New Outdoor Retailer Exhibitors: Grayl, BirkSun and Orange Mud

About 250 brands were new to Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013. We take a look at a couple that caught our eye at the show.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

About 250 brands were new to Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013. We take a look at a couple that caught our eye at the show.

>> Grayl / www.thegrayl.com / Nancie Weston, founder & CEO / Seattle, Wash.

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Nancie Weston on Grayl: “Grayl’s water filtration cup filters water fast, easy and on the go — simply fill, press and drink. Grayl’s G3+ filter technology is effective against bacteria, protozoa, viruses, chemicals, metals, flavor and odor. Grayl’s breakthrough, patent-pending innovation works like a coffee press. Fill the outer cup, press down, and water flows through the G3+ filter into the clean inner cup. Drink immediately, share with friends or seal the lid and toss it in your computer bag. Grayl’s patent-pending G3+ filtration technology combines a triple ion charged mesh to capture germs; ultra-powdered activated carbon to absorb odors, flavors, heavy metals and industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals (including BPA); and an anti-microbial agent. Grayl gives you one less thing to worry about. Grayl is constructed of 18/8 stainless steel and silicone. We also designed an incredible lid for a one-of-a-kind drinking experience. It’s safe to say you’ve never drunk out of anything like it.”

Tell us about your brands and products.
Grayl is a woman-owned start up out of Seattle. Grayl’s goal is to make high-quality products focused on advanced materials and groundbreaking design. We want to make a positive impact in people’s health and lifestyle with socially and environmentally responsible products. The Water Filtration Cup is our first product, and we’ve got several more filtration products in development.

What were you, as the founder of the company, doing before this?
I’ve worked in the outdoor industry for more than 25 years in retail, sales, marketing and product design, and have two previous patents to my name. My passion is creating and bringing to market everyday products that combine great design and premium materials.

Where did your inspiration come from?
I’m sensitive to the taste of chlorine and metals in the water. I used refillable plastic bottles until reading more about BPA and chemical leaching, bottled water isn’t a sustainable answer, so I decided to create something better. I took design inspiration from my home coffee press. I worked with my co-founder and a brilliant industrial designer for over 15 months on the design. Now we’ve created a stylish filtration system that can be used every day, whether filtering creek water on the trail or tap water at the office.

What’s the one best feature of your product? 
The Grayl Water Filtration Cup is easy to use and requires no sucking, squeezing or gravity. Fill the outer cup, press the inner cup down, and drink either with the lid or without.

What has been your biggest challenge? 
Distance. Team Grayl is a cast of dedicated, talented people, but we all live in different cities and most have other jobs while working on Grayl at night and the weekends. I live on Camano Island north of Seattle. My co-founder in Spokane, Wash. and we have key people in Seattle, eastern Washington, Arizona, Los Angeles and Idaho. So we use a variety of web tools to collaborate. After launch, we’re going to bring the team together in Seattle.

 Who do you look up to in the industry? 
Klean Kanteen being pioneers in stainless steel drinkware. Arc’teryx and Osprey because they started as small companies and their products are not only functional, but beautiful as well. Patagonia for treating their employees right, giving to environmental groups and producing great products.

Who do you want to compete against in the industry? 
We will be in the mix with specialty outdoor filters — Katadyn, Camelbak, Aquamira, Sawyer and OKO. We’ll also compete against flavor/odor bottles from Brita, Bobble and others. But our real competitor is the $2 bottled water that Americans spend $12 billion on every year. Grayl is striving to be your favorite way to drink water, whether on the trail or in the office.

>> BirkSun / www.birksun.com / Richard Highsmith, founder / San Francisco, Calif.

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Richard Highsmith on BirkSun: “BirkSun makes solar-powered backpacks that charge phones, tablets and cameras — or anything with an 8-pin, 30-pin and mini- and micro-USB port — with energy harnessed from the sun. The built-in 2,400mAh battery takes energy from the bag’s 6 watt solar panel, or a wall outlet, to give most smartphones a 25 percent boost per hour through the internal adapter. All of this comes for an MSRP of $150 and $160 dollars, around half the price of the currently available solar backpacks, and with more style.”

Tell us about your brands and products. 
We’re most excited about both our bags and what we stand for as a business. We have two bags—the Levels and the Atlas. The Levels is the outdoor adventure pack, made for hiking, biking and outdoor fun. It retails for $150. The Atlas is the urban pack. We wanted something that a businessperson could carry into the office, but also something perfect for bringing supplies for a day at the park. It retails for $160. Both packs come with a built-in battery that can be charged from the sun or a wall outlet. The stored energy in that battery can charge gadgets through a built-in adapter. When you buy a BirkSun bag, you become part of our community. This means a couple things. As we understand how fast technology and fashion move, customers can send back their bags at any time in exchange for a 30 percent discount on our new line. We will in turn fix any issues and donate the bag to Solar Sister. We also are working on a community blog to allow customers to share travel stories and recommendations, post photos, write about solar or anything having to do with our field and post suggestions.

