When it comes to mountain biking apparel, large corporations and mass-produced goods are the norm. High Above is an exception to this rule. This Bellingham-based, independently owned company specializes in high-quality hip packs, and they’ve garnered quite a following in the local mountain biking community and beyond.
According to owner JC Canfield, High Above’s products aren’t tailored to specific skill levels. Rather, the company makes products that reflect values. Whether you’re a newbie or a pro, High Above has something to offer every mountain biker, and every bag is created with materials primarily from domestic suppliers.
“Our foam is made in Mukilteo, the small clips that come with each bag are made down near Tacoma, and the fabric is made in Connecticut,” Canfield says. “Our zipper is made in Georgia. That’s an important story, and I think that one of my goals as a business owner and person is to help influence people’s shopping decisions to be more conscientious.”
Canfield started the company in a spare room of his Seattle apartment more than a decade ago. He learned high-end sewing techniques while working for Mystery Ranch, a backpacking brand based in Montana, but was unsure of how to utilize this skill set upon moving to Washington. This dilemma eventually led him to found High Above.
The company remained tiny for several more years to come, but nowadays Canfield helms a small team and ships his bags internationally. Though he thinks of himself as an “unlikely candidate” for being a business owner, he was able to learn the requisite skills to fuel his company’s growth– and has found plenty of success along the way.
“I really needed to work hard to grow and make some advancements as an individual to become a business owner– which is very different from somebody that likes to sew bags,” says Canfield.
Given his dedication and technical expertise, it’s no surprise that Canfield’s efforts paid off. High Above is a brand that’s operated “by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers,” and their products are developed and improved through use and customer feedback. As a result, they have a reputation for attention to detail, durability, simplicity, and top-tier quality.
Bellingham has proven to be the ideal location for High Above; in fact, Canfield moved to Whatcom County to be involved in the local mountain biking community. He has since built a relationship with the local trail advocacy organization, the Whatcom Mountain Bike Trails Coalition.
“I think building and working on trails is one of the ways my work has fit in the community aspect of Bellingham,” Canfield says. “That’s speaking personally, but it’s also the way that our company interacts with the city as well. We’re regularly donating to WMBC financially or by way of hours.”
On a professional level, Canfield is also proud to give back to the Bellingham community by providing jobs. The success of High Above has also inspired him to encourage others to take the leap and try entrepreneurship.
“I come across people all the time that have ideas that they want to dip their toes into, see if they’re the kind of person that can be an entrepreneur,” Canfield says. “I encourage those people to reach out to me or their network and just try it. It’s really hard but eventually I think it can be– and it has been for me– quite rewarding.”