Outdoor gear company Cotopaxi is gaining major attention from consumers and investors for their superior product and unique approach to marrying business with social impact. Founder Davis Smith tells Ecouterre that “after moving to Latin America when I was 4, I spent my entire childhood and about half of my adult life living in the developing world. During this time, I saw lives destroyed by heart-breaking poverty and lack of opportunity. Having been exposed to this reality, I feel a responsibility to make a difference.” Each piece of Cotopaxi gear, sold only online to reduce costs, is tied to a humanitarian cause in one of the poorest regions of the world. We tell you where your money goes in a tangible way. For example a purchase of a Pacaya Insulate Jacket will provide 2 weeks of midwife training in the Q’eqchi’ communities in Guatemala, thereby helping CHOICE Humanitarian to reduce child mortality. In addition, they manufacture in sweatshop-free factories that offer sustainable, equitable wages to the employees and stick to strict fair labor practices.
Smith says that he got started after a few years of being an entrepreneur in Brazil, I moved to the US and started Cotopaxi, the first startup to be incorporated as a Benefit Corporation from inception and go on to raise venture capital. I went to Silicon Valley and raised $3M in Venture Capital to launch and hired a team of award winning gear designers from Nike, Black Diamond, Marmot, Columbia, and Dakine. Soon after, we launched Questival, a 24-hour adventure race for charity in order to gain awareness of the brand. As a result, we garnered 30,000 social media posts in the first 24 hours of our launch. This year, there will be around 20 Questivals across the country.”
When asked why focus on the outdoor industry, Smith told Ecouterre that his passion started at a young age. “My father was an adventurer, so growing up abroad I swam and floated the Amazon river, hiked dozens of volcanos, camped on deserted islands and spearfished for food. I’ve always loved adventuring and the outdoors.
As newlyweds, Davis and Asialene Smith were inspired to take an unpaid internship in Peru. It was here that they first met Edgar, a poor street boy who shined shoes. The couple knew that they wanted to dedicate more or their lives to social causes, like helping children similar to Edgar. Now 13 years later, Cotopaxi has dedicated their Cusco pack to supporting education at the Qosqo Maki shelter, where Edgar grew up.
“Unfortunately, there was not an amazing outdoor brand catering towards the millennial generation. Patagonia and The North Face are great companies, but are both over 50 years old. Taking my passion and experience of growing up outdoors, I wanted to build a direct-to-consumer outdoor brand, a brand that is all about the experience,” says Smith.
Cotopaxi goes the extra mile to make sure their factories, located in the Philippines, are fair, safe, and bring pride to the workers. “We always use factories that have been audited and that signed onto certain agreements and safety accords; however, I don’t trust those alone,” says CJ Whittaker, Cotopaxi’s VP of Product. Cotopaxi utilizes two additional forms of auditing before deciding to partner with a factory. First, they conduct their own personal inspection, and second, they hire a local journalist to interview employees in order to gain a sense of their general well-being. “I want to work with the best partners in the world, but I also need to work with partners who I can create lasting relationships with,” says CJ.
In 2014, Cotopaxi solidified partnerships with 11 nonprofits with diversified missions. WHOlives.org is a partner who helps communities to build business around providing clean water. CHOICE Humanitarian has a goal to end extreme poverty through skill building and leadership in villages Kenya, Nepal, Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico. JUCONI supports education of street children and their families in Mexico and Ecuador.
To raise awareness, join together like-minded people, and to have some fun, Cotopaxi sponsors Questival events throughout North America. These 24hr scavenger hunts challenge small teams to complete acts of service and have fun while they are at it.