Cotopaxi: A New Type of Outdoor Brand that Focuses on People

Amy Hatch

Cotopaxi Outdoor Apparel and Backpacks - B Corporation - Do Good for People (1)

Before launching Cotopaxi – a progressive adventure-lifestyle apparel and outdoor gear company with a do-good mission – Founder Davis Smith already had entrepreneurial success. He partnered with his cousin to start, a pool table retailer that’s now the largest one in the U.S. Next, he launched, Brazil’s largest e-commerce site for baby products.

But something was missing. After a decade of startup work, Smith was ardent about business and inventing businesses, but he wasn’t passionate about those products.

Cotopaxi Outdoor Apparel and Backpacks - B Corporation - Do Good for People - Davis Smith

His real passion, other than business, was for outdoor adventure. At age four, Davis’s family moved to Latin America, and his venturesome father had a knack for planning far-out trips.

“Once we went to the Amazon rainforest and lived in a native village, cut down trees and floated down the Amazon River. We were always doing really cool outdoor adventures,” said Davis. “I thought, if I could build a cool business where we could move and inspire people to do good and be in the outdoor space, it’s the perfect story for the outdoor brand.” 

He had seen many businesses in the outdoor industry build their mission around the environment – Patagonia being a prime example – but not around people. His goal? To build a U.S.-based business that could directly make a social impact in the world.


Cotopaxi: A Benefit Corporation 

Cotopaxi Outdoor Apparel and Backpacks - B Corporation - Do Good for People

Before Cotopaxi got of the ground, Davis needed to convince the state of Utah to pass benefit corporation legislation. He succeeded. Cotopaxi not only became the first b-corporation in the state, but also became the first-ever b-corporation in the U.S. to become incorporated before having raised venture capital funding. 

Davis approached investors in Silicon Valley with a goal to be a stellar outdoor brand that also supports humanitarian causes around the world. He got the backing. 

“[Investors] still need to see a return on the investment. The whole reason I’m doing the business is for the social good aspect, but I think the two can be aligned and you can do both at the same time. You can do good and do well,” explained Davis. 


How Cotopaxi Achieves Social Good 

Cotopaxi Outdoor Apparel and Backpacks - B Corporation - Do Good for People

The business model has several methods for contributing to global causes. As a for-profit business, the brand can use profits to have a positive social impact, Davis explained. 

Cotopaxi has three pillars of community servitude that they use to select organizations and causes that are directly, fiscally supported by product sales: health care – in particular, a mission to reduce child mortality – primary education, and improving livelihood with tools like entrepreneurial training. 

A pack such as the Kilimanjaro raises money for a little orphanage in Tanzania, and another, called the Cusco, helps to support a school in Cusco, Peru (as of 2015, products no longer have direct one-for-one support with a cause, because the model was unfair. Each product sale now supports all the causes.) 

On the manufacturing end, Cotopaxi started an initiative to address the environmental impact of wasted materials. They opted for using leftover factory textiles—which typically goes straight to landfill—to create a line of packs, and empowered the sewers to be the creative masterminds behind the designs, with one rule: They can’t make any two packs that are exactly the same color.  

Cotopaxi Outdoor Apparel and Backpacks - B Corporation - Do Good for People

Cotopaxi Outdoor Apparel and Backpacks - B Corporation - Do Good for People

“There is endless wasted material—it’s shocking. Some of it is in big rolls; maybe someone will order 10,000 yards and only use 8,000 yards and a couple thousand yards is leftover,” said Davis. “The bags are really funky and fun, and it’s giving voice to the unsung hero in the outdoor industry, which is the people that make our gear. This is a great way for us to have a positive environmental impact and give sewers a voice through the process.” 

Cotopaxi also mobilizes the community through a Questival, 24-hour adventure scavenger hunts, which include donation drives to provide food or other collectibles to refugees who have resettled in the U.S. from war-torn countries or to escape persecution. 

The do-good also continues from the company’s interior: for instance, the brand partnered up with the International Rescue Committee to hire refugees. Furthermore, all the brand’s employees offer skills-based volunteerism, including “a coding school where we teach refugees how to code.” 

And Cotopaxi employees can spend 10 percent of the work week in the outdoors: rock climbing, running, or also use that time to volunteer in the community. 

“People are out on the trails meeting people, and those people are getting exposed to our brand through our employees who are our biggest ambassadors and evangelists of the brand,” Davis said. 

Davis is all heads down for now: “I’m not distracted. Cotopaxi is the culmination of all my passions, giving back, and encouraging people to be involved in the outdoors. I want to stay focused on this company and have the biggest impact we can possibly have.” 


Cotopaxi Luzon Eighteen Review

By Austin Lynch

Cotopaxi Outdoor Apparel and Backpacks - B Corporation - Do Good for People - Luzon (6)

Before spending 10 weeks in Southeast Asia, I needed a durable, trustworthy daypack. I didn’t want anything fancy, and I tend to pack light. I ended up purchasing the Luzon Eighteen, and I’m so glad that I did. 

It’s a no-frills bag that couples bright colors with baffling strength. I wore it daily through rainforests, bus stations, mountain rice paddies, ancient temples, in and out of the ocean (oops), and even rock climbing. 

Now, almost a year and a half later, I take it to and from work with me every single day. Aside from some fading inside the pack, it shows almost no signs of wear. Throwing it into the washing machine makes it look like it came right off the shelf. I’ve gotten far more than what I paid for out of this bag!


Cotopaxi Libre Sweater Review

By Lauren Etter

Cotopaxi Outdoor Apparel and Backpacks - B Corporation - Do Good for People - Libre Sweater (6)

Cotopaxi’s mission and transparency in product sourcing and manufacturing captured my initial attention, and their high-quality products keep me a loyal customer. 

Their Libre Sweater made of self-cleaning llama fiber is a personal favorite. Last summer, my friend and I backpacked Europe for two months. We packed extremely lightly, and I wore the Libre just about every day of the trip. From hiking and camping through Ireland and Scotland to hostel dwelling across the continent, the sweater withstood the ultimate test of stench-resistance and versatility. 

Arriving back home with countless memories of people met and a friendship intact, despite never washing it proves the Libre is a definite win.

Startup stories

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published