Like Nike and other major brands from Portland, the Columbia Sportswear Company is globally known for their clothing, outerwear, and accessories but few people know the empowering story of their chairman Gert Boyle.
Born in 1924 in Augsburg Germany, Gertrude (Gert) Lamfrom’s family was well known since her father owned what was then the biggest shirt factory in Germany before the start of World War 2.
Once the war began through her family’s assets were seized by the government and she fled Nazi Germany with her parents, while her grandmother who stayed behind sadly died in a concentration camp.
About Gert Boyle
Gert’s story is remarkable because when she arrived with her family in Portland Oregon in 1937 she didn’t speak any English but she learned it quickly while her family laid down roots in America.
Although her father lost his business in Germany he didn’t let that setback stop him from starting fresh in the United States, he borrowed money from relatives to purchase the Rosenfield Hat Company and he ultimately changed the name to the Columbia Hat Company.
An Unlikely CEO
After graduating from Grant High School in Portland Oregon Gert received her B.A degree from the University of Arizona.
By the early 1960’s Gert had married and started a family. Her father died in 1964, and her husband took over the company.
She designed the first fiishing vest and the company began to diversify into outerwear for sports enthusiasts since her husband was also an avid fisherman in the Pacific Northwest.
Sadly, Gert Boyle’s husband died at the age of 47 in 1970 and she found herself faced with having to take over leadership of the company since it was also close to bankruptcy.
“After making funeral plans all weekend, I showed up for work at Columbia Sportswear on Monday morning, and I’ve been showing up ever since,” Boyle told The Oregonian.
After a few rough years, Boyle refocused the company and expanded its line to tap into the Northwest’s growing love affair with the outdoors. Within a few years, she took a company known for producing duck-hunting hats and turned it into an international giant in outdoor apparel and fashion.
With the help of her sons, Gert reshaped the Columbia Hat Company into the Columbia Sportswear Company, focusing more on outdoor clothing like Gore-Tex Parkas and accessories that outdoor enthusiasts use on a regular basis.
Thanks to Gert’s ingenuity the company quickly became one of the top sportswear brands in the United States especially after products like their Bugaboo jacket.
“The Bugaboo put Columbia on the map for skiwear. It was inspired by the success of one of our hunting jackets. When you’re hunting, you need a really warm coat, but after walking a mile or two, you get hot. By combining two jackets into one, we were able to offer versatility to tackle any conditions. Why not bring it over to the ski industry? I still think the funny name has something to do with its success. It’s Tim’s favorite mountain range.” – Gert Boyle
One Tough Mother
Over the years Gert has also been the face of her company thanks to Columbia’s “One Tough Mother” campaign which features her in their television commercials.
“The One Tough Mother ads were designed to make you laugh. Traditionally, the outdoor industry has always been very serious. Tim and I drew upon our real experiences and emotions, and that seemed to relate to people all over the world. I mean, who can’t relate to a nagging mother? We ruffled some feathers over the years, but I never worry about those sensitive types.”
Although the commercials were well-known during the 1980’s and early 90’s, Gert stepped away from the camera for a while once her company went public in 1998 but she resumed her work starring as the “One Tough Mother” for Columbia Sportswear Commercials.
What’s changed since the last time you were in commercials?
In the last campaign, I was really the center of attention, and I think that served its purpose. But now I’m excited we’re going to put the spotlight on the rest of the company. We are a more global company and it will be great to see our employees working together to test our products in our backyard but also across Europe, Asia and Russia. As long as we’re making the warmest, most protective jackets (and have really good lawyers), I’ll make anyone go out in the snow and beta test.
Any anecdotes from the set?
There was one commercial where I got to ride up and down in a cherry picker to deliver a pizza to some (Columbia apparel) testers on a chair lift. It was fun, but the crew kept trying to put me in a harness so I wouldn’t fall off and break something.
Did you miss having your son in the new ads?
I don’t miss him. I get to see my son Tim every day at work. And something tells me that he doesn’t miss being dragged through the car wash without a car. [A storyline from one of Gert and Tim’s original spots.]
Do you think advertising is too data-driven and not fun enough today?
I think everything needs to be more fun, advertising included.
Believe in your abilities and never take no for an answer. At least that’s worked for me.
First Lady of Oregon
Over the years Gert has earned the affectionate title of “ the first lady of Oregon” because she’s literally been one of the most well-known faces of the state thanks to her company’s television commercials.
Now in her early 90’s, Gert hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down, especially in recent years following a botched robbery attempt in 2010 which left her battered and bruised.
With her positive attitude and desire to keep moving forward in spite of adversity it’s likely that we will continue to see Gert Boyle as the face of the Columbia Sportswear Company and a visible part of Portland Oregon for years to come.
Learn more about Gert Boyle and Columbia Sportswear by visiting their website at http://www.columbia.com.
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