We all know—and reams of research can back that up—that being in nature, surrounded by mountains, oceans, and rivers, is good for your mental health. Shopping for the right gear for those expeditions, on the other hand, is most definitely not.
Head into an REI, Patagonia, or North Face in search of a packable jacket or down vest, and the sticker shock will drive up your blood pressure and anxiety levels. A proper parka will cost upwards of $300–and can go all the way to $700 or $900.
But if you want to take up hiking or mountain biking or trail running, you’re going to need proper protection against the elements. “One deterrent against taking up outdoor activity is definitely the price,” says Jamie Clarke, a well-known Canadian adventurer, who has scaled Everest twice, and just started a direct-to-consumer outerwear startup called Live Out There.
Clarke wants to make high-quality gear more accessible to a broader range of consumers, so he’s adopting the direct-to-consumer model embraced by brands like Everlane and Warby Parker. Before launching the company, he spent years researching the outdoor apparel supply chain to find the best manufacturers around the world. He found that, contrary to belief, many of them are actually in China, where factory workers are used to making products with cutting-edge technical fabrics. But by selling the final product to buyers through his website, rather than a third-party retailer, he is cutting out the middleman. This allows him to charge at least 30% less than his competitors for a product of similar quality.
Clarke himself is very familiar with this cost breakdown because he’s spent decades as the owner of a Calgary-based retail store called The Out There Adventure Center, which was much in the same vein as REI. He had to close this shop in June of this year–much to the chagrin of the outdoorsy community in Calgary–because he was facing steep competition from online retailers who could afford to sell products with a smaller markup. “If it costs $100 to make a jacket, the brand will sell it to me, the retailer, for $200,” Clarke explains. “I would then mark it up to $400. But the real value of that product was $100, and the consumer is increasingly aware of this.”
The direct-to-consumer trend has been sweeping through the apparel industry, with brands in many categories–from hoodie and T-shirt maker American Giant to shoe brand M.Gemi–offering high quality products at more reasonable costs. But this hasn’t happened yet with outdoor gear. Clarke believes that it is only a matter of time that consumers question the high costs of these products. “In time, retailers are going to be crushed,” Clarke says. “I decided I wanted to be part of the solution.”
Live Out There sells vests and jackets starting at $129.99, with prices going up to $229.99 for a down parka, a fraction of what his competitors charge. While this is still pricey for the average consumer, Clarke believes that consumers who are serious about outdoor sports will immediately understand the value proposition that Clarke is offering them. “Anybody who has spent a lot of time outdoors will be able to tell the quality of a good jacket just by feeling it,” he says.
But for those of us who don’t have that knowledge, Clarke tries to be as transparent as possible about how his products are made. Live Out There’s website describes how each product is made using industry-leading synthetic materials to ensure optimal resistance to water, temperature regulation, and breathability. The filler used in jackets is the finest traceable goose down. The website also features pictures of the workers making its garments in the Chinese factory. And it describes how the company abides by a code of conduct that ensures fair remuneration, no child labor, and the protection of the environment.
Clarke himself is a serious outdoorsman who spends all of his spare time in remote locations, often in extreme weather conditions. But his larger goal is to make the great outdoors accessible to everyone. He wants to make sure that cost is never a barrier to anyone interested in spending time in nature.
While Clarke is just starting out with jackets and vests, he hopes to eventually expand into more categories of products, like base layers, pants, and hats. “I really believe that nature is supposed to be for everyone,” Clarke says. “The outdoor apparel industry has created all kinds of barriers that prevent people from feeling that they too can get out there and see the world. I want to change that.”