November 01, 2023
Exceptional gear is organically born out of necessity and pushes the limits of acceptable norms. The story of Chêne Gear and their rise to popularity in the waterfowl world, is no different.
“Every waterfowler needs a wader that works,” said Jeff Jones, co-founder of Chêne.
And he's not wrong. Yet, wet feet and wader failure have been commonly acceptable amongst waterfowl enthusiasts for decades. The founders of Chêne Gear recognized the desperate need for a premium wader and plans were put in motion to build a wader capable of withstanding the use and abuse that waterfowler enthusiasts put their gear through season after season.
Hunting mallards in the oak-choked flooded timber of the southeast lies at the core of Chêne's roots. In fact, Chêne, pronounced “shin”, means oak in French.
“I fell in love with hunting flooded timber at a very young age,” said Jones.
That obsession only grew with time as Jones continued to pursue his passion, making a living developing a wide variety of waterfowl products for 25 years.
Fed up with wader malfunctions, Jones said, “I knew a better wader could be built but I was pigeon-holed in this industry because of pricing issues.”
With that in mind, Jones relied on his 25 years of experience and set out to develop the best hunting wader on the market, regardless of the final cost.
Designing and building the Chêne wader was an arduous process that dragged on for several years before Jones finally felt he had created the ultimate waterfowl wader. All that was left was to field test the product and see if it would uphold his strict standards of excellence. Unlike most brands, Chêne was in no hurry to rush to market. In fact, the founders of Chêne agreed to a “two-year policy” that required two years of field-testing before any technical hunting product could be sold to the public. Early designs of Chêne waders were sent to some of the most hardcore waterfowl hunters in the country and put through the paces during the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
“There are always some reservations when bringing a new product to market but as soon as someone slipped their foot in the boot and felt the material you could see the lightbulb go off in their heads. At that point, we knew we were on to something special,” said Jones.
After two years of testing, the Chêne wader was perfected and ready for market during the 2021 season.
Chêne's tagline, #BuiltBetter, is more than a catch phrase. Chêne spared no expense in the development of their waders to build the best hunting wader on the market. Going against the status quo, Chêne waders are built out of a premium waterproof 4-layer nylon fabric. This might not sound like a big deal, but this secret lies at the core of the Chêne wader design. Nearly every breathable wader on the market is comprised of some sort of polyester fabric to save costs at the expense of quality. Nylon is not indestructible, but one cannot argue the superiority of nylon over polyester in terms of tensile strength and long-term durability.
To address the elephant in the room, yes Chêne waders do crack the $1,000 threshold. Wrapping my head around spending a thousand dollars for a pair of waders is difficult to comprehend and even tougher to sell the wife on. However, I firmly believe “you get what you pay for,” and the benefits of purchasing a Chêne wader extend beyond the transaction.
“Buying a wader from me is an agreement that I am going to take care of you,” said Jones.
Chêne is not only 100% confident in their waders construction but also pride themselves on offering superior customer service.
Chêne Gear guarantees their waders free of manufacture defects for the life of the wader. That doesn’t mean they will cover the hole ripped from the awkward crossing of a barbed wire fence or the sharp edge of the boat, but even then, they will do their best to repair the wader. They also offer an annual review for customers who want to send them in to be looked over at the end of the season.
“You don’t have to baby them, but some simple maintenance will drastically extend the life of the wader,” said Jones.
Chêne also recognizes the importance of rapid turnaround times for warranty work to keep their customers in the field.
“If we receive a wader on Monday or Tuesday for repair, we will fix the problem and have them back to the customer so they don’t miss a weekend in the duck woods,” said Jones.
In a world where customer service seems to be a forgotten craft, Chêne is going above and beyond.
Premium waders may be the bread and butter of Chêne Gear but they also offer a long line of exceptional technical gear. Everything from boots to base layers to blind bags and just about everything between, has undergone the same rigorous testing that their waders are put through. Rest assured, if it has the Chêne name on it, you can count on that piece of gear to withstand the rigors of waterfowl season.
Chêne also recognizes the importance of giving back to their customers and the rich duck hunting heritage in this country. Last year, with the purchase of a new set of waders, Chêne purchased the customer’s federal duck stamp for the year. This year, Chêne is buying their new customers a Ducks Unlimited membership.
“We want our interactions with our customers to be far more than a simple transaction, we are constantly looking for ways to give back and show our appreciation,” said Jones.
Passing on the ethical hunting tradition to the younger generation has never been more important than it is today. Chêne wholeheartedly recognizes this necessity and launched a complete system of waders and apparel for youth hunters that are identical to the adult offerings. In an effort to give kids the best possible experience in the duck woods, Chêne started a first-of-its-kind youth wader trade-in program. This program allows youth to exchange waders, assuming they are in good condition, for the next size up as they continuously grow.
“It’s ironic that we inevitably stick kids with the hand-me-downs and lower quality gear, when they’re the ones who actually need the higher functioning, better performing gear," said Field Norris, co-founder of Chêne Gear. "They’re the ones who we want to have the absolute best possible experience so that they’ll come back again and again.”
Children graduate from the trade-in program once they turn 15.
Along with personalized customer service, Chêne also strives to deliver unique customer experiences. In October, Chêne hosted its inaugural film festival in Memphis, Tennessee. The festival, designed to give back to all who have made Chêne a success, featured local food trucks, a beer garden, raffles, auctions, and college football. The evening capped off with several cinematic short films centered around the lifestyle of passionate waterfowlers. Those in attendance voted for their favorite film, and the winner received a substantial cash prize. Attendees were responsible for their food and beverages; however, the event itself was free of charge for all who attended.
Chêne may be a newcomer in the waterfowl space, but make no mistake, they are a young brand making big waves in the waterfowl world. Jones said it best when he said, “Duck hunters are our people. At the end of the day, we are just trying to build gear to make your day in the woods better.”