Eddie Bauer returns to roots with First Ascent

In a bold return to its heritage, Eddie Bauer has joined up with a dream team of mountaineers to build a new line of outerwear and gear called First Ascent. First Ascent combines Eddie Bauer's legacy as the original expedition outfitter with the expertise of some of today's most renowned mountain guides and climbers, including Peter Whittaker, Ed Viesturs, and Dave Hahn.

"We've assembled the dream team to design and build the most significant new line of mountaineering gear in a generation," says Neil Fiske, President and CEO of Eddie Bauer. "It doesn't get any better than Whittaker, Viesturs, Hahn and team."

The First Ascent Guide Team is led by Peter Whittaker, son of acclaimed mountaineer Lou Whittaker and nephew of Jim Whittaker, who wore Eddie Bauer gear on his historic first American ascent of Everest. Also part of the team is Ed Viesturs, the only American to summit all fourteen 8000-meter peaks without bottled oxygen, and Dave Hahn, who has summited Everest ten times, more than any non-Sherpa. Joining Peter, Ed, and Dave are three accomplished guides from Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI), the largest guide company in the U.S.: Melissa Arnot, Seth Waterfall, and Chad Peele. Lou and Jim Whittaker have acted as advisors to the team.

"The role of the guides in the development of this line is unprecedented," says Peter Whittaker, co-owner of Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. and Whittaker Mountaineering. "Combined we spend more than 1200 days a year in the high mountains. We know what gear works best out there, and what it takes to be prepared. We designed it. We built it. We live in it. And nothing goes to market until we literally sign off on every detail. We put our names on it, right down to the hangtags." The team built the line from the ground up, leading the design and development process with rigorous field tests on expeditions of Rainier in Washington state; Ecuador's Cotopaxi, one of the world's highest active volcanoes; and Aconcagua in Argentina, the tallest mountain in the Americas. The team is preparing for an Everest expedition in April.

"Our approach to First Ascent is to keep the product pure, focusing only on what you need," says Ed Viesturs. "The guiding mantra has been about simplification, functionality and performance. That's why we say it's everything you need, nothing you don't. It's that simple. And simple is better."

Nearly 80 guides around the world work for Rainier Mountaineering on the big mountains of Everest, Rainier, Denali, Cotopaxi (Ecuador), Aconcagua (Argentina), Kilimanjaro, and others. Beginning in April, all RMI guides will be outfitted in First Ascent gear, along with many of their clients.

The name of the line hearkens back to many of the first ascents outfitted by Eddie Bauer, including:

  • The First Ascent of Gasherbrum I in Pakistan (1958)
  • The First Ascent of Masherbrum in Pakistan (1960)
  • The First American Ascent of Everest (1963)
  • The First Ascent of the Everest West Ridge (1963)
  • The First Ascent of Mount Kennedy in Canada (1965)
  • The First Ascent of Vinson Massif in Antarctica (1966)
  • The First American Ascent of Dhaulagiri in Nepal (1973)
  • The First American Ascent of Peak Lenin in the Russian Pamirs (1974)
  • The First Ascent of the North Ridge of Nanda Devi in India (1976)
  • The First Ascent of Great Trango Tower in Pakistan (1977)
  • The First American Ascent of Makalu in Nepal (1980)
  • The First Ascent of the Everest East Face (1983)

"First Ascent takes inspiration not only from these great historic achievements," said Neil Fiske, "but also a timeless aspiration--to be first, to do what has never been done, to believe that anything is possible. That drive is the heart of exploration and human achievement."

The guides built the First Ascent line as a complete system--from baselayer to insulating layers to softshell and hardshell outerwear. Each piece is designed to work with every other piece in the system to ensure the best fit, comfort and performance. The result is a streamlined system so versatile that it can cover any condition on the mountain. As First Ascent Guide Melissa Arnot says, "There are a lot of dangers up there. Things we can't control. But one of the things we can control is the quality of our gear. Our lives depend on it." In addition to the garments, the First Ascent line includes backpacks, tents, knives and other essential gear.

