Thursday January 15th, 2015

Everyone who grew up surfing, also grew up camping (and likely skateboarding). Anyone familiar with snowboarding knows the value of a warm sleeping bag at night. But with the outdoor apparel and gear industry still a relatively young one-generation endeavor, merging the needs of outdoor apparel and gear with the aesthetics we find from the action sport culture has proven segmented. But not for Portland’s funky brand Poler Stuff. Through quirky products and shrewd big-name collaborations (Nike Skateboarding or Specialized, anyone?), Poler Stuff has merged “segmentation” right out of its vocabulary.

What is it?

A company only three years old, Poler Stuff's co-founder and creative director, Benji Wagner, tells Edge’s Tech Talk he knows a bounty of great technical products exist on the market, but he says they lack “inspiration or culture, so we are trying to bring that piece too.” 

The company looks to bring the “camp vibe,” if you will, of outdoor culture and to the action sports world to create products that reach a world of consumers looking for an outdoor connection. 

“We want to be the first brand that connects outdoor culture with action sports culture and bring sort of an outdoor vibe and product into the action sports world,” he says.

Courtesy of Poler Stuff

How does it work?

With a different perspective. By blurring the lines between sport subcultures, Poler Stuff has charted new category territory with its own products and by working with well-respected mega brands.

The company certainly made a connection to a more playful side of camping—such as the weekender surfer, for example—with its knapsack, a sleeping bag that is also a jacket—which is also ideal for couch surfing, Wagner points out. “Younger people see it and get it,” he says. “It is pragmatic. It is fun, useful and hopefully also cool.

“We are not endlessly talking about the technical qualities, but more what did you do this weekend that inspired you outside.”

Courtesy of Poler Stuff

Why’s it significant?

“The outdoors is always there. People love it. It is something that I feel kind of got lost in the conversation,” Wagner says. “To me, really the basic idea is connecting with the outdoors on their own terms rather than being told they need this or they need that.”

Wagner says that while he can't argue that technical gear has driven the outdoor market for years, he also wants to help realize the "why" of what people do. “Hey, why isn’t there more of a focus on the fact that everyone who does this is doing it for fun?” he asks. “We are not making motherboards or widgets, we are making gear for fun. Whatever level you’re at physically or whatever level of adventure, it is still for fun ultimately.”

What are the implications in the outdoor and action sport world?

“Most people, we are weekend warriors,” Wagner says. “We work hard at our jobs, we aren’t climbing Mount Everest, we are taking the family out camping. That is going on our little adventure. We embrace that.

“You don’t have to be an elite mountaineer or an elite athlete to be part of this world and have fun and celebrate.”

Edge
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By bringing in the camp vibe Poler Stuff has created, the aesthetic of outdoor gear has taken on a shift. And with the growing list of collaborations with more traditionally minded companies, don’t think the merging will be lost on other companies.

The Specialized collaboration, for example, moved the outdoor aesthetic into a new category. “Obviously we are not going to make bicycles ever and Specialized is the leader in the industry,” Wagner says. “It was fun to work (with them) and help design the bike and create a cool adventure story around it.”

The Nike connection builds the Poler Stuff aesthetic into a worldwide company. “On their end, we bring them a different voice and do a campaign and a storytelling and connecting in a way they wouldn’t do on their own,” Wagner says. “One of the things about Nike is they are smart enough to do creative projects to keep driving the brand with something fresh and creative.”

Courtesy of Poler Stuff

What are the downsides?

Having a mountaineering coat from a major apparel brand, such as The North Face or Patagonia with specialized fabrics (even if you aren’t climbing the east side of Mount Rainier in the next few years) doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you made a suspect purchase. You still received one of the most highly technical pieces of clothing money can buy. Wagner knows this and “respects the awesome” products out there. He just knows that if your outdoor gear is more weekend oriented than someone who spends Wednesday nights suspended from the side of a cliff, he has an aesthetic to match the technical side.

Who’s using it already?

Poler Stuff has gone a tri-fold route in sponsorships, landing snowboarders, skateboarders and photographers. The product has grown through the younger culture, especially the Pacific Northwest crowd, but has gained national attention through its collaborations with Nike, Specialized, Airblaster and Raen Optics.

Courtesy of Poler Stuff

What’s the future of it going forward?

Collaboration and technical growth. Poler Stuff will bring its third Nike collaboration for the holiday season later this year, along with other collaborations that remain in the mix.

Wagner says he will also develop more technical gear than Poler Stuff currently offers. They will start with new technical high-end backpacks set to launch in 2015 -- a surf series and a backpacking line. Because, hey, there’s no reason action sports and outdoor sports can’t merge and have a little camp vibe fun.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb

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