Coalatree Kicks It to a Higher Gear
Coalatree is an outdoor “eco-friendly” gear and apparel company based in Salt Lake City that uses recycled materials in its products. Like most start-ups, it’s had a wild ride, but thanks to the openness of the Utah outdoor product industry and innovative use of Kickstarter fundraising, the ride has had a highly successful, upward trajectory.
A decade ago, CEO Jacob “Charlie” Bessey and his cofounder were attending the University of Utah, and Charlie was working at Skullcandy. He left Skullcandy in 2009 and began consulting on company systems and start-up launches.
His cofounder had an idea that they discussed back and forth for six months. “The concept of your carbon footprint was really starting to take hold. We decided it wasn’t just about what you put in your body, but also what you put on your body, what you wore,” Charlie said.
The early products – pants, socks, jackets, t-shirts – were conceived and refined while Charlie lived on a 16-acre farm on the Colorado River in Colorado. “We were following sustainable practices on the farm and taking similar approaches in developing products.”
However, life on the farm was isolating. “We were missing a support system. When we moved back to Utah, we found that system,” Charlie said.
The company also found a new approach. From 2011 to 2015, Coalatree was selling through its own online presence while also working through trade shows and retail channels to distribute the products. “We were in 200 stores in eight countries, stores like Urban Outfitters. In 2015, we had $500,000 in retail sales.”
In 2016 Charlie bought out the original partners to take the company in a drastically different direction, including the complete cut-off of the retail channel. “From January to August 2016, we had $36,000 in total sales and $700 in the bank account.”
Right when things seemed tightest, the Utah support system provided some relief. “We got out and talked to people. When we moved to Utah, the community embraced us and helped with our new direction without thought of reward. Especially the folks at Power Practical who walked us through how crowdfunding could supplement cash flow.”
In August 2016, Coalatree – with the help of a loaned Power Practical staff person – launched their first Kickstarter campaign, raising $270,000 in the process. “Kickstarter gave us market validation right away,” Charlie said. “The sales followed. By the 4th quarter of 2016 we had $770,000 in sales.”
Since then Coalatree has launched another six campaigns, expanding to 100 SKUs built around five of what Charlie calls “hero products.” The company plans all future product launches to have a Kickstarter platform.
The latest Kickstarter campaign, which closes this month and features the Evolution Hoodie made from recycled coffee grounds, has already raised more than $400,000 from 4,500 supporters.
“Beside market validation, Kickstarter also gives us some predictability when we do ordering from our suppliers. We have 17,000 total people who have participated in our campaigns, and 4,000 of them are regular returning funders. That provides us with a clear idea of what to pre-book.”
Like Power Practical, Coalatree is one of a number of emerging Utah companies that are using Kickstarter. “Utah is a hot spot for this activity. When you look at the top-performing Kickstarter campaigns, a surprising number of them are based along the Wasatch Front,” Charlie said.
“Utah is different. In the industry here, people want to help each other,” Charlie said. “The moral of the Coalatree story is to lean on the community and never give up. My life is definitely easier being hubbed here in Utah.”
In the spirit of building the community, Coalatree has posted a brief article called “An Eco-Minded Guide to a Successful Kickstarter” which includes seven key best practices your business can follow.
For more information, or to be one of the first to get your hands on some innovative, eco-friendly gear, visit www.coalatree.com.