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Ultralight Cottage Gear Makers Reflect On The Last Few Years


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Ultralight Cottage Gear Makers Reflect On The Last Few Years

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  • #3749170
    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member

    @markweth

    Locale: Western Montana

    Companion forum thread to: Ultralight Cottage Gear Makers Reflect On The Last Few Years

    Cottage backpacking gear makers face supply chain and logistical challenges but find fulfillment in other aspects of their operations.

    #3749205
    Robert Spencer
    BPL Member

    @bspencer

    Locale: Sierras of CA and deserts of Utah

    If possible, I prefer to support the cottage gear makers, especially during challenging economic conditions. Thanks for highlighting the unique issues impacting production.

    It will be especially interesting to see how the change in DCF ownership plays out with the emergence of Challenge sailcloth. Hopefully the backpacking community can benefit from the competition and see some new and improved choices.

    #3749244
    Dan Y
    BPL Member

    @zelph2

    (quote)

    What is a Cottage Gear Manufacturer?

    A cottage gear manufacturer is one that manufactures their own products, rather than outsourcing them to a contract manufacturer.

    In the backpacking industry companies like Mountain Laurel Designs, Tarptent, ULA, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Yama Mountain Gear, ZPacks, Elemental Horizons, and Superior Wilderness Designs design, fabricate or sew all of their own products in-house. Most of them also sell direct to consumers over the internet.

    There are some companies in the backpacking market, like Gossamer Gear, Six Moon Designs and Hennessey Hammocks, that were cottage manufacturers earlier in their history, but have since moved their manufacturing off shore to Mexico or Asia, in order to lower their costs and keep up with demand. They’re often grandfathered-in and referred to as cottage manufacturers, even though they’ve outgrown the label.

    #3749249
    JCH
    BPL Member

    @pastyj-2-2

    A cottage gear manufacturer is one that manufactures their own products, rather than outsourcing them to a contract manufacturer.

    Seems to me a rather narrow and perhaps arbitrary definition. As an example, does this mean that Durston Gear is not “cottage”?  I think some measure of units of product produced per year plus selling direct to customers might be components of the definition to consider. Then again, perhaps the infinite number of business models make it impossible to clearly define what is or is not “cottage”.  In order to organize objects into groups, there must be multiple significant similarities.

    Maybe the definition of “cottage manufacturer” is like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity… “I know it when I see it”.

    #3749251
    Dan Y
    BPL Member

    @zelph2

    Durston is no longer cottage.

    #3749263
    Johan
    BPL Member

    @johan-river

    Locale: Cascadia

    In the backpacking industry companies like Mountain Laurel Designs, Tarptent, ULA, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Yama Mountain Gear, ZPacks, Elemental Horizons, and Superior Wilderness Designs design, fabricate or sew all of their own products in-house. Most of them also sell direct to consumers over the internet.

    Not really. Hyperlite is now outsourcing to Mexico. Tarptent outsources to Seattle and China, I believe.

    I think anyone using China for full product construction is no different than a corporation doing the same thing on a larger scale. Not trying to say my opinion on what is bad/good but I would think anything with the word cottage needs to have some more level of in-house construction.

    #3749331
    Dan Durston
    BPL Member

    @dandydan

    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    “Cottage” is one of those terms that is murky because there are many different definitions. I’ve always thought of it as referring to companies that are small (e.g. could operate out of a literal cottage, basement or garage) and run by 1 or 2 passionate people, where you cease to be cottage once you grow too large, but a lot of people think of it as referring to companies that have in-house production, while other people think of it as companies that originated from within the community (regardless of how they produce), or are at least more connected to the community through direct sales and open customer engagement than traditional companies like Big Agnes and MSR. And then for all of those definitions, people seem to grandfather in companies that used to meet their definition even if they no longer do, so they call them cottage forever.

    Today you have companies like Enlightened Equipment and Zpacks being called ‘cottage’ when they did originate like that (from one passionate hiker hand building unique gear from their basement) and still have at least some in-house production, but they also have hundreds of employees, shareholders, marketing teams, and tens of millions in sales. And you have numerous companies called cottage when they never did manufacture in house (e.g. Tarptent, Gossamer Gear, SMD, Palante, and Katabatic have outsourced production to factories from day one yet are commonly called cottage). And then you have indisputably cottage companies like Red Paw Packs with one person doing everything including production.

    The result is that today the term is applied to anything from one passionate person in their basement, all the way to multinational corporations potentially valued at $100 million. I don’t think there is much point in really debating who is/isn’t cottage since everyone has a different definition and unless we agree on definition (which we won’t) then we can’t decide who is/isn’t. Ultimately it is just a label and people can decide what type of business they like to support – small business? helpful businesses? local business? business that give back?

