The Cotopaxi llama, featured on backpacks, jackets and beanies, has come to stand for more than just a brand; it is also an ideal. Cotopaxi, named after an Ecuadorian volcano, is a Utah based company that produces gear, whether that is hiking gear or clothing. Cotopaxi equips customers to face their environment. However, Cotopaxi’s impact extends far past gear. Its company regards ethical production, sustainability and humanitarian efforts as pillars of its business model. Cotopaxi sends a message with its products for people to “Do Good” through its products and the Cotopaxi Foundation.
What Sustainability Means to Cotopaxi
Angie Agle is Cotopaxi’s Director of Impact and Community Marketing. In an interview with The Borgen Project, she defined sustainability as “operating in a way that will allow future generations the resources they need to secure happy and complete futures.”
Cotopaxi pushes a conscientious business model that limits its environmental impact. It exclusively uses materials with a design to limit waste, such as its signature llama fleece or recycled fabrics. These recycled fabrics mesh together to make each product unique. The results are backpacks or coats with bright colors that stand out in any crowd.
A rip or tear in a Cotopaxi product does not mark the end of its use. Instead of encouraging customers to replace older products with new purchases, Cotopaxi implements a repairs program. The damaged item is fixed and then either resold or donated. Any profits go to the Cotopaxi Foundation. The repairs program allows materials to stay useful and significantly reduces company carbon emissions.
Sustainability, per Cotopaxi’s definition, is consideration for the future. It is not limited to environmental issues but encompasses any and all efforts to help upcoming generations. Cotopaxi’s humanitarian efforts, for example, demonstrate a second way to be “sustainable.”
The Cotopaxi Foundation
Davis Smith, CEO and co-founder of Cotopaxi, cites his childhood as the inspiration behind his company’s philanthropic purpose. Before moving to Utah, he grew up in South America witnessing firsthand how poverty can affect a community. He told Deseret News, “The people I saw every day were just as smart as me, just as hardworking and just as ambitious, but had no opportunity.” He set out to address global poverty in his own unique way; through gear. Five years after Smith founded Cotopaxi, he created an adjacent foundation called the Cotopaxi Foundation to combine giving with hiking.
Cotopaxi allocates 1% of its funds to the Cotopaxi Foundation, which then distributes those funds among carefully selected grantees, meaning that a portion of every consumer purchase goes toward doing good. Cotopaxi’s grantees cover a wide array of well-deserving causes. These include:
- International Rescue Committee: Cotopaxi partners with the IRC to help refugees displaced from their home countries. Due to Cotopaxi’s location, its work with IRC generally focuses on the Salt Lake area, holding educational events and contributing to the Cotopaxi Refugee Scholarship Program. To go even further, Cotopaxi connects with refugees through the IRC to offer them employment. This idea originated with Cotopaxi’s long-held tradition of writing thank you cards to customers. As the company grew, thank you cards became an unmanageable task for the existing employees. Smith turned to refugees in need of employment to fulfill the card writing task and has not looked back. The card-writing program through the IRC now includes resume help, interview training and coding instructions to facilitate further employment opportunities.
- Fundación Escuela Nueva: FEN is working to address educational inequities around the world. It firmly believes in the power of education to give confidence and hope to an individual and community, fighting to make sure everyone has access to those benefits. With Cotopaxi’s help, it has successfully provided education to over 45,400 children around the world.
- UN Foundation-Nothing but Nets: Nothing but Nets is making a big impact with a simple solution. Bed nets protect people from mosquitos while they sleep and have saved millions of lives from malaria. Cotopaxi works with Nothing but Nets to expand its organization to include more Latin American countries and save more lives.
- Mercy Corps: Mercy Corps’ impact extends all over the world. However, Cotopaxi’s work with the Mercy Corp centers in Columbia and Venezuela, again paying homage to Cotopaxi’s Latin American roots and namesake. Its partnerships provide Columbian and Venezuelan refugees with assistance ranging from money to medicine.
- Utah Refugee Services: Cotopaxi works with Utah Refugees Services to help acclimate refugees to their new environment. Cotopaxi also takes crucial steps to make refugees feel at home and find work. It regularly employs refugees through its repairs program in order to welcome refugees to the community.
The Cotopaxi Foundation allows Cotopaxi to have a two-part function: gear and good or “gear for good” as it puts it. Its donating process, being revenue-based, is special because it creates customer involvement. In fact, the buying of a hiking backpack initiates the purchaser into the giving process. This involvement does not simply make the customer temporarily satisfied with themselves, but it also sets the example of giving back and inspires further change.
Ismael: A Life Touched by Good
Ismael arrived in Utah after fleeing his home country of Uganda and spending two years in a Kenyan refugee camp. His new home offered a new set of challenges as he adjusted to the newness of everything. However, Cotopaxi met him with support, offering him a position as a thank you card writer while he looked for a more long-term occupation.
Ismeal now works as a supervisor over multiple Paradies Lagardère–owned stores. In regards to the help he received from Cotopaxi and its IRC partners, Ismael said that “They showed love for refugees … I was so amazed. Without them, it would be very hard because you know nothing.”
His story is one of many. Cotopaxi continues in its mission to leave the world better than it found it. It sustainably produces gear that hikers trust and give back to their community through the Cotopaxi Foundation. Every backpack or tent with the Cotopaxi llama emblem is inspiring change and doing good.
– Abigail Gray