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Utah cold-weather gear company Fortress dives into the icy waters of ‘Shark Tank’

Dale Lewis, CEO and president of Fortress, shows off the company’s clothing products in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020.
Dale Lewis, CEO and president of Fortress, shows off the company’s clothing products in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — While always a chilly spot for wannabe entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas, the set of ABC reality show “Shark Tank” got significantly colder on Sunday night.

That’s because the sharks brought in a cryogenic chamber to put Utah entrepreneur Dale Lewis’ cold weather clothing to the ultimate test by taking his gear for a test run in the ultra-cold therapeutic device.

Shark Robert Herjavec was sealed in the chamber that was cooled down to minus-112 degrees fahrenheit and emerged after a short time saying the Fortress gear kept him warm. But, Lewis ran into trouble when the panel of potential investors balked at his offer of 15 percent of the company for a $600,000 buy-in.

Dale Lewis, far right, Fortress Clothing CEO and Spring City, Utah resident on the set of ABC reality show Shark Tank.
ABC

While Herjavec stayed cozy in the cryo-chamber, he gave Lewis’ pitch the cold shoulder, telling the Utah entrepreneur he loved the products, but found the marketing messaging confusing.

Barbara Corcoran suggested Lewis reduce the number of clothing items he was producing and just focus on the base-layer clothing as a specialty. Ultimately, all five of the sharks took a pass on becoming part of the Fortress Clothing effort. During his exit comments, Lewis said he was “shocked” to have left without a deal.

While Lewis failed to woo any of the “Shark Tank” investors into becoming new Fortress Clothing partners, it’s an advantage for any small company to have the opportunity to appear on the nationally televised show and numerous contestants have gone on to great successes even without securing a deal.

Lewis spoke with the Deseret News a few days before his appearance on the show. He explained that Fortress cold weather gear is based on an innovation that was developed by his Spring City, Utah neighbor who engineered a unique polymer that provides high levels of insulation while wicking away moisture.

“Our patented technology, which we call Aeris, retains body heat, while allowing moisture evacuation,” Lewis said. “So, the law of thermodynamics is what dictates why this works.”

Fortress gear, which includes base layer shirts and pants, coats, outer pants, gloves and balaclavas, is constructed of three layers that include an inside liner, the Aeris material which is about an inch thick and a fabric outer layer.

Lewis is a serial entrepreneur who said he had a series of business start-up misses before hitting it big with a “telecom, broadband” effort that eventually sold for millions and would have allowed him to retire at 40 years old. But, when he find out about the unique insulating material that would become Aeris, he saw an opportunity he thought was too good to pass by.

Since launching in 2012, Fortress Clothing has found its best customer market among those who work or recreate in extreme weather conditions. Lewis said his son field tested the gear while pulling winter shifts in the North Dakota oil fields. One customer, survival instructor Eric Boettcher, of Alpine, said the Fortress gear retains its insulating qualities even when moisture becomes a factor.

“Fortress Clothing allows me to exert myself in the wilderness and sweat in the wintertime months, and not be concerned that I’m going to die of hypothermia, versus cotton or any other type of material out there,” Boettcher said in a statement. “Fortress Clothing allows you to mitigate your body moisture, because even when it’s wet, it still heats me up, and I haven’t found anything else that can even come close.”

While even those striking successful investment deals on “Shark Tank” have reportedly had mixed long-term results for participants, walking away from the money sometimes has its own positive outcomes.

Utah entrepreneur Rachel Nilsson declined three offers during a 2016 appearance on the show. Despite leaving the Sharks’ money on the table, Nilsson’s children’s clothing company Rags has been on an arc of success ever since, including attracting over $1 million in venture funding and striking deals with Disney, Nordstrom and others.

And perhaps most famously, the founder of Ring doorbell cameras, which was acquired by Amazon last year in a deal worth over $1 billion, made an appearance on the show in 2013. Jamie Siminoff only got one offer from Shark Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary, who offered him a $700,000 loan along with wanting 10% of all sales until the loan was paid off, a 7% royalty on all future sales and 5% equity in the company. Siminoff took a pass, and the rest is history.