in Hurricane, where 30 people produce a variety of products. Another 30 work in Salt Lake City on the administrative side of things.

The company, now owned by Chuck Ferries, has survived the challenges of a lean economy by getting creative and continuing to provide quality products.

"I seem to go back to athletics," said Ferries, who competed as an alpine skier in the 1960 and 1964 Winter Olympics. "In athletics, everybody is always trying to be the best, so is everybody in business. You develop an understanding of what everybody is doing and you have to do it better. It is a constant challenge."

The company unveiled five products at the recent Summer Market.

One of those items is a blast to the past. The original cotton eyewear retainer is now available in neon colors. Other new retainers include the Entrada woven rope and the Switchback Silicone sunglass holder. New items other than retainers include the Vortex carabiner lines for things like key chains, bottle openers and tools and the Sawtooth utility clip.

Taggett left Chums in 2002 to pursue other goals and Ferries, who had been the part-owner of ski companies K2 and Scott, took over with the help of his son, Tom, and son-in-law Mike Neary.

"I wanted a company that could grow with 30-60 day terms, that could turn inventory and receivables around efficiently, and could grow. Chums met all of those criteria," Ferries said. "Plus, it is an iconic brand — that's a very tough thing to find."

brettp@sltrib.com

Twitter: @BrettPrettyman