The idea for First Ascent was born on a successful climb of Rainier, led by Peter Whittaker with Neil Fiske as a client. "It's great to re-unite two great names in American mountaineering history, Eddie Bauer and the Whittaker family," said Neil Fiske. "Eddie would be proud of what we have built."

First Ascent will be available in April 2009 at www.eddiebauer.com, www.firstascent.com, Whittaker Mountaineering and www.whittakermountaineering.com.

ABOUT THE FIRST ASCENT GUIDE TEAM

PETER WHITTAKER Peter is the Team Leader for First Ascent and co-owner of Whittaker Mountaineering and Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. Peter has been a mountain guide for more than 25 years. Born into what could rightfully be called the "first family" of American mountaineering, Peter has more than held his own. He made his first ascent of Rainier at the age of 12. In 1995, he organized and led a group of breast-cancer survivors to the summit of Aconcagua, raising $2.3 million for breast-cancer research. He hosted an Emmy-nominated adventure TV series on public television, and he continues to lead trips all over the world.

ED VIESTURS From a boy who grew up on the flatlands of Illinois, Ed has established himself as the premier high-altitude mountaineer in America. He's the first American and fifth person to summit all 14 of the world's 8000-meter peaks without use of supplemental oxygen. He moved to Seattle in 1977 to study at the University of Washington and then at Washington State University, where he received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. He began guiding on Rainier with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. in 1982 and has participated in 30 Himalayan expeditions since 1987.

DAVE HAHN Dave's ten summits of Everest are the most of any non-Sherpa in history. A guide with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. since 1986, he has twice received prestigious awards for rescue work. In 2001, he was named Denali Pro Mountaineer of the Year for his aid on Denali. That same year, the American Alpine Club gave him the David A. Sowles Memorial Award for his saves on Everest. During the winter months, Dave works as a ski patroller in Taos, New Mexico.

MELISSA ARNOT Melissa already had a career teaching wilderness medicine when she became a professional mountain guide in 2004. Two years later, she was a lead guide. Melissa's summit credits include 72 on Rainier. A native of Montana, she's a skilled rock climber and ice leader. Her passions for climbing, teaching, and taking care of others have taken her all over the world, helping people test their limits in the safest way possible while still having fun. As part of Everest Team INSPI(RED), she summited Everest in 2008 to raise awareness of (RED) and its work to help those suffering from HIV/AIDS in Africa.

CHAD PEELE Chad grew up in North Carolina and now lives in Ridgway, Colorado. He started his guiding career in Alaska in 1996 and continues to guide on remote Alaskan peaks. Although Chad owns his own guide service, Peak Ascents LLC, he works with many reputable guiding outfits throughout the U.S. When at home in Colorado, he guides and instructs ice climbing in and around the nearby Ouray Ice Park. He's also a lead guide and supervisor for Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., guiding on Rainier, in the North Cascades and on Denali. He's a certified Rock and Alpine Guide through the American Mountain Guides Association.

SETH WATERFALL Growing up in Vermont, Colorado and California, Seth learned to love the outdoors early on, thanks to the influence of his parents and grandparents. After earning a degree in mathematics from the University of California at Santa Barbara, he took a career path that followed his passion: In the summers, he guides on Rainier, Denali and Kilimanjaro. In the winters, Seth simply moves to the other side of Rainier, where he's a ski patroller at Crystal Mountain.

ABOUT EDDIE BAUER Established in 1920 in Seattle, Eddie Bauer is a specialty retailer that sells outerwear, apparel and accessories for the active outdoor lifestyle. The Eddie Bauer brand is a nationally recognized brand that stands for high quality, innovation, style and customer service. Eddie Bauer products are available at approximately 370 stores throughout the United States and Canada, through catalog sales, and online at www.eddiebauer.com.

