The Lululemon of rock climbing?

Boulder Denim's Kickstarter campaign made more than six times its target amount

May 27, 2016

By Dominika Lirette / Photo: Tanner Dunn

Rock climbers Bradley Spence and Taz Barrett made headlines last January for earning more than six times what they set out to make on Kickstarter for their athleisure brand Boulder Denim, and now they’re getting ready to launch. The ultra-stretch, stain and water resistant denim is targeted to rock climbers who want to head from the mountain straight to the bar.

Fresh from filming an episode of Dragons’ Den, the business partners, who met as teenagers working at the Old Spaghetti Factory, are hoping to get picked up by a retailer. However, they have experienced a fair share of setbacks. After surpassing their target goal of US$15,000 on Kickstarter and earning US$90, 530, the business partners decided to upgrade the jeans with more custom features such as button designs, trap pockets to keep items secure while climbing, rigorous water resistance testing, and additional branding.

Boulder Denim co-founders Brad Spence and Taz Barrett. Photo by Rich Emerson
Boulder Denim co-founders Bradley Spence and Taz Barrett. Photo by Rich Emerson

As a result, the upgrades have caused a delay in the delivery of the product. “We don’t have an exact date anymore because it’s all going to depend on when we get the buttons,” says Spence, but he expects they will be ready to ship “late summer.” To date, Spence says the Vancouver based company has raised over $170,000 CAD from website orders, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo. We caught up with him to learn more about the denim that could Lululemon-ize rock climbing.

Tell us about Boulder Denim. What makes it different?

They are an ultra-stretch denim, and essentially we want to have movement while doing activities like climbing, hiking, have an adventure pant that doesn’t look like yoga pants and aren’t jeggings. We tested a lot of other denims out there that were stretchy, but they would get really baggy and lose their shape really quickly, and eventually they wouldn’t look good or stay up on you. So, we managed to get a denim and we wove it in a special way that gives it 92 per cent stretch retainment, meaning it doesn’t bag out and get saggy like other stretchy denim does.

How did the idea of Boulder Denim come about?

I fell in love with rock climbing about two years ago. Unfortunately, I wish I started rock climbing as a kid because I’d be a lot better. But trying to find a pair of pants to wear was difficult. Like I could find yoga pants from Lululemon or something, but not the type of pants you want to wear out after and grab a beer in, and climbers like to go to the gym and leave. They don’t really use the change rooms too often. So, when we couldn’t find anything we searched online, searched everywhere, we were like, you know what, I’ve always wanted to make a really comfortable pair of jeans because I don’t like wearing jeans myself. People love climbing in jeans, so why don’t we make jeans that are technical enough to climb in and stylish enough to wear out after, and make a perfect travelling companion as well.

Would you say then that you are trying to be like the Lululemon of rock climbing?

Yeah, that’s definitely the goal. I mean a lot of people wear Lululemon that don’t even do yoga, so we kinda want to get in that same scene. We call it the athleisure market, and it’s people that like wearing sportswear, but they don’t necessarily always do sports in the product. So, we’re trying to go for the same thing, but we hit our market and that is climbers. But out of all the sales we had, only 30 per cent of the people that ordered, ordered them for rock climbing. Another 30 per cent wanted to wear them as an every day pair of pants and the other 30 per cent wore them to adventure in or hike in. So it’s quite interesting to see we hit a bigger market than just climbers.

We saw that you guys got picked up to be on Dragons’ Den. Can you tell us about that?

I auditioned in Toronto for Dragons’ Den about a month ago and the producers loved us, or loved me—it was just me at the audition. And they said ‘we are filming May 18, if you and your business partner are able to come to Toronto to pitch in front of the dragons we’d love to have you.’

What is your goal for Dragons’ Den?

It would be great to make a deal with one of the dragons, especially Joe because he’s the clothing apparel guy, with Club Monaco and Joe Fresh, but we’re just happy to be on the show and if it airs on TV, that’s our main goal. We want to be TV-worthy, because a lot of people go on Dragons’ Den and they pitch in front of the dragons, but it doesn’t always make for good TV, so they don’t ever get aired. So our goal is just to get aired. (The next season airs this fall.)

What has the extra money from your Kickstarter campaign allowed you to do?

We were hoping to get around $100,000 because it would allow us to do a lot more with the branding and grow a lot faster, but we needed just $15,000 to make the jeans and send them out, and essentially it wouldn’t allow us to order any extras. But by getting so much, we were able to order extra jeans to sell afterwards. We’re planning a big tour across North America out of an airstream and sprinter van, and we’re going to have a mobile shop. And we’re going to tour across North America to climbing gyms and national parks, and kind of demo the jeans as we go and make it a big branding trip. So, we’re able to do that now that we have the money to do it.

Are you retailing anywhere or is it all online?

Currently, it’s online only, but the whole purpose for touring is to go to the outdoor gear festivals and get in front of buyers and get into stores. So we imagine, I would say early winter in 2017, it would be when we would start getting into stores. For now, it’s all pre-orders. We do demo days once in a while at certain climbing gyms where people can come and try them on and then order a pair online.

Would you say Vancouver is an ideal place to launch a product like this?

Absolutely. I think Vancouver is perfect for an athleisure company to come out of. Especially with bands like Lululemon, Arc’teryx, MEC, all these huge brands that are outdoors- and adventure-based. There’s no better place in Canada to launch an adventure brand, an athleisure brand.

Can you tell us a bit more about how the jeans were tested to become waterproof?

We’ve used a company that’s based in Switzerland, it’s called Nanosphere, and they let us use their technology and our jean fabric. And so our jeans are essentially hydrophobic, where you can spill a coffee, dirt won’t stay on them. They’re self-cleaning technology. So, you don’t have to wash them as much, and just like jeans, you shouldn’t be washing them too much. It’s really nice that we’re able to wear them longer and without having to clean them, which is great for people who like to travel and don’t want to pack too much.

What has the reception been like so far for the jeans?

People that have got to test them out absolutely love them…. The reception from people waiting on the jeans has been extremely supportive. We haven’t had one person get angry at us for being delayed. And I think that’s just part of Kickstarter, people understand that you’re a new company and you’re trying to do something you’ve essentially never done before and people have been extremely supportive. That’s been a huge help. Every time we’re delayed and we have to announce that we’re delayed it kills me inside a little bit.

Rock climber testing out Boulder Denim. Photo by Rich Emerson
Rock climber testing out Boulder Denim. Photo by Rich Emerson
Rock climber climbing in Boulder Denim. Photo by Brittney Olson
Rock climber climbing in Boulder Denim. Photo by Brittney Olson

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