Based in Portland, Oregon, Poler Camping Stuff, is taking the industry by storm with its unique product mix, that fills an interesting gap – road tripping/camping gear for the surf, skate, and snow enthusiast.
Founded by photographer Benji Wagner and Kharma Vella, the brand has created a huge buzz with its innovative, well designed product as well as its stacked team of skaters, snowboarders, and artists.
We caught up with Wagner, who cut his teeth in the industry working at Frederick, Maryland’s Pit Crew Skateboards before getting into photography, to learn more about the brand’s gear, strategy, and plans for the future.
Poler fills a really interesting niche. How would you describe the brand and its gear?
Poler Camping Stuff makes sleeping bags, tents, bags, and accessories that are simple, good looking, [and] well designed gear for people that are travelers, couch surfers, regular surfers, skateboarders, snowboarders, bicyclists, parents, kids, car campers, and anyone else looking for something that looks good, is a good value and is all about having fun on road trips and in the outdoors. It’s stuff that is made for people that have adventures all over the world while wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. It’s for people that wonder why everyone is trying to pretend they are going to do first ascents on alpine peaks instead of celebrating the fact that they are having adventures that are awesome in their own way.
Where did you get the idea for this and how long have you been working on it?
We have been working on it for a relatively short period of time. I would say the idea is the culmination of so many different experiences and ideas that it’s impossible to say exactly where it came from. In short I would say we are embracing aspects of doing stuff outdoors, sleeping on the floor, in your car, on your buddies couch for example, that I think was being ignored by an industry too focused on hi-tech mumbo jumbo.
Do you have partners at Poler?
Yes my partner is Kharma Vella and we have a financial backer/partner as well.
Your team is crazy deep. Were a lot of these guys your boys through your photo work, or how did you get such a strong crew at the outset of the brand?
Its a combination of us knowing a lot of guys personally and also having something unique that a lot of guys we didn’t really know are genuinely into Poler and want to be a part of it.
After shooting the P-Rod Ice Cube commercial, why aren’t those guys on the team?
All they have to do is call me and Ill be happy to get them whatever gear they need ….
The gear’s definitely resonating with riders – how has the response been from retailers?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
What types of stores do you think Poler works best in and why?
I think it works in different places in different ways. We’ve had a great response from core surf/skate/show shops as well as boutiques and other shops that don’t really carry outdoor gear but like the vibe of our stuff.
We met at OR and I definitely think that’s a good fit for your brand – what other shows are you planning on hitting?
We were just featured in Project as part of their Project10 group of featured new brands. That was a great show for us. It was quite a different audience from OR but we had a tremendously positive response. We are looking at doing Agenda and Capsule next time around as well.
What are your three favorite SKU’s in the line and why?
The Napsack is my favorite. It’s a sleeping bag that looks like a hoodie and you can walk around in it. Its affordable and perfect for couch surfing. Kids love it.
Our duffle bag is called the Duffaluffagus and I really llke it. It’s a classic looking duffle with straps for a skateboard on the bottom and tuck away backpack straps and it comes in our signature furry camo fabric.
The Heat Bags we have are like traditional hand warmers but they come in a resealable pouch that allows you to turn them on and off. You can use them for an hour, turn them off and save them for the next day. You get 10 hours use over two weeks. There is nothing like them on the market and they rule.
What have been the three best sellers so far?
It’s been a mix of everything. Most retailers are looking at us as a complete brand, which is great, rather than cherry picking certain products. Keep in mind that we haven’t really fully launched. Most of our key products are not yet in stores. Lots of stuff will be hitting shelves in November and then a lot more next spring.
You guys are selling direct – do you think this is a necessity for a new brand these days and what message do you think it send prospective retailers?
I think its a necessity to survive in today’s economy. I am not aware of anyone not doing it. I think it sends a message to your retail partners that we are doing what it takes to be successful so that we can provide them with more and more awesome stuff and that they’re investing in a brand that is going to be a good partner in for a long time to come.
Anything else you’d like to get off your chest that I was too stupid to ask?
Thanks to everyone out there supporting us. We appreciate it!