Gear | August 6, 2020 8:28 am

Cult Outdoor Brand Melanzana Is Running an Online Lottery for Their Highly Coveted Fleece

You can now get your Melly online, with any luck

Two Melanzana Micro Grid Hoodies from Leadville, Colorado
This is a Melanzana Micro Grid Hoodie, or, simply, a "Melly."

The conversation about outdoor gear tends to get split into two camps: the beginner and the vet. The former often throws on whatever they have when hitting the trail, like New Balances and jeans on a hike, while the latter can navigate an REI with their eyes closed, and probably has a well-stocked closet of Patagonia, Smartwool and Salomon.

There is, however, another level of gearhead many people forget about: the local. These people live to scale a mountain by foot or piton, and bomb down them on skis, snowboards and bikes. They live wherever the action is closest, and when they need new gear, they don’t Google “Best [insert item here],” they ask their friends or people they meet on the trail, occasionally unearthing secret local spots where small-time makers churn out tailor-made gear that often isn’t sold online, and sometimes becomes legendary, if it breaks out into the mainstream at all.

Melanzana fits into that category. The outdoor apparel company started in 1994 in Leadville, Colorado, with the mission of producing “locally made, simple and affordable gear” in a “real mountain town, not a resort town.” Though their name has changed (originally they were Eggplant, but switched to the Italian word for eggplant after a trademark dispute), they’ve stuck to those principles for the last 25 years, even as word has trickled out and demand has increased.

The most coveted item they make is what’s known as the Micro Grid Hoodie, a fleece mid-layer that’s made in Leadville out of Tennessee fabric milled from U.S. raw materials (there are no asterisks on “American-made” here), and is often touted by fans as better than Big Fleece brands like The North Face and Patagonia. I first heard about them after my friend, who is a former Colorado ski patrol and general outdoor addict, recounted a story of being in Minnesota when a stranger stopped her and said, “Nice Melly.” You know it’s good when it becomes a code word among outdoor types.

Unfortunately for anyone not willing to make the trek to Leadville, the brand doesn’t sell its gear online. As Denver magazine 5280 wrote, founder Fritz Howard did do online and phone sales at one point, but it got so out of control they couldn’t keep stock in their one store. Then the pandemic hit, and Melanzana was left with something they haven’t had in a long time: tons of gear with no one to sell it to.

In mid-May, the cult-favorite gear company figured out a solution. They opened up the Lock Out Lottery (LOL), where fans of the brand could enter to receive a shopping code for a temporary online store. In other words, this is your one chance to score a mythical Micro Grid Hoodie apart from going to Leadville or paying through the nose on eBay.

Will you actually get the chance to buy a Melly? That’s a more complex question. According to an Instagram post, the brand received around 7,000 entries in the first day, and they’re only sending out 200 single-use links per day. Plus, the program could end at any time as stores in the U.S. begin to open back up. But either way, it’s worth at least putting your name in the hat.

As my friend, the unofficial Melanzana brand ambassador, told me, the Micro Grid Hoodies “feel like a rite of passage” for people who live in Colorado. Does that mean something might be lost if you don’t make the effort to plan a trip to the store? Maybe. But as 5280 noted back in 2019, Leadville saw “a 100 percent rise in tourists over the past five years, thanks in part to Melanzana becoming a mecca for the adventure-minded.” 

Traveling to the town of under 3,000 people during a pandemic, even if the store reopens soon, seems like a bad idea. So if Melanzana keeps the lottery going, you don’t have to be ashamed about getting your gear online — you’re supporting a true American-made outdoor company, and giving yourself a reason to break out of your quarantine-stifled house: to test out your new Melly.