ABOUT RAINIER MOUNTAINEERING, INC./WHITTAKER MOUNTAINEERING Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI) was founded by renowned climber Lou Whittaker and his partners in 1969. Based in Ashford, Washington, on the slopes of Rainier, it is the largest professional mountain-guide service in the United States. RMI leads climbing expeditions all over the world, teaching the safe exploration of high mountains and a deep appreciation for the need to preserve this fragile alpine environment. Whittaker Mountaineering, also in Ashford, is the retail arm of the business, providing clients and other climbing enthusiasts with complete outfitting for outdoor adventures.

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Comments

Bill S
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March 3, 2009 at 9:46 p.m. (EST)

I hope that Eddie Bauer does indeed turn out the kind of gear in terms of quality and price for what you get that they had back in the days when they were the premier outfitter in the US. I still have my Eddie Bauer Karakoram sleeping bag (a -40F bag when it was new). It is heavy by today's standards (about 6 pounds), but was light for an expedition bag in 1960 when I bought it (and only about $50, too! You pay over 10 times that for a comparable bag today, though with higher quality down and modern shell materials).

On our 40th Anniversary trip to Mt Vinson (article in the News section of Trailspace), all 4 of the first ascent party who were with us wore their Bauer expedition down parkas and pants. It was interesting that these parkas were very close to the expedition parkas of today (I took my Marmot 8000 meter jacket and Feathered Friends down pants, purchased much more recently, since I couldn't afford the Bauer gear back in the 1960s as a starving grad student, and didn't really need something like that for the Sierra and Cascades).

Many of us were really disappointed when Bauer turned into a yuppie clothing shop, and "endorsed" the Ford Explorer "Eddie Bauer Edition" (which was just a fancy interior on a standard Explorer).

Let's hope they really are "returning to their roots" and that this isn't just another advertising ploy.

Tom D
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March 3, 2009 at 10:08 p.m. (EST)

I drive one of those Eddie Bauer Explorers. Got it from my dad. I have no idea what the name has to do with anything. It is just an Explorer with a leather interior as far as I can tell. Nice, but nothing "Bauerish" in particular about it.

What interests me is how they will market their niche line of gear alongside the other stuff that looks like it belongs at the Gap or Banana Republic (another great idea gone mainstream a long time ago). I wonder how they intend to capture the "real" outdoor market after years of selling sweaters and overpriced t-shirts.

alan
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March 5, 2009 at 10:53 a.m. (EST)

I would be surprised if anyone under the age of 50 had any idea that Eddie Bauer equipped anyone with anything other than a pair of khakis. I hope they are successful, but it has to be a tough market to crack as the competition is tough. They did line up a well known group of climbers for design and marketing purposes. Bauer would have to offer me great value for my money before I would take a chance on their products versus a known brand such as Patagonia or Marmot or Mountain Hardwear.

trouthunter
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March 5, 2009 at 11:13 a.m. (EST)

I can see it now, the Eddie Bauer spare tire cover that goes with you as a backpack cover / emergency shelter. It would be nice to see them pursue what was in times past their core product line, with some passion and ingenuity.

GrizzGuy
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27 forum posts
March 5, 2009 at 12:00 p.m. (EST)

I would be one of those individuals who had no idea that Eddie Bauer was a major outfitter. Based on their current situation it's going to be a long way to get back into their original business.

Alicia
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March 5, 2009 at 2:26 p.m. (EST)

While I've always been aware that Eddie Bauer used to sell actual gear (a long time ago), my own experience has been of them as selling khakis and sweaters at the mall.

So, even if the new gear is good, it will be an interesting battle, especially in this economy, to break back into the genuine outdoor gear market and get that credibility back. They might be able to do it by highlighting their history, their new guide experts, and distancing themselves from the main Eddie Baeur brand. But, it could be very tough. Especially if they're selling the First Ascent stuff next to the cotton polos.

alan
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March 5, 2009 at 2:52 p.m. (EST)

A recent issue of Outside magazine had a promo piece on winter jackets and mentioned that a particular Bauer down jacket was a good value. This jacket was not part of the new line, maybe it was a test run. As I said above, unless the value is outstanding, I'd just as soon buy another brand while on sale.

