Sheri Tingey started sewing at age 3, taught by her grandmother who she remembers was a fantastic seamstress. Making doll clothes, stuffed animals, and even her own clothes followed throughout her and her sister’s formative years with their mother’s encouragement. Fast forward, upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon in 1967, Ms. Tingey centered her life around and fell in love with skiing, kayaking, and climbing so much so that she started sewing to make clothing specifically for those outdoor activities. She then decided to focus more on ski clothing, inspired by a popular fashion line at the time, yet the clothes were too impractical for consistent wear. Thus, Ms. Tingey made for herself a one-piece powder suit that resolved the dilemma, and soon, many people began to request that she make the same for them. This resulted in the launch of her first innovative business, Design by Sheri, where, from 1967 to 1981, she and ultimately six employees produced and sold beautiful, well-functioning, practical ski clothing—each piece crafted as one-of-a-kind.
In 1981, however, Ms. Tingey became ill and had to leave the company for nearly six years. Fortunately, she regained her health and decided to resume her passion for designing for the great outdoors. A friend who was a packrafting enthusiast asked her to build him a boat, which appealed to her. Fulfilling the request led to her next and current entrepreneurial journey as the founder and lead designer of Alpacka Raft LLC since 2000. Ms. Tingey describes her business as being “soul driven” about making the greatest boats that she and her company’s engineering expert, Dustin, can imagine for their customers. She makes every boat pattern by hand—still—and he refines it on a computer. Further, the company has a repair department where customers most often visit to have their boats upgraded rather than fixed. Ms. Tingey’s goal when she started was for her boats to have at least a 20-year lifespan. She declares that her first-year boats are still going strong and prides herself on providing top-quality boats, as people’s lives depend on them. The primary reason a customer returns to buy another boat, she says, is to have a different or newer design.
Creating Alpacka Raft has been the professional zenith so far for Ms. Tingey, who has enjoyed rare success in the male-oriented outdoor industry, especially as it relates to design and engineering. She never hesitated to start her own businesses and always received immediate validation from the public as they steadily requested and purchased her items. She also has relished the experience of exchanging vital dialogue with customers to whom she listens as they explain, for instance, how they want a garment to work while they also seek her expert advice. One of Ms. Tingey’s most important clients was her son, Thor, who asked her to build him a raft after he discovered gross inadequacies of the rafts that he and four college friends were provided to traverse many hundreds of miles in Alaska as part of elite expedition grants they were awarded. Along with her son, Ms. Tingey has a daughter, Daphne; a grandson, Waylon; and a daughter-in-law, Sarah.
At Alpacka Raft, the employees’ quality of life is paramount to Ms. Tingey. She is proud to have a company in which the people matter, and their well-being is as much a priority as creating great products. Her company also shows that it cares about its surrounding communities by performing varied extensive charity work. During the next decade, Ms. Tingey’s goal is to create her next major boat design, as she cites that fabrics are changing rapidly, and the way boats are built will change significantly in tandem. In anticipation of whatever those changes will be, she has been and will continue to experiment with fabrics in the meantime.