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Magazine honors Fletcher camping gear maker

CEO Judy Gross is shown on the cover of Business North Carolina, which honored Fletcher-based LightHeart Gear as Small Business of the Year. CEO Judy Gross is shown on the cover of Business North Carolina, which honored Fletcher-based LightHeart Gear as Small Business of the Year.

A Fletcher-based manufacturer of lightweight camping gear has been named the Small Business of the Year by Business North Carolina magazine.


Excelsior Sewing LLC / LightHeart Gear is a woman veteran-owned contract sewing operation specializing in products for the outdoor industry. It also manufactures and markets its own line of ultra-lightweight tents, ultra-lightweight raingear and hiking apparel for women under the LightHeart Gear name brand.
CEO and designer Judy Gross started the company in her basement and in April of this year, celebrated the company’s 10th anniversary. During a luncheon and awards ceremony Monday in Chapel Hill, Business North Carolina honored LightHeart Gear and three runners-up.
“In June, 2006, I was hiking the Appalachian Trail,” Gross recalled. “I was carrying a 4½-pound tent. I met a guy with a tent, a lot lighter than mine, and it was huge – like a palace.”
Gross, who had been sewing all her life, attended design school at Houston Community College after a long career in nursing. With a strong knowledge of pattern making, she set about designing her own tent. The result was a tent that weighed less than 1.7 pounds and in the process a novel structural support system utilizing hiking poles rather than standard tent poles was developed and patented.
“My husband’s favorite motto is ‘invest in what you know.’ I know sewing, I know hiking and backpacking, so I put the two together,” she said.
Last year, the company built a new factory and relocated the operation to Fletcher. The move tripled the size of the production area. Overcoming physical constraints for additional sewing and other machinery and allowing the company to grow and increase production capacity. In the last six months the number of employees has increased from 6 to 10. LightHeart is a family business with Judy’s husband, Marc Penansky, as chief financial officer, and her son, Joshuah Gross, as operations foreman.
“This award is a great honor for our company,” said Chief Operating Officer Russ Robinette. “It is a tribute to the hard work of our employees and their dedication to quality workmanship. We also wish to thank the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development for their nomination and support.”