The Mongolian nomads of the Gobi Desert are known as the most efficient travelers on Earth. Why not take a page out of their book? This month, Cairn subscribers get to streamline their own travels with Gobi Gear, an outdoor gear startup that’s changing the game for adventurers who could use a little more organization in their lives.
We sat down with Gobi Gear’s founder, Chezzie Brungraber, to learn more about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur in the outdoor gear world as well as what inspired her to create their unique and resourceful products. As it turns out, her inspiration comes from a simple idea: Gobi Gear is “designed by travelers, for travelers.”
So what makes you a traveler?
My love for the outdoors has led me all over the world trekking, hiking, backpacking, and camping. I love plants and biology, and I own a biology consulting business. I’ve spent more than a decade hiking through the wilderness looking for endangered species. Because of this, my husband and I travel a lot. We work in biology in the spring, spending many nights in hotels and out on the road. We travel in the fall, usually abroad. The rest of the year, we spend time in National Parks.
What inspired you to launch Gobi Gear?
During all of the traveling and all of this chaos, I needed a better way to stay organized. I found the solution seven years ago when we were trekking in Nepal. Every morning, 400 of us would hit the trail and hike 15 miles or so to get to our next teahouse. The teahouses have solar showers, and if you didn’t get there first, you didn’t get a warm shower. At first, I was like, “I don’t even care about showers,” but you get so sweaty and achy when you’re hiking for 18 days, and a warm shower starts to sound really nice, right?
“We wanted to hit the trail early so we’d get there before everyone else, and the thought of rummaging through my pack and not being able to find my headlamp or gloves or whatever I needed drove me crazy.”
I had tried the packing cubes and stuff sacks, which are great, but they’re still individual units in your backpack, and you still have to remember what’s in each sack. Then I thought, if I could just separate a stuff sack into different compartments, it would all be contained and I would be able to pull out my sweater when I need it, without pulling everything out of my bag. That’s where the idea for segmented bags came from.
I made my first prototype on a sewing machine and took it to Nepal, one of the stops on our 3.5-month trip through Asia. It was incredible. I was blown away that something as simple as adding segments to a stuff sack could give me so much time. After showing it to a few other trekkers on the trail who said, “This is amazing, where can we buy one?” I decided to start Gobi Gear.
What’s it like to start your own gear company?
At first, it was really slow because I didn’t know anything about marketing. Then, we had a couple of retailers pick us up and sales went through the roof, and we sold out! Welcome to the problem of inventory. We ended up running two Kickstarter campaigns, both of which raised more than 400% of our goal in just 25 hours.
We launched our first products in 2012. The Hoboroll, a stuff sack that can become a day bag by clipping on a shoulder strap, was our very first product. The SegSac, which is the one Cairn is sharing with subscribers, is a minimalistic stuff sack with four compartments inside. Since then, we’ve been perfecting the concept and making new things. And we’re introducing three new products next year, which we’re really excited about.
It’s not easy to be sustainable when you’re a startup. But the commitment we’ve made is that there is absolutely no plastic in our packaging. I’ve worked on the retail side of things in the past, and everything you’d get in the mail from the brands was wrapped in plastic. So if you order 40 thousand products, that’s 40 thousand plastic sleeves. It’s insane. We use cardboard instead, which is recyclable and you can reuse for other things. We don’t have the capacity to do what Patagonia does, but hopefully down the line we will.
What are your favorite uses for Gobi Gear?
We use our bags everywhere. When our son was eight weeks old, we brought him with us to Europe. We traveled for a month and I had two of our SegSacs, the baby had one, my husband had a Hoboroll, and that was it. We did carry on luggage only, and it was amazing to be able to travel so light and be so quick to pack up and get in and out of the hotel rooms (which is a pain in the butt when you have a baby, let me tell you). Using our gear system, where everything could be organized easily, was really great.
“From a branding perspective, we are the brand. We live the lifestyle, we made the product for ourselves, and it turns out there are a lot of other people who want that, too.”
Some great uses for Gobi Gear include:
- Grocery bags and produce (instead of using plastic bags)
- Dog toys and gear (our dog gets a hobo roll)
- Baby stuff (babies need a lot!)
- Road trips
- Carry on bags for the plane
- Bike touring, motorcyclists (saddlebags)
- Backpacking, hiking, and snowshoeing
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
Getting over the feeling that you have to do it all right on the first try. Now that I’ve let go of that idea and allowed the process to be more organic and creative, I can see the bigger picture. I’ve stepped back and allowed myself to try things, see if they work, and go from there.
“No one has a road map. I’ve always wanted someone to give me the road map, but I realized that I have to make my own.”
The only way to do that is to try little things as you go and pay attention to the feedback. But ask me again in a year!
In the box:
This December, Cairn subscribers are getting Gobi Gear’s SegSac! Perfect for traveling, backpacking, organizing dog stuff, baby stuff--anything. Subscribers get one of six special colorways made exclusively for Cairn.
We love discovering new products to share with our subscribers, but it’s the stories behind the gear that brings them to life. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Gobi Gear!