Amy (left) and Lloyd (right), the founders of Garage Grown Gear, living the ultralight backpacking life.
Today we’re gonna get a little meta. Just how exactly did the website you’re reading this article on get started? The online store where you like to pick up your ultralight cottage gear can trace its humble beginnings to a serendipitous luck-of-the-draw meeting, and an old cramped basement. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; let's first meet Amy and Lloyd.
How it started. In its earliest days, Garage Grown Gear operated out of Lloyd’s basement.
Amy grew up in the outdoors, and caught onto the packraft craze during its early days in Alaska — where she attended school and worked as editor of a community newspaper.
Dirt and snow are Amy's happy place. She fell in love with trail running, going on to complete the Leadville 100, Grand Canyon’s Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run, and a host of other obscure routes and ultra races.
When she first moved to the Tetons —where she still lives with her husband, 10-year-old daughter and two dogs — she skied six days a week. “I’m a ski bum,” she repeated happily.
Other notable outdoor accomplishments include: traversing the Southern Patagonia Ice Cap, hiking the Wind River High Route, summiting Mount Rainier, and finishing/ winning multiple 24-hour adventure races.
Amy in her happy place, a 24-hour adventure race at sunset.
Lloyd is a merman who hails from Lake Michigan. Born with a paddle in one hand and a wetsuit in another, Lloyd fell in love with all aspects of watersports as a youth. He went on to earn several outdoor certifications and began guiding multi-week backpacking and kayaking trips, including in Alaska’s Brooks Range.
In more recent years, Lloyd has taken to “easier” adventures. He hiked the John Muir Trail a couple years ago — with his wife for their honeymoon — and did a solo thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail last spring. He’s making plans to head for the Centennial Trail later this year. “If there’s ever an opportunity to go do something, I’ll go and do it,” he said.
Lloyd in his happy place, the open water.
The Chance Meeting
Amy and Lloyd have a lot of complementary traits and shared hobbies. Yet they didn’t meet at the top of Gannett Peak or in the middle of the Boundary Waters. Rather, they happened across each other through an online ultralight backpacking giveaway. Amy ran the sweepstakes. Lloyd entered, and won — randomly, among 5,000 entrants.
At the time, Amy had started and was running Garage Grown Gear, while Lloyd was the founder of a very similar site called The Big Outdoors. A followup conversation at Outdoor Retailer led Amy and Lloyd to see the potential in each other as business partners. They both possessed an entrepreneurial spirit and they believed deeply in their shared vision of elevating small, startup and cottage outdoor brands.
Lloyd and Amy back at Outdoor Retailer in 2019 for another whirlwind tour — walking the outdoor industry's largest show and meeting with cottage brands over coffee.
In 2017, such a platform was unheard of. Brands like Gossamer Gear, Hyperlite Mountain Gear and Zpacks were already established with devoted customers. However, as a whole, cottage ultralight backpacking gear and the small brands who supplied it were still on the fringes of the outdoor industry. To be looped in to the scene, you had to have a membership to Backpacking Light, be aware of r/Ultralight, or know who to follow on Instagram.
Astutely, Lloyd and Amy saw ultralight gear as more than just a niche trend ... it was the future! After interviewing each other (including providing resumes and calling each other’s references), Lloyd drove to Teton Valley, Idaho, where the two holed up in an office for three full days to hammer out the details of their merger and new joint venture.
When Lloyd left to drive back home, he took the entirety of Garage Grown Gear’s inventory with him. It fit in his Honda Civic, with room to spare. That was exactly five years ago, almost to the day. Garage Grown Gear, in its current iteration, officially lifted off on March 1, 2017.
March 1, 2017. The day Garage Grown Gear was born.
“We almost died 23 times,” Amy said with a laugh. In the highly niche market they had chosen to enter — not to mention the notoriously competitive world of e-commerce — the two were fighting an uphill battle.
Garage Grown Gear was working with extremely thin margins and limited human power to tackle their ever-compounding to do list. As Lloyd put it, “it’s not like we had clothes from Patagonia that could sell themselves. We needed to drive the demand.”
Collaborating with small, startup and cottage brands also presented limitations. These companies too were stretched thin, with only a small team, or sometimes just one lone person, to answer emails, keep financial records, source materials, build products, do the marketing, fulfill orders … and empty the trash; all on their own thin margins.
It took grit, perseverance and side hustles on the part of both Lloyd and Amy to get Garage Grown Gear off the ground. “We worked a lot of unpaid hours,” Amy said. At different points in time, even the duo’s significant others and greater family pitched in to help the company.
Amy on the wild Wind River High Route.
Eventually, those hours paid off. Garage Grown Gear grew from just 20 brands in its online store when it first launched to now more than 120. These ultralight cottage gear brands hail from all corners of the country and world. Some have scaled in size, now employing dozens of people, while others are solo ventures, still operating in a spare bedroom, basement or garage.
“The fact that we’re now writing these checks that significantly impact the bottomline of these brands … it’s just this incredible feeling to look at the ecosystem that’s been created,” Amy said.
Over the course of two years, Garage Grown Gear moved its HQ from Lloyd's basement, to another basement, to its first office with windows, to where it's at today — a bonafide warehouse in St. Paul, Minnesota. A small team of salaried employees with benefits runs the ground show, creating the type of modern business that most of us wish to work for.
With time, Amy and Lloyd have learned to play to each other's strengths. Lloyd is fantastic at sniffing out the latest, hottest ultralight trends just hitting the market, while Amy thrives on story telling and big-picture business strategy.
Lloyd brings energy and direction to daily operations. He is largely the mastermind behind Garage Grown Gear’s online store. Amy focuses on finances and structural items, like budgets, taxes and contracts. She's also the editor of Garage Grown Gear’s online magazine (where you’re reading this very article).
But the true moments of innovation, the game changers that have helped Garage Grown Gear leap toward the big leagues, have come from Lloyd and Amy’s “collective magic.”
It’s the ability to riff on each other’s ideas and creativity, as well as collaboratively figure out how to get over the never-ending hurdles, that make them feel like, here, five years later, Garage Grown Gear is finally reaching the scale they dreamed about in 2017.
From the perspective of a consumer, in the last few years, the outdoor industry has become more receptive to the ultralight backpacking movement. Today, there are more cottage companies than ever on the market.
And, they’re still the innovators, the ones finding ways to make our beloved hobby easier, safer and more fun. Thru-hikers and backpackers are returning from their treks with new ideas that will go on to change how we recreate outdoors.
“We might have a brand on Garage Grown Gear in five weeks that we’ve never even heard about,” Lloyd said.
With every box out the door, Garage Grown Gear is growing and prospering. Sure, it doesn’t hurt that lightweight backpacking and hiking are gaining in popularity. But if you ask Amy and Lloyd about their success, they'd say the majority of the credit goes to the “GGG Family.”
- the people behind the wonderful small brands sold in GGG's online store
- the growing number of loyal customers helping to sound the trumpets
- the deeply dedicated employees and other team members who keep everything well oiled and running smoothly
- those who have supported Amy and Lloyd from the very beginning, most especially their families
Along with Lloyd and Amy themselves, these people, collectively, are Garage Grown Gear.
How it’s going at GGG ... A behind the scenes view of Garage Grown Gear’s current warehouse setup, and where you’ll be buying your next piece of gear.
Rafael ”Horsecake” Mujica is a freelance writer and adventurer based in the Mountain West. You can find him trail running, backpacking, or sampling the best tacos during his free time. Follow all his adventures over on Instragam @horsecake22, or read more of his work over on his website.