Aaron Feuerstein, the former owner of Malden Mills and the man behind Polartec, has been elected OutDoor Celebrity of the Year for 2014. The 88 year-old grandson of Malden Mills' founder was credited for changing the clothing that people wear for outdoor activities.
Feuerstein joined Malden Mills as a junior manager in 1945 and rapidly became one of its leading executives. Under his leadership, Malden Mills made a gutsy investment of $20 million in the early ‘sixties to produce synthetic fibers. He made the strongest impact on the outdoor industry in 1979 with the development of polar fleece, a new fabric that was first adopted by Patagonia and then most other outdoor apparel brands.
The jury was equally impressed with the commitment displayed by Feuerstein in 1995 when an explosion destroyed three of the company's buildings in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Instead of moving the operations to the Far East, Feuerstein, then aged 70, decided to entirely rebuild the plants in Massachusetts – on the same spot and keeping all the staff on the payroll, at a cost of $1.5 million per week.
The reconstruction cost about $400 million, while the insurance covered $300 million. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy and was acquired in 2007 by an investment fund, Versa Capital Management, which subsequently bought Eastern Mountain Sports and is now taking over Sport Chalet.
David Udberg, former president of the European Outdoor Group, who described Feuerstein's story and achievements at an award party during the OutDoor fair, said that he had changed the face of the industry.
On a more personal note, Feuerstein was described as a man who lives modestly and without much care for appearances, regularly wearing a pinstripe suit with a pair of sneakers. He was praised as an extraordinary businessman, as well as an outstanding employer and human being.