Kelly McMahon came up with the idea to repurpose old climbing ropes into dog leashes and dog toys while on a 120-mile long bike ride to his family’s cabin in Central Minnesota.
He forgot his headphones that morning, which initially, he thought was a terrible mistake. Left to his own thoughts and musings, his mind raced and ideas spun as he dreamt up this upcycling business idea.
“I got more and more excited as I biked!” he remembered. “I had the entire business plan in my head.”
He hung onto the idea for several months, but was chomping at the bit to tell somebody about it, both for some input and accountability.
It was at a party that he pitched the idea to climbing buddy Christian Fraser.
Not only would CragDog repurpose retired climbing ropes (that would otherwise be destined for the landfill) into dog leashes and toys, he told his friend, the brand would also donate a whopping 30% of proceeds to local climbing advocacy organizations.
“There wasn’t much debate,” Christian said after hearing Kelly talk about the benevolence of the brand. He quickly gave him a “heck yah, fantastic idea” response, and they both turned to chopping up old ropes in hopes of piecing together this new business venture.
As climbers, Kelly and Christian understand there’s not a lot of funding that goes into climbing. “We have a lot of local climbers that front the cash, develop routes, and do the hard work. We wanted to be able to give money for these projects,” Kelly said.
Christian, who has been an active member of the climbing community, having worked as a climbing guide and instructor for more than 11 years, agreed. “It really is a do-it-yourself kind of endeavor.”
“In the wild west of climbing, people weren’t always environmentally conscious,” he said. Hoping to change that tune, CragDog wants to focus on being more eco-conscious and climate friendly.
“We want to preserve the ecosystem and do the right thing,” Christian said.
Not surprisingly, this credo turned out to be valuable as they began seeking out retired rope to repurpose from their hometown climbing gyms.
Climbing gyms face a huge liability, however, and aren’t always eager to donate retired rope, fearing they might be misused for climbing or cause undue harm. “They’re putting themselves at risk by giving us that rope,” Kelly explained.
Using the 30% back promise, though, has been helpful in persuading these gyms that not only will the rope be responsibly retired from climbing use, but their donation will also enable CragDog to give back on a local level.
“It’s been an overwhelmingly positive response,” Christian said. “At the start, people were like, are they gonna put their money where their mouth is? Is this too good to be true? But, overall, everyone is extremely grateful and pretty stoked on this whole idea.”
While a majority of CragDog’s rope donations come from nearby climbing gyms, individual climbers are welcome and encouraged to donate their retired ropes, too.
Most climbers will tell you they have a strong connection with their gear. Every piece usually has a great story that goes along with it.
“I personally name all my ropes,” Christian laughed. He stored his old blue rope, Miranda, in his closet for years thinking he’d make something cool. “Now that rope is a bunch of dog leashes and dog toys.”
As a way to share these memories, stories, and monikers, CragDog hopes rope donors will share their gear’s ‘Rad Memory.’
“Climbers love to tell stories, and we want to keep that tradition alive with our company as well,” Christian said.
All in all, CragDog is a pretty low budget operation. “The only piece of actual equipment we have is a printer,” Kelly laughed, “Everything else is a needle and thread.”
Since everything is hand-stitched and no fancy equipment is required, both Kelly and Christian can easily work out of their own homes in Duluth; hand cutting and rope tying might take place in their living rooms or out on the back porch.
Kelly, primarily in charge of sales and marketing, loves getting out in the community. “I do everything I possibly can to spread the word and bring a fun face to the company,” he laughed.
Christian, with his invaluable climbing connections and relationships, does a lot of the backend work: connecting with climbing gyms, coordinating rope donations, and building partnerships.
And don’t forget their dogs, Louie, Edmund, and Keiko. “Day to day, it’s just us,” Kelly said. “But we get a ridiculous amount of product testing out of our dogs,” he laughed. “We have a pretty robust R&D Department.”
While they’re only offering dog leashes and dog toys for now, Kelly and Christian see no limits for CragDog. Moving forward, that might extend past upcycling just climbing ropes. “If you’re using your gear, we don’t want it. But if it’s going in the garbage, we want to figure out what to do with it.”
“Climbing shoes – that’s when we’re gonna start having fun,” Kelly joked.
“I’m excited for when we’re presented with that challenge. I love being creative and constantly trying ideas, tying knots and seeing what happens. The fact that we don’t necessarily have a plan makes us unique.”
CragDog strives to be as close to zero waste as possible. Even a two-inch piece of rope might be made into a keychain. “We’re constantly experimenting, dialing down our exact lengths,” Kelly said. “If something doesn’t work out, I ask, what can I make? I messed it up, now what?”
“But knowing it’s not gonna end up in the landfill is a pretty good feeling,” Christian chimed in. “In the grand scheme of things, is it going to save the world and reverse climate change? No, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
“We had three tenants when we started,” Kelly added. “Be eco-friendly, have fun, and give back. Even if it’s work, it’s good, it’s rewarding, and it keeps us in touch with a really awesome community of people.”