Guadalajara, Mexico is widely known for its mariachi music and tequila production, but ultralight, cottage-made backpacks? Not so much!
This void is what encouraged 22-year-old Matteo Volpi of Volpi Outdoor Gear to go into the cottage gear business.
It was after covering more than 800 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2019, using popular UL cottage brand gear made in the United States, when Matteo thought he’d try his hand at making his own packs.
“Living in Mexico, it was complicated to buy backpacks from cottage gear companies in the USA; shipping and taxes were sometimes more expensive than the product itself!”
His mission: Create a local brand that makes quality backpacks and supports the Mexican market.
“As you can imagine, unemployment in Mexico is a serious problem, especially for the elderly. Given the backpacks have a similar quality and price as the cottage gear companies from the United States, we can afford to pay them with a high salary in comparison.”
Matteo admitted he hasn’t always been crafty. “Actually, I’m just learning! I’m a gear geek. I’ve always liked to read, investigate, and learn new products and technologies that can help us have a better experience when we’re out there.”
While Matteo is in charge of product design, his team (mostly over the age of 60) take on the building and sewing.
“Don Pepe is the person in charge of the production. He’s basically my boss, because I am learning everything from him!” Matteo said.
Matteo hopes this venture might inspire other Mexican businesses to generate their own form of honest employment, as well.
“Unfortunately, more and more people are working for organized crime because it’s the easiest option to generate money,” he explained. “I believe we should engage with our collaborators and pay them high salaries so that it won’t be necessary to seek other employment options that affect the country’s integrity.”
According to Matteo, UL outdoor gear makers simply don’t exist in Mexico. “Quality materials are difficult to obtain, which is a major factor in the result of local products,” he said. “The outdoor gear companies usually create more traditional equipment – big and heavy.”
Volpi Outdoor Gear is certainly not immune to these challenges in obtaining quality materials. “It’s hard to pass certain textiles across the border; sometimes you even need a special license to do so.”
Despite the hurdles, the brand works closely with Ripstop by the Roll, a high-end UL fabric supplier in the US, popular among small startups and cottage brands.
“In my opinion, carrying lightweight equipment allows you to move faster and fully enjoy every moment in nature.”
And for Matteo ‘Olive Oil’ Volpi specifically, UL gear also means he can pack more olive oil. “On the PCT I used it in all my meals…every time,” he laughed, as he explained his trail name. “I even drank it to finish what was left in the bottle before buying more at resupplies!”
Currently, Garage Grown Gear is the only source for Volpi packs in the US, and one that Matteo is extremely grateful for. “I believe the best thing that has happened to this project is being accepted into Garage Grown Gear!”
“My main motivation is the ambition of this project. I would love to be able to grow and be able to help other people in Mexico, as well as inspire other enterprises to be socially responsible. And, opening markets abroad motivates us to have an even better product!”