Gear for Good | An Interview with the Founder of Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi Water Bottles
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Have you guys ever heard of the company Cotopaxi? If you have then you are awesome. If you haven’t then don’t worry, you are still awesome, and it just gives me the opportunity to introduce them to you!

About a month ago I went to an outdoor expo where I discovered Cotopaxi and instantly feel in love with this company.

Cotopaxi is an outdoor gear company that gives back. Each piece of Cotopaxi gear is tied to a humanitarian cause in one of the poorest regions of the world. Cotopaxi also makes it a priority to remain transparent. In true transparency, one of the founders of Cotopaxi, Stephan Jacobs, agreed to an interview with me.

Y’all! Get excited, sit back, and enjoy:

An interview with the founder of Cotopaxi

| Where did you come up with the name Cotopaxi? |

My co-founder, Davis, and I met at business school a couple of years ago. We went to the University of Pennsylvania and we have known each other for many years. We were both entrepreneurs before coming together here for Cotopaxi, and we had both just exited our previous businesses right before we started Cotopaxi. We had known for several years that we wanted to do something together and “Cotopaxi” came about because Davis grew up for most of his life – for 15 years – in Latin America. He grew up at the foot of Mt. Cotopaxi which is a large, active volcano in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. So he has a personal, emotional connection to it. We had traveled together in South America – in Argentina and Chile – and we both loved the name, and named the business after that mountain.

| What made you guys decide to start Cotopaxi and sell the outdoor products that you do? |

We both have been entrepreneurs before in the E-Commerce space. I ran an apparel business and Davis ran a baby-space business in Brazil. We love building businesses. We are very passionate entrepreneurs, but we both felt that in our previous companies that something was missing. It is one thing to make the company successful – that is rewarding and great – but we felt that something was missing. At the same time we had both traveled a lot – I think I have been to close to 32 countries and Davis has been to almost 50 – so we have seen some of the things that we take for granted. Some of the things we take for granted – food, shelter, education – a large number of people do not have access to that. We wanted to find a way to give back and to do so in a sustainable manner. We felt that the non-profit sector is very hard to be sustainable because they constantly have to raise money. The non-profits constantly have this pressure to raise money, and we felt that there was a better way to do that and to have an impact on the world. We thought that the better way was building a company – a profitable business – and dedicating a large portion off of the profits to doing good in the world in a sustainable manner. That is the whole premise around the Cotopaxi brand.

| What percentage do you give off your profits to charity? |

It varies from product to product. It is at least 10% of profit. In some cases more. It is incredible the type of impact you can have. One of our water bottles, each purchase, pays for 6 months of clean water for somebody in India, Cambodia, or Bangladesh. Our Nepal backpack, each purchase, pays for 3 weeks of schooling, food, and housing for somebody in Nepal. Those small dollar amounts really make a difference.

An interview with the founder of Cotopaxi

| How did you choose the organizations and charities you work with? |

Right now all of our partners are through personal relationships. Davis, my co-founder, is actually in Peru right now visiting the school that we are supporting there. And next week he is going to be in Bolivia where the Inca pack is supporting the school there. It is because we have those relationships that we know the people running those individual organizations. Our Kilimanjaro packs raise money for an orphanage in Tanzania, and the guy that runs that orphanage shares office space with us here at Cotopaxi. He has built up that orphanage over several years. Again, there is that personal relationship, and that is how we go about vetting these partners. We look for individuals who are doing phenomenal work, who are exceptional givers, and who have dedicated a large portion of their lives to doing good. There is a trust relationship where we know 100% of the funds reach the beneficiaries and don’t disappear or go to overhead or administration. It is a very careful vetting process for each partner that we go through.

| How much impact have you made so far since opening Cotopaxi? |

We are just about to make the first contributions after our first 6 weeks of sales next week. The first couple of weeks have been amazing and the response has been beyond anything that we had expected in terms of sales projections. We have impacted hundreds of lives already in such a short period of time, which obviously makes us feel really great and motivates us to continue to do what we do. I don’t have the exact figures yet, but we will in about a week or so.

| Do you have a way for customers to track where their investment is going on your site? |

Any product page will tell you the story of which organization you are supporting with your purchase. Once we have made those contributions we are then going to start tracking what type of impact we have had. The product page doesn’t show each individual customer’s impact, but the impact of an individual product. For each individual product we will be able to show – for example – over the last 3 or 6 months this much good has been done. So with one transaction you have contributed to that.

An interview with the founder of Cotopaxi

We really believe that it is important to have that level of transparency across the entire value chain. That, of course, includes our manufacturing partners. If you go to the site at the top “Mission” and the “Factories” you see a full profile of our manufacturing partner for our backpacks. We try to do the same on our giving end. It is such an emotional and important part of the purchasing decision that we can’t screw up on that and have the funds disappear. So we want to be 100% transparent on where these funds go and the type of impact that they have.

| Have you put any thoughts into expanding your products? Any new product ideas? |

We deliberately launched with a very small product line – backpacks (lifestyle products and technical gear) as well as water bottles (stainless steel, double lined, vacuum sealed bottles). We are expanding the product line into apparel in the Fall (by mid to late August). I am super excited about it. Our apparel designer is tremendously talented. She used to work with Marmot, Nike, and Columbia. She is a real product visionary, and has come up with some really awesome outerwear pieces. We will be launching with jackets initially, and then further with a full layering system in the Spring. We will launch a fleece jacket, a canvas jacket, and a technical ski jacket. That is what is coming up next. We have a couple of prototypes here in the office already and I am super excited about them.

| To your knowledge how many countries have your backpacks visited so far? I know that your Instagram feed is filled with people showing them off all over. |

I will have to eyeball it because I don’t have the exact numbers. I don’t run our social media, but just from what I remember, I have seen the pack in France, Amsterdam, Germany, all over the US, Malaysia, Australia – someone took it to Sydney, and I think it has been to Africa. In terms of continents – Europe, US, Australia, Asia, and Africa (I’m not 100% percent sure). In terms of countries – probably at least 20.

