Keeping things simple and local is paying off for apparel entrepreneurs and co-owners Jedd Rose and Mark Hansen.
Plenty of sons accumulate their father's tools, or maybe even get handed down a classic watch or two. Jedd Rose is perfectly happy with a great bag, thank you very much.
"I have always been a big gear guy," he explains, "and I have a bunch of old bags from my parents that I collected over the years."
As he grew tired of the work he was doing in a previous job, those bags provided a creative spark that Rose didn't necessarily know he was looking for.
"I just really liked their simplicity and was drawn to them," he says. "I kept looking at them, and then one day I decided, 'Oh, I'll buy a sewing machine and try to make my own -- for kicks.' And then I started working on them a lot and got to the point where I had a few bags that seemed like they would actually work."
Thus, Denver-based Topo Designs was born. Rose actually laughs when he gets to the end of this origin story, and readily admits that the whole thing was probably a little "ill-conceived at the beginning." And perhaps that's true. He and Mark Hansen started the company with little more than those few workable bags and a "very simple website."
Today the company makes a wide range of durable, utilitarian backpacks, totes, and duffel bags, as well as an apparel line encompassing jackets, flannel shirts, and work pants.
But Hansen and Rose's obvious passion for outdoor gear, combined with some homegrown can-do spirit (and maybe a touch of serendipitous naiveté), is exactly what makes Topo Designs such a personal -- and personable -- endeavor.
"A lot of the time people are interested in starting a company as a business idea, but we just liked the idea of hands-on gear manufacturing," Rose says. "That's what was interesting to us. It was more about being really involved with making the gear that we use and feel connected to than just 'wanting to start a company.'"
Perhaps the coolest part is that everybody can feel connected to Topo gear. You don't have to be planning an Everest trip. You don't need to be a mountaineering guide.
"That's been a struggle with me for a long time," Rose adds. "I get a little tired of the huge emphasis that's placed on tech and all the features. Our goal is to make sure that everything is super functional, but super simple at the same time."
Exactly like the company's origin story.
Challenges: Making it in the good ol' U.S. of A. "Everything in the outdoor world is really set up for manufacturing overseas in terms of cost and available materials and where things are made," says Rose. "From a labor and cost perspective, and just getting materials such as parts and fabrics here, doing it in the U.S. is probably what we struggle with most."
Opportunities: Making it in the good ol' U.S. of A. "Being able to tell the 'made in the U.S.A' story, and tell a different story from within the outdoor world -- that we are a small company, and everything is sort of born out of the Rockies, and a lot of it is made right here in the Rockies -- I think we can capitalize on all of that," Rose says.
"A lot of people want to hear the story behind the company, and I feel like we've got a good story to tell. I think that's where we have the advantage right now."
Needs: "Manufacturing bandwidth," Rose explains. "We're constantly pushing the boundaries of how much output we can get from the shops we work with. We need to be able to ramp up manufacturing in order to keep up with demand. It's a good problem to have, but a big hurdle to keep climbing over every day."