WE MAKE IT HERE: Sleeping bag manufacturer Wiggy’s
An idea Jerry Wigutow once had in the late 1960s in a small apartment in Manhattan is today a 26,000-square-foot sleeping-bag-manufacturing plant in Grand Junction.
Wigutow, who at the time was selling insulation to jacket manufacturers, came up with the unique idea to seal the insulation to the liner without using thread, in order to eliminate the cold spots in sleeping bags.
He called his process Lamilite, and it’s the exact same process his factory uses today to make sleeping bags and other outdoor gear, mostly for the United States military.
“It makes down an obsolete product,” Wigutow said.
His company, Wiggy’s, began using Lamilite to make bedspreads for hotels. Then, Wigutow landed a government contract in the mid-’80s to produce 14,000 sleeping bags for the U.S. Forest Service.
That contract turned into 39,000 sleeping bags, and a stream of business from other government entities that the company still enjoys today.
Wigutow was enticed to move the company to the Grand Valley by an incentive package to bring new business to the city in the early 1990s.
“I make no bones about it ... We make the best sleeping bag in the history of sleeping bag manufacturing,” he said while leading a tour of the multimillion dollar factory at 2482 Industrial Blvd.
Wiggy’s has 35 employees, most of whom are expert sewing-machine operators, and his crew produces “many thousands” of bags every year, he said.
The manufacturing process begins with the making of Lamilite, a proprietary process that uses a special laminating machine to heat-seal the filament polyester to the nylon fabric. Large bolts of nylon and fiberfill run simultaneously through the machine to form large, airy bolts of insulated material.
The material is then carefully cut following patterns specific to the type of bag being sewn.
The bag is constructed inside-out, and often other material such as camouflage is added to the product.
Each employee sews a specific side of the bag before sending it to the next sewing station. The final stitches are sewn near the zipper, then the final inspection begins.
It takes approximately 45 to 90 minutes to make each bag.
Wigutow said that efficiency inside the factory is a big reason the military depends on and purchases products from the company.
“It’s because I can deliver the big jobs,” he said.
Each bag weighs between two and seven pounds and some are rated to handle 60 degrees below zero.
Wigutow inspects much of the final product himself. He offers a lifetime guarantee on all of his products. If the zipper breaks, the filling bunches, or a seam opens, he will replace the bag free of charge.
“I don’t know any other company that would even consider such a guarantee,” he said.
He also doesn’t know of any other sleeping bag company actually manufacturing bags in the United States. He’s proud of the fact his company has not outsourced its manufacturing to foreign countries.
“I’m the largest single supplier of sleeping bags to the U.S. military. If I can turn enough profit here, anybody can,” he said.
In addition to sleeping bags, the company makes an assortment of other products, such as clothing, backpacks, gloves and footwear. All of the products are manufactured using the same sewing process.
Wigutow also creates a number of other unique products, including hypothermia bags used by emergency medical technicians to warm cold patients.
Wiggy’s bags are even stashed under the seats in U.S. military airplanes as part of the ejection seat for pilots.
“What we make here is significantly better than most brand names you hear about,” Wigutow said.
“Plus, we reach out to many, many thousands all over the world from Grand Junction,” he said.