What were you doing before this? 
I graduated with a degree in economics from Occidental College, and I wanted to put my education to use through wealth management at Morgan Stanley. I didn’t feel inspired or excited by my job.

Where did your inspiration come from?
I wanted to create something, so I teamed up with my fellow classmate at Oxy, Noah Applebome. We came up with a bunch of different ideas but we kept coming back to Noah’s passion for solar energy and my frustration with my phone constantly running out of batteries when I’m traveling. It made perfect sense to create a solar backpack.

What’s the one best feature of your product? 
That it works. Right now there isn’t a bag on the market that looks attractive and fashionable, can harness solar energy and charge phones and other devices, and is affordable. Even two out of three of those would be good, but for us the combination is a no-brainer.

What has been your biggest challenge? 
Production and aligning three people’s individual ways of looking at life into one succinct creation. We went through tons of samples and back and forth communication issues with the supplier, and when we finally had the bag approved, it was late getting here. There were many stressful nights wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. Also we believe our differences in viewing things are an asset, that they complement each other nicely, but it’s taken some time to understand how to best use our strengths and delegate and learn about our weaknesses, how we fit into one model.

Who do you look up to in the industry? 
Voltaic for solar panels, and Timbuk2, Chrome and Tom Bihn for backpacks.

Who do you want to compete against in the industry?
All the companies mentioned above. We want to be known for making fashionable bags in themselves that integrate the solar panel into an even better look and use. The charging is the icing on the cake. We’d like people to say “Oh, this TimBuk2 and BirkSun are equally cool-looking, but the solar panel and charging make it a no-brainer for BirkSun.”

>> Orange Mud / www.orangemud.com / Josh Sprague, CEO / Corona, Calif. 

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Josh Sprague on Orange Mud: “‘Innovation from frustration,’ is our tag line. I’ve had a lot of fun over the years racing and training for sports in the endurance space like Ironman, AR, trail running and endurance mountain biking (MTB). With the running side of things I was never satisfied with the running packs as they bounced, squeezed and/or were just too hot to wear — hence the design of our first product, the HydraQuiver. Our second product, the Transition and Seat Wrap, came about because I couldn’t stand the thought of my dirty, bloody (after many MTB rides), sweaty body making contact with my seat in the car post-exercise, hence the zip on hoodie for a seat cover. Changing in the parking lots of trailheads is always concerning, too, as I always thought my towel would eventually fall off at the perfectly wrong time, hence the integrated belt clip. That’s how the first two products evolved.”

Tell us about your brand.
My No. 1 objective is to ensure that we design top-quality gear, sparing no attention to detail, and do all that we can to ensure it’s made in the USA. Some days I question whether people really care, some just outright tell me I’m an idiot for trying, but hey, it’s working well for us so we’re sticking to our guns. Communication is another big one for me. I don’t know how much longer I can do this, but so far I’ve followed up with every customer that we’ve sold product to. It’s a daily job just keeping up with communication for new orders coming in every day, but the data we’ve received from our customers has been invaluable for shaping our product and brand.

What were you doing before this? 
I’ve been in the medical device manufacturing industry for over 10 years. My role there has always been in a sales capacity, but over the years I’ve held vice president of sales/marketing and vice president of operations roles. It’s a great industry with different challenges making spinal implants, shoulder implants, pacemakers and the like, basically all the things that we as athletes hope we never have to have. The day we need an implant though, well, that’s where I’m proud to say we’ve made some very high quality products to save lives.

Where did your inspiration come from? 
The spirit of the outdoors is magical to me. As a young country boy, that meant chasing lizards, building forts, and walking down the middle of stream until the sun went down. As I got older, the quest for exploration changed to a mix of pushing my physical limits, all the while still taking in the beauty that Mother Nature has to offer. Whether catching lizards or racing for days on end, both challenges simplify life for a time and open your mind to the essential needs of the moment. All of my ideas have come about while being in the outdoors!

What’s the one best feature of your product? 
On the HydraQuiver, no bounce. It’s a concept that I always thought would work, but took years to actually make a sample. I couldn’t be happier that I did! On our Transition and Seat wrap, I’m torn between the integrated Velcro free belt clip versus the zip on hoodie. Both are pretty darn neat if you ask me.

What has been your biggest challenge? 
Finding local manufacturers. It’s hard enough to find someone good, but especially local.

Who do you look up to in the industry? 
That’s a tough one to say as there are so many, but I’ll start with Altra shoes. They’ve done a great job and have a great history going from start-up tiny company to an industry leader in zero drop. Inov-8 has always been impressive to me, too, and the rest? Well, I could go on for a long time.

Who do you want to compete against in the industry? 
So far we’re largely creating some unique categories, but since we’re making packs, Ultimate, Salomon, CamelBak and the like are certainly competition. Do I “want” to compete against them? Well, not really, as their pockets are quite a bit deeper than ours, but hey, if I can keep them sharp, why not?

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