Just outside Quito, Ecuador, sits a stratovolcano known as Cotopaxi. First ascended to the peak in 1872, its 50 degree ice slopes require axes and crampons as well as navigating crevasses. Oh, and it’s technically still an active volcano, with seismic readings and sulphuric activity on the rise since 1975, although no actual eruption since 1940. People climb it to this day as a tourist attraction.
Mountain Life indeed.
Davis Smith, the founder and CEO of Cotopaxi, grew up in the foothills of Cotopaxi, Ecuador. It was his backyard and the first place he saw poverty firsthand, as well as what is now his company’s mascot and logo, the llama. Cotopaxi was notable as a mountain to conquer as well as the location of Davis’ childhood and inspiration to assist the 1 billion people living in extreme poverty after seeing it firsthand.
The revolutionary new outdoor apparel company only launched in April this year. In this short time, the response has been immense, going so far as to be able to recently expand their winter selection.
What separates this company from others of its kind? Well, it’s on course for being one of the most ethically sound companies in the business. Of course, the fair labour, sweatshop-free practice (seen above) is almost par for this day and age. But Cotopaxi takes it one step further, extending karmic opportunities for even the consumer. While perusing the site, you’ll get the name and details of a charity right alongside the description of the product and sizing options. Cotopaxi prides itself on donating 10% of all sales to various charities around the world. Buy a t-shirt, and you’ve just helped bring clean drinking water to a community (WHOlives.org). A zip up fleece hoody goes towards cancer screening and treatment in developing countries (RadiatingHope.org). And one of the backpacks will put a donation into the Phillippines Community Fund, designed to help 5 hugely impoverished areas in Filipino cities (p-c-f.org).
Those are three of many more charities that Cotopaxi is honoured to contribute toward. As an upcoming forerunner for the kind of altruistic activity needed in the world, it’s hard to believe it’s only been a working concept for a matter of months. Even the shopping experience is positive (as opposed to neutral) with a “Llama”, or online helper to answer any questions you might have about sizing, colours, or delivery options. (Mine was called Liz, and she’s fantastic: after I distractedly ordered a shirt in the wrong size, she was quick to rectify it after a short email… Multi-tasking is not my strong point.)
You’re going to need a new jacket anyway, and the bonus of the Internet is that you are able to shop an almost infinite selection. Why not do some good in the world from the comfort of your living room, and get some sweet gear as a by-product?
Davis answered a couple of questions we had about his company.
ML: Of all the mountains out there, why did you choose the volcano in Ecuador to name your company?
DS: Great question. Most don’t even know Cotopaxi is a mountain, let alone where it is. When choosing a name for the business, I wanted to make sure the name had heart. That it wasn’t just named after a mountain that everyone knew about, or how to pronounce. After all, our business is all about heart. When I was four years old, my family moved to Latin America and I ended up spending part of my childhood and early teenage years living in Ecuador. My dad used to take me camping at the base of Cotopaxi, so the mountain has always had special meaning to me. It was also the name of my school when I lived in Quito. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate name for an outdoor brand focused on helping the disadvantaged.
ML: Besides the world benefits of fair labour and donations to worthy causes, why should the consumer purchase your gear over other outdoor equipment?
DS: I knew from the day I conceived the idea for Cotopaxi, that I couldn’t build this amazing brand, or have the social impact I wanted, without building world-class products. I actually went onto LinkedIn, and started looking for award winning designers in the outdoor industry. I emailed them, talked to them by phone and found that they shared the vision that we could build an amazing outdoor brand built around helping people. Cotopaxi designers previously worked at companies such as Nike, Columbia, Marmot, Dakine, The North Face, Black Diamond and Gregory. Our direct-to-consumer model allows us to take that additional margin, that would normally go to a retailer, and put it back into product. We use the finest factories in the world, the highest quality materials available, and some of the most award-winning designers from the outdoor industry.
ML: One of your T-shirts for sale has the rather ominous “Join, or Die” slogan… Care to elaborate?
DS: The official name of our company (the incorporated entity) is Global Uprising, PBC. PBC means we are a Public Benefit Corporation. Benefit corporations are a new type of for-profit entity where the business’ goal isn’t simply to maximize shareholder value, but to have a measurable positive impact on people or planet. We take this mission very seriously. I chose the name Global Uprising because we want to be part of an uprising where businesses show that we can be a force for good in the world. We want consumers to expect more out of businesses and businesses to expect more out of their consumers.
“Join, or Die” has a special meaning that we felt represented something similar to our “Global Uprising” mission. “Join, or Die” was a political cartoon originally created by Benjamin Franklin used to rouse support and unity among the American colonies during the Revolutionary War; it became a call to action for the colonies to unite and fight against British tyranny. We feel a similar calling to rise to action and unite in a fight against global poverty. We also changed up the design a little using a llama head (vs. a snake head) and we changed the letters to say “Gear For Good” (vs. the abbreviations of the 13 Colonies).
Cotopaxi ships from the States, with plans for a Canadian hub in the not-so-distant future.