I wanted to make the lightest and highest performing Mountain Hunting clothing possible. I wanted to create a brand that stood for uncompromised quality, uncompromised performance, and where the whole process, the design and technology and sourcing, are shared with the consumer. From my experience at Sitka I knew this idea wasn’t viable or realistic within the existing retail model—everything I wanted to make would just cost too much. So I thought, why not bypass the retailer, why not take the middle-man out of the process and move everything one step closer to the customer. By selling online direct we could make the best products, keep the prices down and manage, to our standards, every aspect of the customer experience.
So I started Kuiu. And I started blogging about the process on a blog called Building Kuiu. I was already interested in transparency and making real connections with customers so I thought, maybe I’ll write about what it takes to build a company and get it off the ground from the start, all the decisions that have to be made, etc. And the first day, I remember, we had 30 views and I was shocked. Someone had posted something on Bowsite about me, about how I had left Sitka and was starting a new company called Kuiu, and it just started from there. And then, I can't remember exactly what post it was or what it was about, we hit 200 views in one day, and I realized that wow, this is working.
Eventually I started writing about researching and designing specific pieces in the line. I would share thoughts about each piece, like this is the fabric I’m thinking about using, or this is my target weight for this piece. Guys started commenting; with no solicitation they’d write in and say “hey, have you thought about this”, or “I like pockets here but not here”. I loved the input—it was encouraging, and more than that, it was really helpful. So more and more I started directly asking people for their opinions about specific things like camouflage for example. What did they want? Hoods, yes or no? PrimaLoft vs. down?
So more and more I decided that I'm going to share everything with the KUIU customer. I'm going to tell them as much as I know about the products, as much as I know about the fabrics, and as much as I can share about who makes each product and where they come from. I wanted total transparency. I never understood why, unless you have something to hide as a company, you don’t tell your customers who you're buying from and how your making things. I have nothing to hide. I want to invite the customer in and share what’s happening, from the insider perspective.
And so people kind of went crazy.
The momentum thing really hit home when we released our pricing model. We went from 200 subscribers to 2,000 in a matter of days. Consumer Direct Pricing was like the final piece of the KUIU puzzle. It was like, okay, the line looks great, Jason's background gives him the credibility, the fabrics sound amazing, production sounds amazing, and now you’re telling me that I can afford it. And so people kind of went crazy.
I mean, you look at this market, the history of this market, and basically the hunting industry was built around specialty pro shops. Specialty pro shops have always been the bridge between manufacturer and customer. The owner/buyer of the pro shop would go to the buying shows, do the research, have the reps come in and present product to them, and then they (the buyers) would make the decision as to what their customers needed and wanted.
Then Cabela's and a number of other big box retailers came along with their massive selection of product and put all the specialty pro shops out of business. And there went salesmanship, education, knowledge and firsthand experience, all of it, right out the window. This forced customers to do their own research and education. And customers still had to pay 40-50% more than what it should cost because that’s the standard retail mark-up. But for what? The privilege of walking into a store with too much product (but probably out of what you want), not enough speciality, and no knowledgeable staff. What’s the sense in that?
Roots and tradition of hunting.
I grew up reading about hunting lore and legend (Fred Bear, Saxton Pope, Art Young) and listening to hunting stories told around the campfire. Hunting has always been as much about adventure and experience and survival as anything else. I mean the kill is the reason for taking a bush plane into Unalakleet, landing on a gravel bar and floating a river for nine days. Without a tag and the hunt you wouldn’t have a reason to be there. But the whole process—the gear selection and packing, the travel, all of the pieces that need to come together, and all of the hard work and effort hiking and setting up camp and dealing with the weather—that’s all a part of the experience. The roots and tradition of hunting have always been important to me. I want KUIU to continue to contribute to the tradition through storytelling. I want KUIU to be a source of inspiration by living and breathing Mountain Hunting.
The pinnacle of hunting.
I also want our customers to know they can absolutely and
unconditionally trust KUIU. I want them to know we live and breath Mountain
Hunting, that we do our homework and research, that we’re out there hunting in
and testing all of our products— in the hardest and most demanding of
environments and conditions. In fact the standard against which we measure and
test KUIU, is sheep hunting. Sheep hunting is an expedition. Weather and storms
are always an issue, temperatures swing wildly, and it’s often wet and cold.
And the landscape is harsh and unforgiving—steep rock fields, glaciers, roaring
river crossings, often requiring bouldering and sidehilling. Sheep hunting
requires huge investments in terms of money and time. It requires massive
amounts of physical and mental preparation. It’s the pinnacle of Mountain
Hunting and as such it’s the most demanding on gear. That’s why we exist, to
build gear that meets these demands.