Mission-based Alite Designs is trying to bring the sexy back to camping, and has a few tricks up its sleeve to do so.
Creative Director Tae Kim, a former North Face design director, is determined to get city-dwelling young people away from their computers, cell phones and 9-to-5 jobs and into the wilderness. But where does the "innovation" step in? Enter the "Sexy Hotness" sleeping bag ("the perfect sleeping bag for making love in the woods"), their Monarch Butterfly camping chair ("packs down to the size of a very large burrito"), their "In-Law Outlaw" tent (excellent for couples on cozy get-aways), or any of their totally styling backpacks and outdoorsy dog accessories.
In early June, Alite Designs hosted a singles event at Bloodhound Bar in SOMA, and on Friday, August 27 Alite Designs is putting on a "camp-in" movie night at Sports Basement where they'll show Stand By Me and serve beer and snacks. They're also putting on a camping event on Capay Organic Farm (the Farm Fresh to You Farm) in Yolo Country on September 11th, dubbed "Camping 101," for wilderness rookies. The event features camping under the stars with the Alite crew in the farm's fig and peach orchard and getting the low-down on growing summer squash, peppers, peas, melons, eggplant and basil from the Farm Fresh to You folks.
Suddenly, camping seems almost...seductive. We caught up with Tae Kim and his colleague Christine Choi to talk about bringing back the magic of the outdoors, one Sexy Hotness sleeping bag at a time.
Why a singles event? Whose idea was that, and what's its goal?
The Singles Round-Up was Tae's idea, and sprang from a discussion surrounding how well the Sexy Hotness sleeping bags were selling. People who were buying it and talking about it asked jokingly, 'What if I'm single? Does the Sexy Hotness come with a date?' And we thought well, wouldn't that be funny. Incubating the joke a little more, we recognized that young people (25-35 years) in the city wanted to meet each other, and we could help them. Just within our friend networks, we knew a lot of great singles from diverse social groups and backgrounds/interests (designers, engineers, doctors, teachers, their college friends, their cousins...etc.) and recognized that we could throw a party for them to all meet. The goal was to lay grounds for singles to meet other people that wanted to go camping and spend time outside, so they could go together.
What are some of the design specs of the Sexy Hotness sleeping bag and In-Law Outlaw Tent?
With the Sexy Hotness--the key thing is it's a really good product. It's an affordable sleeping bag, has little bit of extra girth for moving around. Dual side zippers allow any number of them to be connected easily. A middle zipper and built-in reinforced, padded slippers plus armholes allow you to keep warm wearing it around the campsite, or even keep it on while you pee in the woods. It's got a cozy drawstring hood, two handy chest pockets for stowage, and light-embossed Karma Sutra print liner. Like all our products, it's versatile, all washable materials, perfect for couch-surfing, a perfect first-timers' sleeping bag.
The In-Law Outlaw tent provides you with a bevy of useful features including a roomy interior fit for a queen-size air mattress, 4 large interior pockets, a clothesline, stakes, and a 2-layer built-in mesh attic to keep your tent clutter-free. Dual doors prevent unwanted steam-rollering. It's easy to set up and break down, great ventilation for star-gazing, and even includes a California license plate. Inspired by hot summers on the road, music festivals, and the classic 1970's RV that mom and dad always wanted, the In-Law Outlaw tent combines a fun retro aesthetic with a simple structure design.
'For our first tent, we wanted to design something with personality,' Tae says. So we went with a look that references Tae's Alaskan upbringing through the Winnebago. 'Growing up, you adopt a certain nostalgia; you want things that really your parents wanted.' Made of lightweight nylon fabric, even the waterproof rainfly caps the retro motor home look. Also? We've always been into Winnebagos...our friend Noelle is in the movie Winnebago Man.
Why does stuff from Alite Designs appeal to a younger crowd?
Most outdoor companies want you to suffer. Climb Everest by yourself. Most physically fit, extreme state. And we're the opposite of that. We think it's more about sitting in a park drinking beers with your friends.
What is it about the "urban hipster" demographic that appeals to your company?
I wouldn't say that's completely our demographic. Our products resonate with people who are young and live in cities, work jobs for the man from 9 to 5, caught up in the urban grind. As people react to that urban environment and crave spending time in nature, we want to embrace those people and provide them with thoughtful, useful, innovative products that cater to their needs. We strive to take the 'rough' out of 'roughing it'.
I read Tae Kim's quote about people "losing the romance of camping" nowadays. How are you hoping to restore that, especially to young people today who spend so much time in front of computers and stuff like that?
I don't think we need to restore anything. If you get people in front of campfires, it takes off by itself. Food tastes better, getting to know people is way better than in a bar, being physically active, walking around breathing fresh air, noticing plants and animals. Growing up in Alaska, everyone camps and goes fishing or hiking. Tae had this crazy Uncle Gene, this key person that taught him how to do all these things. Most city-dwelling young people don't have that. Our company tries to be that Alaskan uncle, both through our products and the events that we're doing--the Singles Round-Up, 'Camp-In' Movie Night, Camping 101 on the Farm. We're also in the process of developing an iPhone app that tells people how to cook, how to navigate, how to set up their gear, which addresses the time-in-front-of-computers bit. We're not anti-computer-time. We're just trying to be Uncle Gene for those computery kids too.
Images via Alite Designs website