The same thought runs through my head each time I arrive at a trailhead and see people wearing cut-off jean shorts, aka “jorts”: Seriously? They’re not wearing a breathable, wicking, waterproof, does-the-work-for-me technical garment? What a rube.

But then, if (when?) they leave my talks-the-talk-but-isn’t-walking-the-walk rear-end in their dust, I quickly recalibrate. What pros!? I say to myself. They can shred wearing denim? Hats off!

Boulder resident Elliot Wilkinson-Ray also appreciates the mélange of irony, history, and downright badassery rolled into the art of wearing denim cut-offs while riding bikes, hiking trails, or just getting after it in that I’m-not-messing-around manner. After all, Wilkinson-Ray founded the world’s first performance jorts brand, Ripton & Co., in 2019. Given that the fledgling brand—which uses lighter weight denim than standard jeans, and mixes that with polyester and elastane—has amassed more than 15,000 customers from across the globe, plenty of others dig the wear-it-with-a-wink appeal of jorts as well. The brand has even caught the eye of country music mega star and repeat Ripton customer, Dierks Bentley, who’s been known to tag the Colorado brand in his social media posts. Here, Wilkinson-Ray gives us his take on the long-standing allure of denim, and the beauty of taking life’s adventures a little less seriously.

Photo courtesy of Ripton & Co.

On the appeal of denim

The nature of denim is very tactical, very visceral. It gives you an emotional feeling, the way the indigo threads mesh into the white threads and create this crazy patina story—just like the way a vinyl record gives the music another level of emotion and sound and noise. Denim has such a cool, rugged richness. And it means something different to each person, from the Hollywood celebrity who identifies with the Canadian tuxedo to a bunch of Colorado cowboy dudes going to the Wednesday night rodeo.

On why the world needs a performance denim brand

American culture understands denim and its classic, timeless appeal, but nobody has taken that appeal and gone crazy in the category. It’s always been pretty niche, and we felt like it could be bigger. So, we’re the ones designing denim to be a little bit more turbo, a little bit more outdoorsy. We wanted to solve the problem of [there not being] a really cool-looking denim jort built for active people.

On what Ripton is

I think of us as some sort of bootstrap, duct tape, rebel alliance. Not that there’s any evil empire to defeat, but we are a rag-tag, rough-around-the-edges crew that’s doing things in a unique way. In today’s outdoor industry, most of the companies are owned by a holding company that’s owned by a holding company. I’ve worked for publicly traded outdoor brands, and you can tell the difference when a company is run by someone who’s really passionate about what they’re doing. It’s got a different kind of rawness and realness to it that I think people are looking for. We feel like Ripton is solving problems differently. It should feel like a breath of fresh air.

On what people love about these jorts

Someone might say you should just buy denim jeans from the thrift store and cut them off to make jorts, but that denim is likely 12-ounce weight. In contrast, some of our jorts are 7.5-ounce weight yet they’re still rugged and resilient, way better for adventurous things. We get a lot of reviews where people say, “I didn’t stop wearing them for a week!” They love that our jorts are super comfortable and that they look super cool—and they look cooler the dirtier they get.

On Ripton’s je ne sais quoi

I have an ’86 [VW] Westfalia van, and it looks really cool, and it feels cool, but it’s slow. We’re going for the vibe of the old van—classic and timeless—with the performance of something modern. When you’re an adult, you’re probably not biking or skiing or hiking to achieve any specific result other than maybe fitness and having fun with your friends. Having all the gear be super performance focused seems fairly backward to me. We’re not telling people to go summit Everest in our jorts. We’re building things with a bit of a wink. For us, it’s not about being the highest-tech product; it’s about creating something that makes people feel awesome.