That is really what the brand is about – exploring and traveling and having encounters with people. That is really what makes travel so wonderful. If you venture beyond the tourist destinations and interact with the locals and see how they live, you end up having these close encounters with people all over the world. We are super excited to have our customers share those shots with us.

An interview with the founder of Cotopaxi

| Which backpack is your personal favorite? |

I personally use and really love Cusco. It is a great travel pack. I took it to Germany where I am originally from. It is the perfect travel pack. The canvas is velvety soft. We actually had one of our customers send in a picture of his daughter taking a nap on the pack. That is one of my favorites in the lifestyle products. With the technical gear, I really like the Nepal. The team took the Nepals down to Escalante a couple of weeks ago where we went through the slot canyons and really put it to the test. We dragged it across the sandstone and carried it for 4 days with quite a bit of load and it was great. It was very comfortable but still a lightweight versatile pack. Those two are my favorites – the Cusco for lifestyle and the Nepal for a multi-day hiking pack.

| Where did the llama logo come from? |

That was also inspired by the region of Mt. Cotopaxi. If you go Ecuador and Mt. Cotopaxi in particular you see llamas everywhere. It seems like here you see little rabbits roaming about, but there it is llamas everywhere. Again, there was a personal tie. It takes us back to that region and they are such fun and gentle animals. They are rugged and outdoorsy but at the same time good-natured and protective. Llamas are used as herding animals because they have that protective instinct. So it just fits really well with the brand – we are a rugged outdoor company with a strong focus on humanity and helping others, and that is where the llama is such a great representative.

| Why should my readers choose your company over other outdoor companies? |

This answer is two-fold. 1: The quality of our product. One of our co-founders, CJ, used to work for Gregory and Black Diamond for the last 12 years before joining Cotopaxi and he designed some of their most award-winning packs over the last decade. He is a true innovator. At his previous job his boss would say, “No, we can’t use these zippers they are too expensive. We can’t use this material, it is too expensive, and we just don’t have the margin.” Whereas here we are a direct to consumer brand. We are not at REI; we are not at any retail channel, which means there is a lot of margin that suddenly frees up by not going through a wholesale model. And we are re-investing that into better products. So we are telling CJ to come up with the best pack that he can come up with, and that really shows. We are using better materials. He is pushing hard on true product innovation – looking at what is out there in the market and trying to find what we can do differently and better. And that results in superior and spectacular product that our product testers and early customers are confirming for us. So, great product is answer one.

And answer 2 is we are the only outdoor brand that is focused on humanity and making the world a better place. There are a lot of wonderful brands out there that are dedicated to helping the environment and other causes, which we are very grateful for and excited about, but we feel that there are over a million people that live under the worst forms of poverty and live off of under $1 per day and who have a life expectancy of less than 50 years. We at Cotopaxi say that that is not OK. We want to change that. Anybody who shops at Cotopaxi is contributing to us changing the world. They are helping us change the world. That is why we as a team feel so strongly about what we do. It is for a purpose. It is not just to make money and not just to build a great brand. I mean that is part of it; that is how we become sustainable. But it is really about finding a way to sustainably make a difference. All of our customers involved in the Cotopaxi movement are contributing to that, and I think that is why the response has been so special and unique.

They sound like an awesome company right? Cotopaxi has been generous enough to offer a discount code. Use FORTHEJOURNEY to get 10% off your entire purchase. But order soon because the offer expires June 30!

Cotopaxi Water Bottle Giveaway

Y’all, I LOVE Cotopaxi so much that I am treating one lucky winner to a Cotopaxi water bottle! The winner will be chosen randomly via Rafflecopter, and I will announce the winner of this giveaway on June 20th. I will contact the winner via email (if the winner does not respond within 48 hours of the email another will be chosen). Enter below to be a part of this company’s mission to change the world for the good!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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18 thoughts on “Gear for Good | An Interview with the Founder of Cotopaxi

    1. That is a pretty one. I love all three! I’m not sure which one I would pick…that’s why I haven’t bought one for myself yet. Decisions are hard. I do have their Inca 16L pack and I LOVE it! It is a fantastic day pack. Oh, I so hope you get one of their bags!

  1. This is awesome! Thanks for sharing. I love knowing of companies that help others through their products. I will keep it in mind when we are next in the market for a backpack!! I think I’m really between the India and Bangladesh, but I’d probably go with India because it’s my favorite color!

  2. This is so awesome! I’ve never heard of the brand Cotopaxi before, but I am glad that you introduced it to us. My favorite would have to be Bangladesh! I’m excited to see what other products they have.

      1. On our hike last weekend I was telling my other half that I really want to get a backpack so I can carry my own supplies. I’ll definitely have to look into theirs. The water bottles are cute too!

  3. This is really nifty! Too bad they don’t have my color for anything (dark green). Would certainly like a water bottle for the next trip to Guatemala (this July).

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