    For my business (Durston), I don’t mind my business being called cottage or not cottage. The way I think of it is though is that most parts of my business are cottage but not the production. I outsource production to professional factories (same ones that build for MSR and Black Diamond) because they do a way better job than I can ever do and there simply isn’t the skilled labor in my small town to sew enough tents, so my production is clearly not cottage. But then everything else about my business is very cottage. We have zero employees, we have a hiker with no professional background in design (me) doing all the design, I do it in my spare time in the evenings and weekends (like now), while also doing everything else from creating the website, to designing the logo, to customer service, to running the Instagram etc, with a little help from a couple family members.

    #3749339
    Dan Y
    BPL Member

    @zelph2

     

    What Is A Cottage Gear Manufacturer

    https://sectionhiker.com/what-is-a-cottage-gear-manufacturer/

    #3749430
    Peter C
    BPL Member

    @petercornetetgmail-com

    I think in its essence, a cottage company needs to have in house production, this should be the number 1 “rule” or “requirement”… everything but that makes a company no cottage IMHO.

    look hilleberg as an example, they sell a LOT and they didn’t outsourced to China, they still make their tents in house, their own factory with their own employees.

    #3749432
    Dan Durston
    BPL Member

    @dandydan

    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    SectionHiker is saying that if you manufacture in-house then you are a cottage manufacturer, regardless of how massive you might be. That’s their view, but it’s not the most popular view and you’d never get a general consensus on this. There was a thread on reddit last week about ‘what is a cottage manufacturer’ and no one agreed on anything. Most commonly people think it means “small”, some think it means in-house production, while others think it means direct sales.

    The problem with Section Hiker’s definition is that that you can be an utterly massive corporation with retailers etc, but if you manufacture in house then you are still “cottage”. Is Ford a “cottage” automaker? In the hiking world, is Thermarest is cottage brand? They are a massive global corporation with shareholders, legal teams, sales through REI etc – but they do own their own factories so per Section Hiker they are a cottage company. Consider Wal-Mart car camping tents that are pumped out of China by the millions – clearly they are not cottage, except Wal-Mart does own some of these factories so Wal-Mart tents are cottage too. Clearly that definition doesn’t work.

    Surely there is a better definition of cottage than who owns the factory. As soon as it’s coming out of a massive factory with hundreds or thousands of employees, I think most people would agree it’s not cottage, regardless of who owns that factory.

    #3749435
    Dan Y
    BPL Member

    @zelph2

     

     

    Definition of cottage industry

    1: an industry whose labor force consists of family units or individuals working at home with their own equipment

    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cottage%20industry

    “A cottage industry is a small business that is run from someone’s home, especially one that involves a craft such as knitting or pottery.”

    https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/cottage-industry

    #3749559
    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member

    @danepacker

    Locale: Mojave Desert

    A direct-to-consumer gear maker told me last week that getting Dyneema material for tent making will be VERY difficult in the near future. The company has been sold to a new owner and perhaps that will improve delivery – or not.

    I have over my long life seen many American companies run into the ground by incompetent management. The possession of an MBA does not confer knowledge of how to run a particular type of company, despite what these bean counters think. If you run a car company you MUST be a “car guy”, if you run a company making backpacks you MUST be a backpacker, as those who bought Dana Designs quickly discovered as the company quickly cratered. But hey, we still have Phantom Ranch.

    #3749562
    baja bob
    BPL Member

    @bajabob

    Locale: West

    Cottage gear maker is a YAR Gear or Dandee packs. Pre-selling product as a form of crowdfunding to subsidize production costs before delivering product and then offshoring the product to a low-cost, large factory serving large corporations, not so much in my opinion. But I have to say, great way to make money (OPM) without shouldering a lot of risk.

    #3749605
    Ron Bell
    BPL Member

    @mountainlaureldesigns

    Locale: USA

    Cottage is a State of Mind, a Lifestyle.  Punk Music is a State of Mind.  There are small cottages and big cottages. Different people live in different cottages. Creativity thrives in the tiny, dark, risk it all margins.  When you personally,  as the sole owner of the cottage,  stop doing nightly coyote permitter security checks  365  (Think: emails, forums, reddit, NoobTube at 6am + 12am every day, 365) you 100% for sure are no longer Cottage.

    #3749607
    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member

    @markweth

    Locale: Western Montana

    Good perspective, Ron — I dig your definition and think it covers the nuance of a rather nebulous term : )

    Trying to overly parse out what/who are “cottage” and what/who aren’t seems likely to end up becoming a circular “no true Scotsman/cottage manufacturer” sort of conversation. While I’m usually all up for debating and discussing minutia, I think focusing too much on the actual title risks missing some of the substance that is much more interesting to discuss.

     

    #3749608
    Chris R
    BPL Member

    @bothwell-voyageur

    A cottage gear company is a place where the CEO can’t fire the staff.

    As a cottage gear maker my biggest challenge is the rising cost of shipping both to purchase materials and sending out to customers. Canada Post adds a fuel surcharge to their prices and that has risen steadily these past couple of years and made it even harder to compete with the big guys.

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