As somebody who generally regards himself as an outdoors person I was particularly excited to see we had tracked down Poler founder Benji Wagner for this issue. Growing up I spent a lot of time away on camping trips with my friends and family and, despite occasionally resenting being dragged to The Dales early on a Sunday morning, over time I really came to love the outdoors.
Poler has carved a new niche in the outdoors world doing something that, certainly in the UK, isn’t that common. They’ve made good quality outdoor gear stylish, not to mention they’ve made getting out in nature cool as fuck. This may all be part of a clever marketing plan but, if it gets people off their computers and into the wild, I personally don’t see it as a problem.
We caught up with Benji to learn a little bit more about the history of the brand, plans for the future and why you should get away from the screen every once in a while.
How long has Poler existed for and how did you guys get started?
We started about 2.5 years ago. We started with an idea for products and a brand that we felt were lacking in the world.
How big is the team?
There are only a handful of us!
Outdoorsy types maybe aren’t the most fashion orientated; do you find that you appeal to a particular sort of person or is it quite broad?
Poler is meant for everyone that appreciates the outdoors and good design. Hopefully that is a lot of people!
And to follow on from that…what’s more important to you – style or function?
Both are important. I think the outdoor world has been lacking in style but has always had plenty of great function. We are trying to do both well ideally.
Why do you think customers are drawn to you – is it because of the performance or is it because you’re the only brand making attractive, visually pleasing outdoor gear?
I hope it is because we are inspiring them on multiple levels and they also like our products.
Moving from that, you guys are fairly instrumental in the new wave of being outdoors being trendy again. Do you think people are just – to an extent – abandoning their computers and making off into the woods?
I think most of us spend way too much time at computers and on our phones. Everyone needs to connect with the outdoors to find some balance in their lives. It’s good for you.
Yeah I agree. Do you have a favourite spot you like to head to when you need to take a break from work?
We are lucky to live right in between the mountains and the coast here in Portland. There are so many options to get outside and surf, snowboard, skate, camp or whatever you are into…
How does Poler connect to skateboarding? Is there some overlap?
We grew up in the skateboarding/snowboarding/surfing community and although those are not traditionally seen as ‘outdoors’, they are done outdoors! We are trying to bring those worlds together for the first time.
I grew up riding BMX so road trips and camping always went hand in hand, do you think Poler is a natural next step for people who spent their adolescence like that?
I hope so. All of us grow up traveling, sleeping on couches, doing the things we love. Poler is all about that part of the experience of travel and living out of a bag.
Do you keep in touch with the needs and demands of outdoor lifestyle? Do you have to consciously go out and ‘connect’ with the outdoors or does it all comes naturally?
I think all of us have a hard time taking time off from work and other demands. Its really easy to get sucked into sitting in front of a computer. Since we started Poler I have spent more time at a desk than ever! ha.
Whats the with the weird van obsession? What do they represent to you?
I created the tag #adventuremobile on social media because some vehicles just look like they are made to escape the boredom of daily life. Hopefully they inspire people to hit the road and have some new experiences.
Totally. I’m also a big fan of the ‘adventures’ section on your site. Was the idea behind this also to give some inspiration?
Yes, we hope the Adventures section is inspirational to people. We are lucky to have had many great photographers contribute essays and are grateful for that. Hopefully they get people stoked to hit the road.
What was the first product you made?
The tents were the first products other than T shirts. I think a Coozie was the very first.
Tents are something that I think people want to invest in because obviously it’s important that it’s high quality. Did you have a hard time going up against the more established mountaineering brands?
I think a lot of people are skeptical that our tents are good quality because we are a new brand and we were aware of that. The reality is that they are made in a factory that makes lots of tents for other reputable brands. They are seam sealed and waterproof. They are not cheap throwaways, they will last for many years of camping!
And what was the first product that ‘put you on the map?’ Was it the Napsack?
I agree, it was the Napsack!
They’ve really taken off. Where did the idea for the Napsack come from?
The Napsack is the perfect sleeping bag for couch surfing, music festivals, travel and summer camping because you can wear it as a jacket. It is more fun and more functional than a normal sleeping bag.
What are some of the challenges with having a brand like this?
There are far too many to list! Ha. We have a lot of good problems, can’t complain.
I imagine it’s difficult to convince people that they should buy Poler over someone like North Face or Patagonia, has there been any noticeable barriers in the market?
I totally disagree, I don’t see that as a barrier at all. Those are great companies, there is room in the world for lots of great stuff.
Whats next for you guys?
We have lots of exciting things coming for summer including new tees, bags, a cast iron pan and LE TENTE!