Tom D
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March 5, 2009 at 8:15 p.m. (EST)

No spare tire cover, TH, the spare is under the back end, not across the back of the truck like on a Honda and yes, it is a truck, in spite of what it looks like.

I remember the days when Banana Republic sold surplus military gear by mail from well, banana republics, and places like India that had old Brit gear left over from WWII and a bit later. Now BR and The Gap are the same place and EB isn't much different.

f_klock
110 reviewer rep
762 forum posts
March 5, 2009 at 9:49 p.m. (EST)

Now BR and The Gap are the same place and EB isn't much different.

Old Navy is included in that family too. That adds a lot, huh?

There are those who would now label TNF as a company who used to make quality gear and now just sells "style." How many colors have you seen the Denali jacket in? Let me let you in on a little secret - The colors change from season to season and year to year.

Now, with that said, who says quality outdoor gear can't be stylish too?

BigSmoke
33 reviewer rep
201 forum posts
March 5, 2009 at 10:36 p.m. (EST)

I learned quite a bit about outfitters and their morphing into retailers. Read L.L Beans book, quite an eye opener. It all comes down to the almighty dollar, profits, and answering to stockholders and stock value. Companies lost their bearings and took their eye off the ball when stock value became more important than selling a quality product at a fair price.

trouthunter
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March 6, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. (EST)

HaHa, Yes of course Tom....my bad.

BigSmoke, I have found there are two different kinds of businessmen/women. Those who go into business as a way to make money regardless of the business model, and those who go into business to pursue a passion/skill/talent as a way to earn a living. I fall into the latter category, and find myself looking at business through that kind of lense. I guess that's why I like to do business with companies who produce quality outdoor gear, to me it's more than just the performance of a product, I enjoy owning things that are crafted with pride, albeit rare these days.

Oh,....and a third, those who morph.

Alicia
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March 9, 2009 at 1:28 p.m. (EDT)

I just got an Eddie Bauer spring catalogue in the mail (I forgot that we used a gift card to the store for Christmas). Anyway, while the catalogue showed their casual, sport, and travel clothes and footwear, it didn't mention the First Ascent line anywhere.

I don't know if this was because they simply weren't ready to mention it when the catalogue was pulled together, or if they'll try to keep all marketing seperate.

cbg78
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April 16, 2009 at 12:59 a.m. (EDT)

Having worked at REI, I have seen and touched some of this FirstAscent stuff. It is really nice! I would say nothing REI makes is close, I would have to put it on par w/ Acr'Teryx.. Really it's THAT NICE.

 

I thik Eddie Bauer If doing a nice overhaul, Being 30 I think the clothes don't feel old man or 15 yer old, thats what I'm looking for.

 

I have a weatheredge 365 and it's a nice jacket, it's a med shell.

 

Really when you goto the mall do yourself a favor and take a look, it really blew me away.. and you know it will be on sale.. they always have sales there.

 

I'm excited.

Tom D
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April 16, 2009 at 3:10 a.m. (EDT)

I've got an Eddie Bauer insulated cup-kind of looks like a little thermos with a handle and screw on top. It has a little metal plate on it that says "Eddie Bauer, est. 1920."

F_Klock - nothing wrong with style. The problem is when, to steal a phrase, form doesn't follow function. Europeans seems to have a handle on combining both more than we do for some odd reason. TNF still makes some really nice stuff. The "urban outdoorsy" clothes helps keep the high end gear in the stores. Same with REI. I can return anything largely in part I am guessing because clothes rarely come back.

As for the whole "big company/little company" dilemma. It seems to me that little companies need either a high end niche product line or really low overhead to compete with mass market products. I think it's too hard for a little company to make something that is good and still cheap compared to what you see in a big box store, for example.

A lot of smaller companies, and we've talked about this here before, have been swallowed up by conglomerates that own a lot of brands.

Eddie Bauer has an advantage-a recognizeable brand name, a long history and money to put into good design and marketing. It will still take some doing, I imagine, to recapture the old Bauer image, but it could happen, especially if as cbq78 says, the stuff is good quality. If REI starts carrying it, that will help. People may be more willing to take a chance on it if they know they can bring it back if it disappoints.

