Privately owned (by Innov8 Partners)
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Outdoor adventure apparel
COO Tsedo Sherpa is building on her father's vision to create jobs and opportunities for the people of Nepal by manufacturing unique outdoor apparel.
In 2003, Tashi Sherpa picked up an issue of Outside Magazine that featured his grand uncle on the cover. The magazine celebrated the first expedition up Mt. Everest, which inspired Tashi to start a business that could provide education and opportunities to the people in Nepal.
"My dad was lucky as he was one of seven siblings who was sent to school instead of following their father's trade," says Tsedo Sherpa, Tashi's daughter and COO of Sherpa Adventure Gear. "The idea was to provide and give jobs to skilled workers there who did not have very many opportunities at that time."
Tashi started with a few Nepalese women in knitting circles and eventually grew the operation to a sizable manufacturing hub. "He started with about 20 knitters," says Tsedo. "Now there are 700 to 900 people working there."
First headquartered in Seattle, Washington, the company moved to Modesto, California, the site of all of the product development, design, and fulfillment. "Our motto is 'Modern brand, ancient wisdom,' which translates to 40 percent of our outdoor garments, hand-knitted wear, and fleece comes directly from Nepal," says Tsedo. "Our technical shells are made from branded materials such as Polartec and PrimaLoft mixed with touches of inspiration from Nepal. Other imported fabrics come from Vietnam and Japan, but no matter what we manufacture and sell, part of the proceeds go toward education for children in Nepal. At the same time, we're empowering women there who are gaining their independence and finding an alternative means to support their families."
As Sherpa Adventure Gear grew, the company's leaders found there's a financial burden in trying to incorporate good manufacturing ethics and only working with sources and retailers who hold the same values. "Being a small brand, it was very costly to grow," says Tsedo. "It was very important for us as a company to leave a legacy, but it takes a lot of finances. Fortunately, we were introduced to Innov8 Partners LLC, an investment holding company that shared our vision. We were at a crossroads where we needed help with areas such as delivery and fit. Innov8 had a great track record with companies like Royal Robbins, 5.11 Tactical, and others."
According to Tsedo, after the Innov8 Partners acquisition in 2016, Sherpa Adventure Gear improved to 100 percent on-time delivery, increased sales, and solidified an in-house marketing team. "The partnership took some time, but, by the fall of 2017, we could see it was starting to make significant impact," she says. "It was like a family business coming into another family business. We've developed new avenues for growth and opened more opportunities. In fact, we just opened a flagship retail store in Seattle this past November , so things are moving in the right direction for us."
Challenges: Manufacturing in Nepal has its own unique set of problems. "In Nepal, the government is not conducive to new companies coming in and doing business," says Tsedo. "There's also the fact that there are government strikes and, at times, no electricity. So it can be challenging getting our products from there to here."
Opportunities: "Our story resonates with our retail partners and more consumers are wanting to purchase products that they know make a difference," says Tsedo. "People are looking for brands with authenticity and we're both authentic and unique. We try to be as transparent as possible and our story is resonating through several different markets. We're not limiting ourselves to just outdoor apparel and appreciate that this is an important step in finding more opportunities."
Needs: "We have a great story but need to increase our brand awareness to the consumer," says Tsedo. "Retailers love the brand and know it, but getting our story to the end consumer is a key element we need in order for us to continue our growth."