words :: Feet Banks.
San Poncho is a rain poncho with two distinct origin stories. Both are pretty kickass, but one is definitely better than the other. It’s probably best to start with the one I can prove…
“It was raining,” says San Poncho creator Chris Worgan. “Like it always does in Vancouver, maybe even a bit harder than usual. And I couldn’t really afford the $800 super gore jacket from the big-name brand. Actually, I was kind of offended by how expensive that rain jacket was—I’m not trying to ice climb on Baffin Island, I just need to walk the dog and go to the grocery store.”
Surprised that there seemed to be very limited availability for simply-designed rain gear made with that same three-layer, waterproof/breathable fabric all the fancy technical gear brands use, Worgan’s entrepreneurial spirit started spinning the hamster wheel in his head.
“Then the pandemic hit and I suddenly had a lot of time to lean into the idea,” he says. “Why can’t I just use this fabric to make a wearable tarp or something super basic, or a poncho?”
Remembering the cheap plastic disposable ponchos he’d seen on west coast ski hills and music festivals over the years, Worgan signed up for a garment design course, “but I told the instructor—I just want to learn to make one thing.”
Worgan’s design is built on simplicity. “From the armpits down it is straight,” he says. “I put a fitted hood on and snaps on the sleeves and down by the pockets. It’s extra long to keep your pockets dry and extra roomy because people around here like to wear puffy jackets. It’s a ten-piece pattern instead of a 120-piece. I knew the easier it is to manufacture the cheaper it will be and I could hit my ideal price point. That was the concept, take that $800 jacket and sell it for $250.”
With pandemic-forced time off work, Worgan hit the internet to research fabrics, introduce himself to reps, and feel out potential manufacturers. “I just started calling and googling and finding factories,” he says. “People started to write back after a while. It was a lot of work but it was very linear, every step led into the next.”
In November of 2020 Worgan, who normally works in the Vancouver TV and film industry, was unboxing his first shipment of San Poncho waterproof, breathable rain ponchos. “I was nervous,” he says. “All my money had gone into those 200 units and I had never met a single person involved face to face. I’d never even spoken on the phone to anyone at the factory, it was all email. But they turned out to be legit and all of a sudden I’m picking up boxes from the cargo area of the airport and it’s like ‘holy crap, from idea to fruition right here in my living room.’”
The good news is, the idea was a good one. San Poncho is a durable, breathable rain jacket that beads water as well as any technical outerwear and is long enough to keep your pants pockets dry (and accessible by snapable side slits). It’s got a waterproof front zipper, a sealed inside chest pocket and snaps on the sleeves to batten down the hatches if need be. It’s exactly what Worgan wanted: simple, effective, comfortable, and not $800.
“I think practical is coming back into fashion,” he says. “I’m banking on people wanting to stay dry and not caring about a bunch of extra features. It’s not like I’m super passionate about rainwear, I just couldn’t find what I wanted and felt like, ‘who wouldn’t want the stay-dry benefits of that ultra-tech fabric at less than half the price?’”
Who indeed. And this sort of problem-solving ideology leads into the second San Poncho origin story, the one that dates back hundreds of years to the early Spanish explorers who sailed north from Mexico, along the Pacific coastline, and up to what is now Alaska.
“San Poncho was a lesser-known Spanish papal explorer,” Worgan explains. “Bad weather would follow him wherever he went, with massive downpours threatening to sink his ship from above. Despite being a man of God, he was also ultra-practical and ingeniously devised a way to orient his sails so they could protect his crew from rains but still harness the Pacific winds at the same time. However, a huge storm eventually caused his ship to run awreck on some rocks in Whiskey Straight. Rather than die stranded on a deserted coastline, San Poncho had his crew tear the sails into dozens of individual ‘ponchos’ and he led them overland to safety. What a legend! After I heard that story I knew I’d found the patron saint of San Poncho.”
While Worgan admits it may be difficult to find much written history about the exploits of San Poncho the explorer (or the exact location of Whiskey Strait) he says if you spend enough time at the Scarlet Ibis Pub in Hobert on north Vancouver Island, the fishermen will be able to corroborate that tale, and more. Better take a good jacket if you’re heading up there though, that’s wet country. Poncho country.