Tom D
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April 18, 2009 at 1:42 a.m. (EDT)

Just read a report from a website called 24/7 Wall Street that Eddie Bauer is facing serious financial problems and may go under in a few months. The stock is trading at less than a buck. The site also says The Gap may be gone by 2010 as a brand as well, according to them, but who knows how accurate this story is.

If EB does go under, someone may come along and pick up the name, but whether all that new gear will around for long seems problematical at this point.

Perry Clark
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440 forum posts
April 19, 2009 at 2:24 p.m. (EDT)

I'm very skeptical they'll be able to successfully launch a high-end technical gear and clothing line in the current economy, especially if it carries even a whiff of the current EB. Their current stores and goods are indeed Gaps and Old Navy stores with slightly different styling. Much of their stuff is mediocre (or worse) far-East made disposables, essentially, highlighted by the presence of these same items in the camping section at Target stores.

The competition they'll face is fierce, and if their financial situation is already dire, they'll not have loose purse strings through which to fund things for a while as they get the First Ascent line going.

Don't mean to wish them ill, but I don't see it happening.

Tom D
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June 17, 2009 at 8:09 p.m. (EDT)

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/18/business/18bauer.html?hp

Eddie Bauer goes BK.

Bill S
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June 18, 2009 at 1:29 a.m. (EDT)

Yeah, I saw that. Too bad. Eddie Bauer was one of the great names in outdoor and expedition clothing and gear in the 1950s and 1960s, until they changed to a Yuppie clothing store and started endorsing SUVs.

Tom D
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June 18, 2009 at 3:42 a.m. (EDT)

Hey, I'm driving one of those SUVs! Hehehe. Never did figure out the connection.

Bill S
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June 18, 2009 at 11:40 a.m. (EDT)

Here is the Wall Street Journal's discussion. The article in today's print version (front page of Section B) gives a history of the company and mentions the First Ascent product line as something they will try to keep on. (To read the full article on-line requires a paid subscription to WSJ-online, though I think there is a way to get a single article as a sample - or go to the library and read today's, June 18, issue for free)

Alicia
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June 18, 2009 at 2:10 p.m. (EDT)

From SNEWS:

Eddie Bauer files for bankruptcy protection, equity firm enters bid
After weeks of rumors to the effect, it's official: Eddie Bauer has voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, as well as the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Canada.

It added that CCMP Capital, a global private equity firm, has bid on its assets for $202 million in cash. Other buyers may also make bids while the company is under court protection.

Eddie Bauer said it has $476.1 million in assets and $426.7 million in debt in its filing with the bankruptcy court.

Neil Fiske, president and CEO of Eddie Bauer, said in a statement that the bankruptcy filing will reduce the "crushing" debt load placed on the company from the Spiegel reorganization in 2005.

"This process will allow the business to emerge with far less debt, positioned for growth as the economy recovers and as our new products gain traction. We expect this process to be completed very quickly, protecting our employees and critical vendor partners every step of the way," he said.

He noted that the launch of the new First Ascent expedition-grade outerwear and gear will continue.

The company has secured a commitment from its existing revolving credit lenders, Bank of America, GE Capital and CIT Group/Business Credit for Debtor-in-Possession financing of $100 million based on final court order, which it said it believes will provide ample liquidity to meet its ongoing obligations during the sale process.

The company plans to conduct business as usual, and its 371 stores, catalog operations and online sites are open.

Founded in 1920, Eddie Bauer was originally known for its mountaineering and expedition gear. Then, in 1988, Spiegel bought the company and transformed it into a retailer focusing on women's casual clothes. In 2003, Spiegel filed for bankruptcy protection, and two years later Eddie Bauer was spun off.

http://www.snewsnet.com/cgi-bin/snews/Outdoor_financials_Eddie_Bauer_061709.html

(login needed)

Tom D
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June 18, 2009 at 7:34 p.m. (EDT)

It's easy to see what killed EB-I remember Spiegel as a kid. We used to get their mail order catalogs when we lived in Bermuda. Same for Sears. Spiegel probably went under for the same reason Mervyn's did-too much competition for the same middle class buyer.

