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Designer turns love for the outdoors into thriving business

WLOS LightHeart Gear
Posted at 6:08 PM, May 06, 2023

FLETCHER, North Carolina (WLOS) — A dream that started in a basement has transformed into a thriving outdoor gear business in the mountains. LightHeart Gear was created by Judy Gross after a trek on the Appalachian Trail.

"In 2006, I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I was carrying a 4 1/2 pound tent that took up most of the volume of my backpack," Gross said.

"On the trail, I met somebody who had this wild tent that packed down really small, opened up really big, didn't weigh anything. I thought, 'I know how to sew, I've been to design school, I'm going to make a tent.'"

Upon returning, Gross sat down at her sewing machine.

In 2009, LightHeart Gear was born.

"We started with one design, one tent and we have grown enormously," Gross said.

LightHeart Gear doesn't just focus on tents.

"We make rain gear, tents, women's clothing for backpacking, skirts that have lots of pockets, dresses with pockets. We make fleece hoodies," Gross said.

One specialty item LightHeart Gear produces is tents for tall hikers.

"I kept hearing about people that are 6 feet, 4 inches and taller, complaining about what tent do I sleep in. I have to buy a two-person tent and sleep at a diagonal angle. I thought, I can fix that, and I made a tent for 6-plussers, which is the SoLong 6," Gross said.

What started out as a retirement dream has grown larger than Gross could ever imagine.

"This started in my basement at home. Just me, and then I hired one person. We leased a space. Then we grew out of that space, and we built this building because we couldn't find one to buy, and hired more people."

LightHeart Gear was a founding member of Outdoor Gear Builders, which now has more than 90 members. Gross credits that membership and the ScaleUp program through Mountain BizWorks with the business' success.

"Things keep growing and growing," Gross said.