Upstarts: Chaos Reigns

chaos-mariachi.jpg
The Chaos crew rocking out with some mariachis south of the boarder style at SIA. Left to Rights: Valerie LeClerc, Designer; Tara Bennett, Canada Sales Rep; Beth Cochran, Public Relations; and Dominic Chenelia, West Coast Sales

In 1951, Canadian brothers Norman and Jack Tock caught wind of the huge success a movie about Daniel Boone. “At the time, the brothers were working for a cousin in the fur trim business,” says David Tock, VP of Do-Gree Fashions, Chaos’ parent company. “They borrowed some fur scraps and whipped up a ‘Daniel Boone’ hat. They sold close to a million from what I have been told. They took their profits and launched a women’s and children’s headwear business in Montreal. Do-Gree has been family owned and operated ever since.”

In 1996, forty five years after this opportunistic if hokey launch, Do-Gree launched a US based operation out of Steamboat Springs and Chaos was born. While a dozen years in the hat game may seem to disqualify the company from the Upstarts category, the moves they’ve made in the last couple years to put Chaos’ and its sister company Moon Shadow’s designs in front of riders is a great example of using grassroots marketing to let a product speak for itself.

chaos-xmas.jpg
US Director of Sales Gary Supple, Dominic Chenelia, and their best friends.

Instead of buying a barrage of ad space to show case its lids, Chaos has focused a great deal of its energy on sponsoring events and organizations to put product in people’s hands and get the word out virally. In the last year they’ve provided hats to and sponsored the Honda Session, Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge, Windell’s, USASA nationals, SOS, B4BC, and Teton Gravity Research to name a few. “Selling a commodity among many great hat manufacturers and knitters is tough business—let me tell you, but these programs and events have made all the difference in putting a name and relationship in a broad marketplace,” says Chaos US Director of Sales Gary Supple. “As a result of these event sponsorships and in kind trade we have then expanded our retail in those areas and have landed various private or co-branding programs,” adds What’s Up PR’s Beth Cochran, who handles public relations for Chaos.

Co-branding opportunities help Chaos make a connection to the local communities already tied to shops and resorts. “Co-brand programs allow us to offer a margin slaying merchandise product, and at the same time offer them a quality brand to carry with competitive margins,” says West Coast Director of Sales and Marketing Dominic Chenelia. “These partnerships have forged friendships and new alliances at each turn. As a result, many of these programs eventually pay for themselves, as well as fulfill an exciting community need.”

cormack-golen-tom-zittel.jpg
Chaos team rider Jeff Cormack extending his season in Golden, CO
Photo: Tom Zittel

Chaos is also pursuing the more traditional marketing strategy of athlete sponsorship and is building a team of up and comers versus buying an image with top dollar riders. “Athlete programs rule in this industry, but the price of admission can be steep,” says Cochran. “We do have a small sponsored Athlete team comprised of both young snowboarders, many of which compete in the X-Games.”

lelo-ellen_hittin_the_cliff__send_off_5x7_72dpi1.jpg
Team rider Ellen Feldman
Photo: F. Jackson.

If you choose the route of viral marketing, you need to focus more on the product side of things than image and Chaos backs it up with a wide selection of styles, a technical line called Chaos Thermal Regulation (CTR), specializing in cold weather face and head protection, and a deep use of environmentally friendly fabrics and production techniques. “It took 3 years to source a natural re-active pigment dye that would not negate the natural properties of the organic cotton and hemp,” says Design and Production Director Cynthia Lee Surette. “As of 2007 we could offer colorful organic cotton and hemp hats. This year we launched Organic Wool from Vermont’s O-Wool. If you have not looked into organic wool—it is an eye opener. The sheep, their food supply, sheering, and veterinary care—everything is humane and organic.”
2300-gomu.jpg
The Gomu’s made from 100% organic cotton for off-slope, green chicness

2439-ella.jpg
The Ella

For more information, check out www.chaoshats.com