One of the defining points of outdoor specialty retail is that it is where customers can go to discover what’s truly new. Local shop owners are the ones who often take the risk to bring in a small, start-up brand, differentiating themselves from the big boys. In this reoccurring series, SNEWS will identify and highlight the new kids on the outdoor block vying for a place on those shelves.
Social entrepreneur, and founder and CEO of Kammok, Greg McEvilly, describes the past few years as “a wild ride.”
He left a career in commercial real estate, went back to graduate school in cross-cultural communications and ended up starting an unconventional, yet so-far successful outdoor business. He’s also working to eradicate malaria deaths by 2015. So, just another day in the office!
McEvilly sat down with SNEWS to discuss his up-and-coming camping brand and how it’s a combination of his passions for quality products and positive social impact. Kammok launched on crowdfunding site Kickstarter with a line of camping hammocks and shelters, and is expanding into sleeping bags, including a customizable bag with interchangeable baffles to adapt to different environments. Up next: a push into outdoor specialty retail stores.
How has your background shaped your ideas for the outdoor industry?
Kammok’s inspiration comes from a different place than the more iconic outdoor brands — brands we still love and look up to and respect immensely. When you look at them you see the founders and the teams very heavily influenced by high alpine adventure sports, climbing and heavy mountaineering. Our design influence is more looking at global cultures and [asking ,] ‘What does the socially conscious adventurer who might go climb Kilimanjaro, but also go serve in communities while they’re there [need]?
Kammok’s first products got off the ground through crowdsourcing website, Kickstarter. What led to that decision?
I love engaging people at the ground level of our business, so crowdfunding in general is this great way to bring your community in in this really organic way. It’s a way of saying, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re planning. Here’s what’s available. Help build the culture.’ It’s this very horizontal playing field. We’re saying ‘Link arms with us and let’s move forward together,’ instead of ‘We’re high up in our tower throwing products down to you. Now go play.’
You mentioned that Kammok may not continue to use Kickstarter as the company grows, but you always want to have direct consumer input. Tell us more.
If we’re hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, that’s not going to change our mission to equip and inspire. I think a great way to do that is to bring [the consumer] in early in product planning and development where they’re a part of that product story and part of our story in a huge way.
Originally, one hammock was to be donated to disaster relief for every model sold for full price, a la the Tom’s Shoes initiative. Now you’re donating money from each hammock sold for five lifesaving treatments to cure malaria. Why did your strategy change?
The sole focus on anything related to serving other communities is this concept of empowerment instead of dependency. After six months of meeting with some big nonprofits, we decided to go a more sustainable route. Instead of providing a hammock for a hammock sold, we contribute to nonprofits doing incredible work, people working with [those communities who] truly have a model that empowers rather than creating dependencies. For every product purchased, we take revenue straight off the top and donate to organizations like 1 Percent for the Planet, Malaria No More, and Comfort the Children International.
What environmental initiatives are you pursuing in the production process?
We are committed to B Corp status and the highest level of accountability and transparency. For shipping we purchase carbon offsets for everything. We’re a zero end-waste manufacturer, so any scraps that come off of a product we save in big bins. We have designs, some coming out this spring, out of recycled product. [Another big part] is working with socially and environmentally responsible manufacturers and vetting them. No. 1, we want to make the best product possible. I firmly believe that the way for us to have the most sustainable impact in this industry and with our customers is to create something that's lasting and really desirable, something that’s dependable.
What’s on the horizon for Kammok in 2014?
This year we really want to grow relationships with independent store owners and regional store owners and dealers and support them through our product sales. We are very excited about new relationships this year, partnering with new stores and seeing growth.
Where do you expect the brand to be in 15 years?
In the next couple years [we ’ll get] into technical apparel, packs and lifestyle products. I see Kammok as the outpost for socially conscious adventurers. Come to Kammok and be equipped with the highest quality product, as well as stories that inspire action and help move people beyond the brand and into the greater adventure of changing lives.
-- Courtney Holden
Share your thoughts below in our comment section. Does Kammok have what it takes to make it in your specialty outdoor retail store? Or, email us about another newcomer to the outdoors we should feature here.