Salt Lake City, Utah

The outdoor apparel brand is bringing manufacturing closer to home and reentering retail stores after spending the last six years as a direct-to-consumer company.

Coalatree started out on an organic farm in Colorado with the mission of building versatile products and accessories in the most sustainable way possible. “From the beginning of the brand, it’s always been really important to build products with inputs that are environmentally friendly,” says President John-Michael Fabrizi. “Some of those included recycled materials, everything from recycled nylon to recycled plastic bottles, to recycled coffee grounds.”

The company relocated to Utah in 2014 due to business climate and the Outdoor Retailer show, and the fact that co-founder and CEO Jacob “Charlie” Bessey is a Utah native.

As of 2015, the company’s products were available in about 200 different retail locations in several countries. “In 2016, we decided to take a step back and really focus on direct-to-consumer [DTC] sales,” says Fabrizi, who joined the company as an intern circa 2013. “Sometimes working with and managing retailers can be pretty difficult, especially when you’re the little guy wanting to be in the shop, but not always getting paid by the shop on time. You have to become the bank.”

“But as we really built out the successful side of the DTC, we decided that it’s not a bad idea to increase the footprint and get the products in front of more people and let’s try and get back into retailers, but do it strategically,” he continues. “We’re really excited. I can’t share who now, but we’re going to be going into a big-box retailer in Q3/Q4 this year that has well over 600 stores throughout the United States.”

The agreement with the retailer will boost sales for the company, according to Fabrizi. “We’re going to see massive growth this year,” he says. “Will that be able to be sustained in 2023, ’24, and ’25? Who knows? But what we’re really happy about growing smart and doing it sustainably and not getting too big, too fast, while being able to service first and foremost, the customers that love the brand and also be able to service these retailers that are believing in the brand.”

Coalatree will maintain its DTC strategy with Kickstarter-funded pieces like its latest release, the Suray Sun Shirt, a collaboration with Ascend Performance Materials. The Houston-based materials manufacturer developed Acteev, an antimicrobial, odor-free fabric using zinc. As of mid-April 2022, the shirt had exceeded its original fundraising goal of $25,000 by more than 400 percent, raising more than $100,000.

While Coalatree has manufactured in Asia, the company is reevaluating its outsourcing strategy. Fabrizi says one aim is reducing the company’s environmental impact. “The fashion industry is like the second most polluting industry in the world, second only to oil,” he says. “Within the last year, we started moving some production closer to home to reduce our carbon footprint.” The new Suray shirt is being manufactured in the Dominican Republic, for example, and there are discussions with cut-and-sew manufacturers in South America.

Photos courtesy Coalatree

Another reason the company is looking to nearshore its manufacturing is stability. “The situation in Asia, beyond the carbon footprint, is very, very volatile right now, particularly in Taiwan and China,” says Fabrizi. “Vietnam a little bit less so, but we started this more than a year ago, trying to look at this bigger picture of . . . obvious externalities that we can manage.”

Coalatree will continue to manufacture some pieces in Asia due to technical capabilities. “Try and make a taped zipper down in South America,” cracks Fabrizi.

Challenges: Production and shipping issues. “We just had a meeting with a manufacturing factory last week and they’re like, ‘We’re not taking on any new business until Q4 of 2023,'” says Fabrizi.

Opportunities: “The biggest opportunity is that we’re going to have a big break in the latter half of this year getting into this big-box retailer,” says Fabrizi. “Being able to capitalize on that, share our brand story in a meaningful way with new customers, and get them excited about what we’re doing and eager to support a business that’s really stayed true to its values since the inception of the brand.”

Needs: Fabrizi highlights Coalatree’s ongoing evolution: “This need to really make sure we diversify and continue to build relationships and bring compelling products to market that are made in places with people that believe in us, and believe in the brand, and that we can count on and trust to deliver the end product to the customer in a way that we’ve always known.”


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