There’s a good chance you've already heard of Cody Townsend. For those who haven't, he’s the pro skier who also happened to win Line of the Year in 2014 by straight-lining an insane vertical chute in the Alaska Tordrillos Mountain Range:
But did you know that he also makes belts? The awesome smartweave Arcade Belts we included in some of our April collections, to be exact. We caught up with Cody right after a (casual) heli-skiing trip in Canada to learn more about the company he founded to make adventure-focused belts that can keep up with active people like, well, Cody.
So how was heli-skiing?
It was good! We had some great weather up in Pemberton, just north of Whistler. My last six winters I’ve spent a lot of the spring here--migrating up from Tahoe because I love it and the mountains are insane. Lots of good skiing.
What’s the story behind Arcade Belts?
The story starts when three buddies--me, my roommate at the time, Tristan, and another friend, David. We had this minor epiphany, which was never like a light going off in our heads, but more like a slow, materializing thought. The thought was this: What’s the one piece of equipment that isn’t designed for any use outdoors? It’s a belt!
At the time we would essentially take our dress belts, which were just simple leather belts, put it on with our ski pants or bike shorts, and deal with it. So we asked ourselves, “Why not design a belt that’s just like the leather belts made for dress slacks, but that works better for hiking, biking, skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding...all that kind of stuff?”
We found a stretchy wader belt we were inspired by, made it our style, and started to design from there. That was the idea for Arcade: make a belt that’s better for going outside, and better for us skiers, surfers, and climbers in Tahoe, who are constantly getting out there.
We’ve built this company in the mountains because we’re mountain people. We haven’t moved away to the city--we’re in Tahoe because we like to be outdoors. The heart of that culture shows up in our product. It’s a for-us, by-us thing.
What was it like to launch Arcade Belts?
We got our first product in 2010, but then there was another year of figuring out the most basic stuff, like “Oh, we’ve got to get a business license!” and all the processes that come with that. Then we started figuring out who could make the webbing, the strong material used as the base fabric we wanted. We made a lot of calls all around the world to find a manufacturer and chose someone who was able to make the belts to our standards.
We pooled up a little bit of our money and bought samples--about 500 to begin with--and hand-sewed them. We took them to our local ski shop and they ended up selling out in seven weeks. So that was when we thought, “Oh, maybe this is something people actually want.” From there, it naturally evolved. We hand-sewed the first 4,000 belts ourselves, mainly in my living room. They were stored at David’s house and were shipped out of Tristan’s house.
Where do you want to take Arcade Belts next?
We just want to keep making belts that are better for people who like to play outdoors and do activities. We have no plans to start making t-shirts or hats because, well, we make belts--that’s what we do and do better (we think) than everyone else.
For us, there’s a lot of subtle nuance to it: the feel, the way the clasp locks together, how it’s sized, the way it looks--there are so many details we consider, and perfecting those details makes the experience better for the wearer. That’s why we want to keep going with the company. Make belts for different activities, different people, and continue to grow in that way.
What makes Arcade Belts more comfortable?
At Arcade we’re all skiers, snowboarders, surfers, climbers, bikers--we kind of do everything, so we’re constantly testing our belts and thinking about what could be better.
Stretch - The first thing is stretch; it’s the right stretch that will actually hold up and still be comfortable. Allowing for stretch was the key thing we looked for, and we’ve based Arcade Belts evolution on this concept. There have been seven years of evolution of the ‘stretch factor,’ and right now I think our belts are the best they’ve ever been.
Low profile buckle - The other thing that sets up apart is our low profile buckle. A lot of buckles are big, bulky metal, whether it’s a cowboy buckle or just a normal one. We especially noticed that if you’re skiing, snowboarding, or skating, and you fall or bend over, your belt will jam into your abdomen.
Sizing - Next, there’s sizing: you can micro-adjust our belts. There aren’t holes spaced an inch apart. I don’t think anyone in the world has a 34-inch waist, and then the next person has a 35-inch waist. We’re all a little bit different. So with this adjustability, once you adjust it, won’t ever have to do it again. The precise fit makes it so much easier to use.
Convenience - You can go through airport security with most of our belts and they won’t set off an alarm. You can put your belt in the washer and dryer without ruining it. If you go on a hike and jump in the lake, you’re not going to ruin your belt. A lot of subtle stuff like that makes a huge difference for people who are active outdoors.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned since becoming an entrepreneur in the outdoor industry?
It’s a lot more work than I could have ever anticipated! But, one of the coolest things is knowing that we’ve created a product people will use their hard-earned money to purchase. It’s surreal that we have built a company that allows people to enjoy going outside more, by accommodating the basic need of comfort and utility with our belts.
Tell us about the belts included in some of our April collections.
The Drake Belt from the fly fishing box has a few cool features. On the inside, it has a ruler so you can measure your fish. We originally put it in as a kitschy kind of thing, but now people are sending us pictures of themselves measuring their fish with their wading belt, which is awesome. The Drake has a little fly patch and then a water-resistant treatment so that it doesn’t get waterlogged.
The Adventure Belt is our bread-and-butter belt. It’s the one that started it all. We call it the adventure belt because it’s not necessarily for skiing or skating--it’s for everything. It goes from your jeans to your ski pants to your hiking shorts.
What’s the coolest thing that’s been done in an Arcade belt?
I’ve taken one to almost the North Pole (just 700 miles south of it). It’s been to the South Pole, it’s been up Everest, and it’s been all around the world. The fact that people have taken our belts up to the poles and to the highest point in the world, have used them and loved them in the process...that’s perfect.
Where have you worn your Arcade Belt? Tell us in the comments!