Better Businesses: Uphill Designs Trekking Poles
Founded by engineers Dan Sedlacek and Mounica Sonikar and business student David DeBey, Washington-based company Uphill Designs makes sustainable bamboo trekking poles that are touted to be a strong as steel poles and as light as carbon fiber. We sat down with Dan and learned more about the company. Tell us a bit about the company’s name. Why did “Uphill Designs” become the name of your company? On the Pacific Crest Trail most Thru-Hikers have trail names. My brother had to leave with stress fractures in his feet after 1,000 miles of hiking. When he did, he named me “Uphill” because of my love for steep, uphill climbing. Hiking uphill is about hard work and embracing every step, and that’s why we named our company Uphill Designs. Why start with the trekking pole? We believe that the best way to engineer is to identify the ways in which technology can enhance what nature has given us. Mounica and I conceptualized our trekking pole while working on our masters theses. She studied bamboo and I was researching natural cork. We found that bamboo was much stronger than aluminum and as light as carbon fiber, yet, most of the current trekking poles are made from these materials. After studying the properties of bamboo and cork we felt that they were a perfect fit for the hiking gear market. What does the sustainability look like in your production of the poles? We are obsessed with using the perfect natural materials in our poles. Even the small amount of plastic we design with is biodegradable or recycled. Our metal comes from recycled sources and our cork handles are up-cycled champagne corks. Our adhesives are not only non-toxic, but they loosen when soaked in hot water. This allows for either us, or customers, to repair a set of poles rather than buy a whole new product. Overall, sustainability to us means that our products are over 95% natural or upcycled materials that are built to last and can be easily fixed. When you say, ‘biodegradable’, what does that mean? How long does the product last for? How long before it biodegrades? Most people feel ‘biodegradeable’ materials means they break down quickly, like food, but in reality, ‘biodegradeable’ simply means that our product is capable of being decomposed by bacteria over the course of time. Our poles will last a lifetime under normal conditions without degrading, but if you do lose a pole on the trail, they will degrade naturally without giving off any unnatural toxins. Your website mentions that Uphill Designs gives back to the communities that support it, how do you give back? What does that support look like? We are committed to being a leader in the hiking community. We give a percentage of our revenue to support the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Our long-term goal is to sponsor trail-maintenance crews, especially in the neediest sections of trails in Washington State. We are inspired by the trails we hike and it is our duty to be environmental stewards for future generations. Will you stick to trekking poles or are there plans to design and develop new gear in the future? We are wrapping up a successful Kickstarter campaign and are seeing incredible support for our poles. Right now we are fully-focused on taking our first product to as wide an audience as possible. Getting our poles in people’s hands will open the door for natural hiking gear that really feels at home on the trail. Long-term we will definitely come out with designs for new, gear. What are the areas of growth, improvement, and opportunity for Uphill Designs? We are the first collapsible bamboo pole in the market and were funded in just 2 weeks on Kickstarter. In order to fuel this excitement, we need to grow the relationship with our customers while reaching an even-wider audience. In particular, this period after our Kickstarter campaign will be a critical time for Uphill. We will be managing logistics at a much larger scale, increasing production by 10 times, as well as establishing long-term relationships with our 3rd-party suppliers and shipping partners. Anything else you feel like sharing with Trek Tech about Uphill Designs? If you or someone you knows loves the outdoors, we would love it if you helped spread the word. Our Kickstarter ends on December 20th, and continued pre-sales will be offered through our website at www.uphilldesigns.com. We’ll see you on the trail!