It sounds like Spiegel wanted to compete with The GAP, BR, and Old Navy and just didn't have the brand cachet or products that were any different from anywhere else. They apparently had a ton of debt and foisted that off on EB in their own bankruptcy.

Look at REI, they managed to morph into a mostly clothes store, but have the name brand recognition of being a good place to buy outdoor gear and have survived so far. I don't they have a lot of debt either. I probably should have read the annual report closer.

Bill S
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June 19, 2009 at 12:03 p.m. (EDT)

Tom,

Remember that REI is organized and chartered as a cooperative, and thus operates under different rules. That does not prevent abuses and bankruptcy (the Co-op grocery stores that were here in the SFBay Area for many years starting closing in the 1980s, with the last one here in Palo Alto closing about 5 years ago - not competitive with Whole Foods and Molly Stone's, or even Trader Joe's). Us oldtimers still refer to REI as "The Co-op", though you would hardly recognize it as such from their marketing. Well, sometimes it resembles a Ponzi scheme with their heavy solicitation of new members and special branded credit cards. Hey, I get annual dividends from Costco, too!

Tom D
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June 19, 2009 at 7:14 p.m. (EDT)

I remember back when it was marketed as a co-op. You don't hear that much anymore like you say. I bet most people who walk in there aren't members or have any idea until they get asked about joining.

Alicia
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July 29, 2009 at 10:23 a.m. (EDT)

Eddie Bauer update on sale to Golden Gate Capital:

 

Dear Valued Customer:
Eddie Bauer has been providing superior products and service for our customers since 1920. Eddie knew the value of building lifelong relationships with his customers. He personally wrote the creed and guarantee that we stand by almost 90 years later. We continue to guarantee everything we make and pride ourselves on customer service - as the creed says, "to be worthy of your high esteem."

Because we value your business and our relationship with you, I wanted you to be aware that Eddie Bauer is being acquired by Golden Gate Capital, a leading private equity firm specializing in retail and direct marketing brands. The sale is on track to close around August 3, 2009. This is very good news for the company, as we will become much stronger financially with little or no long-term debt and more resources to serve our customers.

As you are essential to our success, I wanted to be sure that you know what this sale means to you:

• You'll see no difference in the legendary customer service you've come to expect. Eddie Bauer will remain Eddie Bauer. You can continue to make purchases, make returns, use store credits, as well as buy and redeem gift cards.

• You can also continue to take full advantage of our Rewards, Friends, and credit card programs.

• The customer information you have provided to us - such as your email addresses, mailing addresses, any information you gave us for purchases or as part of our Rewards and Friends programs, will be transferred with the sale to our new legal registration of Eddie Bauer.

The transfer of your information will allow us to continue to keep our loyalty programs (Friends and Rewards) intact, and send you catalogs, emails and mailings, as well as continue to safely store your information. Eddie Bauer credit card and amazon.com programs are unaffected by this change and will continue to operate as normal. As before, we will operate according to our same Eddie Bauer privacy policy. You do have the ability to opt-out of having your information transferred before August 3, 2009. If you would like to opt-out, please visit www.eddiebauer.com/optout. Please keep in mind that if you opt out of having your information transferred, your Friends and Rewards memberships will end, your shopping history will not be kept in our records, and you will no longer receive information on promotions and special offers.

 

We are excited about what this sale means for the future of Eddie Bauer. We will have a well-capitalized partner and a strong financial foundation to support the growth and prosperity of the company. Plus, our fall products are on their way to stores and look better than ever.

Thank you again for your business, loyalty and support of Eddie Bauer. We look forward to serving you many years into the future - always with Eddie's Creed and Guarantee first and foremost.

Sincerely yours,
Neil Fiske
President & CEO
Eddie Bauer

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