- Ever since we started Pop Outerwear we’ve wanted to have our jackets and pants made in the US. I grew up watching my dad work tirelessly to build his company. In turn, he’s always hired people who worked hard – regardless of where they came from or pedigree. My dad told me that one of the greatest things about being an entrepreneur was one’s ability to create opportunities for people to change their lives. His warehouse manager, Maria, started out as one of the industrial park’s cleaning ladies until my dad saw her strong work ethic and asked if she’d like to work in the shipping department. She told me once that because of the opportunity, her family bought a house, a new car, and was saving for their children’s college educations.
We were green when we started Pop back in 2009, not coming from the industry and operating on an ignorance-is-bliss / wouldn’t-this-be-cool mentality. Tim and I knew that we both worked hard and felt like, even if we failed, we’d learn a ton and have a blast doing so. Our first season, we made all our jackets overseas in China (where most outerwear is made). The second season we split our production between China (for waterproof construction) and our beloved San Francisco. Now, in our third season, we are proud to announce that we are moving our entire production back to the US.
Stay tuned for more details on our journey!
Not too long ago, we received a knock on our door. A very familiar knock, identical to one delivered from our hand years ago as naive industry outsiders looking in with starry eyes. Now, as a crew that is still getting our fashion sea legs under us, wisdom is not something we usually get hit up for (unless it’s in reference to friday BBQs, which we have self-admittedly mastered). This new person shared with us a piece of his inspiration: Learning to first snowboard a season ago, and seeing an opportunity for something specific that was missing on the mountain. Sounds familiar.
Starting a company, learning to snowboard, or anything challenging where you are at the bottom of a learning curve all seem to follow a general pattern: unchecked optimism meeting tailbone-bruising reality.
No matter how well planned your approach is, it’s tough. Just as was once shared with us, we passed along our experience to this new, young padawan: all the hurdles we faced, the deceivingly high barriers to entry, the allure of cheap production in Asia, and the thrill of seeing someone around town wearing a jacket you made.
One of our favorite parts of living in San Francisco is the ambition and confidence of so many people following their passions, whether that is starting a business or anything in life where you are venturing out into the unknown. To any and all creative and driven people eager to take the leap, or with eyes set on something grander, we say go for it… we’ll always be here to cheer you on.
Snowboarding is our love, and like all loves it has its ups and downs. It needs new adventures to re-kindle the passion (rarrr). Five years ago our new adventure was a life-altering backcountry cat-skiing trip in British Columbia (where we decided to start Pop Outerwear!). Last weekend, we finally had a chance for a new adventure, this time more local (hello startup poor) but equally as fun – splitboarding in the Tahoe backcountry.
Our adventure was guided by Julien of Alpine Skills based in Truckee (www.alplineskills.com). After a little de-brief we set sail for Donner Pass. We were amped to get out and get a little taste of what Tahoe had to offer outside of the resorts. And after fumbling around with the bindings and learning how to apply the “skins” to the bottom of the board, we were off.
Let the games begin!
The experience was awesome, but I will say we did pay for it through our own blood and sweat (no tears). We weren’t quite prepared for the blisters that came from the motion of hiking with the splitboard attached underfoot. But we did learn two valuable lessons: 1. always have a first aid kit and 2. have socks that aren’t 10 years old (oops). While hiking I came to the realization that splitboarding is the equivalent to surfing: 95% paddle 5% surfing, surrounded by nature’s beauty and serenity. Our exhaustion at the end of each hike up was easily outweighed by our excitement for each run that laid before us. And once we got a few turns in, we knew that all the pain was definitely worth it.
At the end of the day, we found that splitboarding was going to be our new obsession. When we do have a moment in our day to dream, it will take us to a sunny Tahoe day splitboarding with great friends and great snow!
- Check out our spread in the SF Chronicle: Pop Outerwear goes beyond snowboarding......
- Having your own business is sometimes awesome and sometimes not. This post is to shed some light on our life before and after starting Pop Outerwear, in case anyone out there is thinking about making the leap from corporate-land.
Life before startup: lived in a cube farm in the big world known as Corporate America, and participated in the latest discussions about news celebrity gossip. We’d trudge into work on Monday, hit the hump on Wednesday, and count down the minutes to Friday closing time. We weren’t rich by any means but made a decent living that allowed us to live modestly in San Francisco. Our workdays were filled with meetings, project scheduling, office politics, and climbing the corporate ladder. Until one day, we stopped and asked ourselves – is this it for me?
That was in 2009 where we also went backcountry snowboarding and, separately, experienced the passing of several people in our lives. Those two experiences made us stop and realize that we wanted to do something different.
Life after startup: there is no Friday, Monday, or Wednesday…or closing time for that matter. Even for yours truly (an admitted work-to-live person), it’s a lot. Time flies (this is good, I think) and we stop briefly to think “whoa, it’s already August…crap!” There’s no longer bureaucracy or a stingy boss saying you can or cannot do this. You are the only limiting factor to what can be done (most of the time). It is freeing but boy, is it humbling. We work, or think about work, almost all the time….and it’s a hustle. We’re simultaneously working on developing product, building our market presence, increasing consumer awareness, and honing our own core competencies. Oh yeah, we have to get to clean the bathrooms too. We can run errands or workout in the middle of the day (I like this part) but sometimes lose out on weekend outings with friends. On the plus side, we follow our passion each and every day. We’re forced to come up with creative solutions to obstacles and the learning never stops.
We believe there’s no right or wrong way to shape your career and despite all the challenges and headaches, this has been the best work experience of our lives. For those of you out there who are thinking about starting your own company, we say — go for it! Leaving the corporate life is SCARY(!) and we don’t claim to know the responsibilities that each person has in his or her life, but we have also witnessed how incredibly bright, talented, and driven people are. Startup life is a series of ups and downs, and if you make the leap, know that we at Pop Outerwear are cheering for you.
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
-Henry David Thoreau
- Last year we started making our fleece jackets as a sweet piece that can serve you well, everywhere from trekking in Antarctica to picking up groceries at your neighborhood farmer’s market. We wanted to test out apparel production in the US and sent out feelers… by that I mean we talked to anyone and everyone about our goal of producing in the US. In the end, it was a friend-of-a-friend who recommend a factory in San Francisco. They used to produce fleece jackets for “that other” outdoor company until that company moved their production overseas.
Our first trip to the factory we couldn’t stop smiling. We walked into an open warehouse space filled with the hum of sewing machines, neatly stacked cuts of fabric, and the excited Cantonese chatting of the women who work their sewing magic. They made a great sample and, even though we are a small (but growing!) company, they treated us like royalty. We talked about everything from design and construction to the tumultuous industry that is apparel.
Once all the fabric, zippers, labels, and markers were at the factory we breathed a sigh of relief. Two weeks until we’d have a set of beautiful, US made fleece jackets – just in time for a client’s order. But as with everything in life, the unexpected happens. A frantic call one week later jarred us out of our bliss – the zippers that were sent were the wrong size, hundreds of them. And our supplier had a 3-week lead-time to get new ones. And it was a national holiday (Labor Day) so other suppliers were closed. And we happened to be hosting my in-laws who were in town for the long weekend. It was crazy. We called every fabric store in the San Francisco Bay area and most just laughed when we told them how many zippers we needed. After hours of googling, driving to fabric stores (yes, with the in-laws), and calling we were finally able to buy (retail) the hundreds of zippers we needed. We arrived at the factory (sweating!) and they thanked us. That night we talked about how good it felt to band together to solve the obstacle that was the zipper-madness.
To us, producing in the US isn’t just about creating jobs – it’s also about being a part of the process.