Apparel, Better Businesses

Better Businesses: Cotopaxi, Gear for Good

Cotopaxi: Gear For Good

With a mission to ‘disrupt the outdoor industry’ in hopes to empower, encourage, and challenge companies to do more for humanity, it’s hard to ignore the ways Cotopaxi is radically changing the way to run a business. In fact, Cotopaxi exists firstly to give back to humanity. Creating awesome quality gear is a means of doing that. With a warranty of 61 years, the average human life span of someone in a third world county, these guys are spreading awareness while guaranteeing quality gear. With every purchase, they tell you exactly what you’re providing a beneficiary of an organization they’re partnered with. The team at Cotopaxi feels it’s more impacting to show the true unit of impact with a consumer’s transaction than say the company is giving $1 or 10% of proceeds to an organization. Meet Stephan Jacob, one of the founders and COO for Cotopaxi. We had the opportunity to chat with him and get to know his workplace a little bit better.

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The name ‘Cotopaxi’ comes from emotional ties that co-founder, Davis Smith, had as a kid growing up in South America. “It’s actually named after Mt. Cotopaxi which is an active volcano in the Andes Mountains,” says Stephan. The company is brand new having just launched in April of this year. I asked about the pressures of compromising practices for greater expansion and Stephan’s response was a pleasant surprise. “The sole purpose of Cotopaxi, from its inception, is to do good in the world.” Because of this driving purpose, there’s not really a conflict for them between doing good and being a successful business. Part of the reason for this is, by having a ‘direct to consumer’ model, it frees up a ton of margin. By going direct, more money can be put towards better material and to doing good sustainably by going to charity partners. Cotopaxi is challenging the idea that practices must be compromised in order to have success. With every transaction they want to have a positive impact on the world.

Cotopaxi’s main way of giving back to humanity is through financial contribution to specific charities. With so many organizations out there, I wondered how the team at Cotopaxi went around choosing partners. Stephan assured me there was a lot of brain power and time that went in to this. They make promises to their customers that their purchases will be providing something to someone in need (see products for specific ways you can). Three specific criteria need to be met before picking a partner.

First, Cotopaxi asks for complete transparency. They need to know about the organization’s operating expenses and where Cotopaxi’s contributions go. This mean look for the organization’s impact focus.

A solid impact focus is the second requirement for Cotopaxi’s partnership. Cotopaxi doesn’t want their contributions to fund some fancy office; they want it to go to the beneficiaries. “We need to be able to see for every dollar we contribute, what is the impact?” say Stephan.

Lastly, they need Solid Trust. With every organization, Cotopaxi has a personal relationship. They’ve talked, met, or gone to the site of the organization and built a relationship. As they expand they’ll look at the reputation of an organization and if it’s possible, see for themselves personally how they operate.

Not only is Cotopaxi giving back to humanity through charities, they have stringent expectations for both the pack and apparel factories they choose to work with. They can’t work with the cheapest supplier, or the cheapest factory because it doesn’t align with their vision of humanity. The factory that produces their packs is based in the Philippines and is owned by people who truly appreciate their employees. With fair wages, childcare, special housing wages, and even their own sports leagues, it’s no wonder the average tenure for sewers is 10 years. Want to see pictures? Head to their website, they’ve posted plenty.

The apparel factory’s profile is not yet on the website, so naturally, I had to ask about it. “It would be disgenuine to say we do good on one side but exploit on the other.” Despite a horrific reputation, Cotopaxi found a factory in Bangladesh for their apparel production that’s well lit, well ventilated, provides fair wages, maternal care, and proper safety for its employees. “It’s a young team of Bangladesh entrepreneurs who all trained in some of the best outdoor brands both European and American in the world and who came back to Bangladesh to show and prove it can be done differently,” says Stephan.

So, why work for Cotopaxi? “The fact that, it’s a purpose driven organization, it makes a huge difference both in terms of personal satisfaction and the joy of going to work every day in the morning. You do it not just for yourself and not just for a paycheck but you do it for something that’s bigger than yourself,” says Stephan. As if working for an ethical company that gives back to humanity wasn’t enough, Cotopaxi also provides its employees who work their for more than 18 months, a week of vacation AND travel stipend to go have an adventure. Seriously? They even have an adventure wall in their office. You can find the Cotopaxi team running together on a trail once a week, giving 10% of their work time to either testing gear or giving back to their local community, and even bettering their education paid for by a special budget Cotopaxi has for developing the people on the team.

Keep your eyes peeled for a new ski jacket, technical ski pack, and roll top bag coming out soon. We might even see some sleeping bags and tents come from these guys in the not so distant future. If you haven’t heard about Questival, their 24-hour outdoor adventure race/party, check out the 30 dates and locations for this crazy event for next year.



Wendy Ewing

Wendy Ewing is a Washignton native and Northern California transplant. Growing up at the base of the North Cascades, her entire upbringing revolved around the mountains. With her family, Wendy spent most of her childhood backpacking, mountaineering, skiing, and mountain biking. With a strong passion for wilderness ethics and personal growth and development, she decided to pursue building Wild Beginnings Adventure Co. Wendy has written gear reviews for Trek Tech, Innovation & Tech Today, and Active Junky. In the winter season you can find her back country skiing and both trail running and mountain biking the rest of the year. Wendy lives in Shasta Lake, CA with her husband, John, and their adventure retriever, Sauvie.