As soon as you notice a jacket or bag Cotopaxi, it’s hard not to see it. I remember my first sighting of Cotopaxi in Park City at the outdoor brand’s retail store on Main Street. Outerwear, backpacks and gear for men and women look like they were designed by someone not out of committee or obligation, but out of joy. Imagine Patagonia on happy pills and you start to get the idea.
This feel-good vibe follows the broader brand story. Based in Salt Lake City, Cotopaxi is known for donating at least 1% of all revenue to charitable causes, with a particular focus on poverty alleviation and ethical sustainability. Their mission is that outdoor gear can pave the way for both adventure and global change, and it’s a pathway to improving the human condition. I respect that.
I also like the products, especially the packs from Cotopaxi Del Dia Collection, all of which use fabrics left over from other companies’ large production runs to keep usable materials out of landfills and give them new life. All of these Second Life samples come together in rainbow designs, meaning no two Del Dia bags are the same. When ordering, you can even hit the “surprise me” button and get the color setup you can’t (spoiler: you won’t be upset).
That goes for the streamlined, no-frills Tarak 20L Del Dia ($105) for climbing and off-trail skiing, and do-it-all backpack style Luzon 24L Del Dia pack ($80) is great whether you’re hiking or storing dirty clothes after a weekend; all the way to Allpa 35L ($195), with its detachable hipbelt and air mesh back panel and padded interior compartments for clothes and laptops. With tie-down points and hidden organizational pockets, this bag is versatile enough for a hut-to-hut adventure or a week in Manhattan. I’m also a sucker for fanny packs – uh, hip packs — and the Kapai 3L waist bagwith his Eternal Gobstopper the color scheme and secure zipped pockets and padded sleeves, is a fashionable “yes” even if you use it to store your phone and keys during kids football practice.
I love talking with the passionate founders behind inspired brands I love, and here’s part of my conversation with Cotopaxi founder and CEO Davis Smith on a brand with social responsibility at its heart. He grew up in Latin America, where his father completed building projects for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Davis used that time to camp, hike, and fish for piranhas in the Amazon River. It also gave him some ideas on how to run an engaged business.
How does your experience play into what you do with Cotopaxi?
David Smith: The reason we started the brand was the “why” we had before we even knew what we were going to sell, and I think that’s pretty unique. Other brands create the product first and then maybe find a way to make an impact in some way. But for us, we knew that our goal was to fight against poverty. You know, 700 million people currently live in poverty. Given my background and early life experiences, I needed to figure out what brand or business I could start that would allow me to be part of a movement to help solve this problem. We have helped over 80,000 refugees and most of that is overseas. It happens in countries far from here with people we will never meet and who will probably never become customers. And that’s perhaps the first thing that really sets it apart. The second thing is that I care deeply about taking care of the planet and being a responsible steward of our planet. It shapes everything about how we think about how we make our product. At Cotopaxi, 94% of our products are made from residual or recycled or responsible materials. And we are committed to reaching 100% by 2025.
What is the story behind the vibrant colors of your products?
David Smith: We have always had very bright and fun colors. But we introduced very early on, in the Del Dia line, a collection of one-of-a-kind bags because we use leftover materials. They are made with random colors put together, but it matches and looks great no matter what combination you see. Behind the scenes, the seamstresses at our factory were choosing the colors they liked, and they told us that this was the first time they had a creative choice in what they did. They got to be part of the creative process, which was really fun and fulfilling for us. At first I wondered if people would even want this stuff? Or like, is the return rate going to be higher? But the return rate was lower than we had ever seen for any product.
If the fun colors on your gear are any indication, I’m guessing you prioritize fun in the Cotopaxi workplace. True?
David Smith: So true. Even during the pandemic, we had fun. Like, we started a virtual hike that we do every Friday morning at 9:00. It’s on everyone’s calendar and you log into Zoom, and wherever you are, you can walk around the block or take a nearby trail. We’ll even walk your dog to the park with you. We have someone on the team who does what we call a ‘lifeline’, which is basically sharing their life story, in minutes, from childhood to present. By hearing these incredible stories, you get to know people on a new level. And it became my favorite part of the week.
And after? What are you most looking forward to?
David Smith: We have great things happening, including new products and launches. But what makes me happiest is that we just hired a company president named Damien Huang, who had been the CEO of Eddie Bauer, who is much bigger than us. Prior to that, he was an executive at Patagonia and North Face. He’s just an amazing people-oriented leader who understands our mission. He comes from immigrant parents. He studied abroad in Ecuador where the name Cotopaxi comes from. He is deeply connected to our goal and is simply incredibly talented.
OK, the last question is difficult. What is your favorite Cotopaxi product? Go.
David Smith: Yeah. Wow. OK. Let’s see. A? I would say the ALPA sports bag ($140) is my favorite. It comes in three different sizes, and it’s basically a backpack that unpacks like a suitcase. What I like is that it has a few unique features that I haven’t seen in any other product, including a zipper all the way around the bottom of the bag. You have a place to store dirty clothes or shoes. It has straps to carry the bag on your back. He also looks really cool.
But really? A single product? Go on!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.