Founded in 2014, Cotopaxi was established with the aim of giving back to the rest of the world by giving a percentage of their revenue to good causes, such as relieving poverty and supporting development in communities all over the world. Cotopaxi is an outdoor apparel and gear brand based in Salt Lake City, and at the heart of everything they do is the idea of outdoor exploration coupled with a positive attitude and the notion to do good.
When co-founder and CEO Davis Smith founded Cotopaxi, he was inspired to do good through business. He finds himself utilizing his skills as an entrepreneur as a means of instigating positive change. From his childhood growing up in South America, Davis Smith has developed a deep understanding of the gap between the rich and the poor. He entered into business with the notion of doing good and giving back. Cotopaxi was established based on the idea of helping the world through business.
Who Is Davis Smith?
Davis Smith has spent 15 of his 38 years living in foreign countries. This means that he is no stranger to different cultures or to different types of people. Regardless of what faith someone believes in, or whether they have a faith at all, Davis Smith believes that all humans are good by nature.
The desire to help others has been with Davis Smith since he was very young. When Davis was a very young child, he dad took on a job supervising construction projects of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Puerto Rico. This meant that the entire family had to move with him. This was an adventure for the young Davis, who enjoyed building rafts with his father to fish for piranha on the Amazon River and camping on uninhabited islands living off the fish that they had caught themselves. At such a young age, it would be easy to believe that this is something that everyone did and that everyone had the same opportunities in life.
Living in South America meant that Davis was exposed to some extreme poverty. Some of Davis’ earliest memories were witnessing children of his own age, around three or four years old, completely naked on the side of the street. At that age, he of course, didn’t understand why these children had nothing. He soon started to work out how lucky he was. He wasn’t any better or smarter or even more deserving than any of these. He realized that he had just been born in a place that had provided him different opportunities. From that point he became motivated to make a difference to the world, although he was not sure at such a young age of how he would do it.
This time spent in South America gave Davis the desire to help other people, and after returning from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bolivia, Davis read an article about a man named Steve Gibson, a successful entrepreneur, and how he and his wife had set up the Academy, which was a school designed to help missionaries returning home to start their own business. There are currently 215 Academy chapters across the globe, and they have helped over 10,000 missionaries returning from places like Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
Throughout his university studies Davis kept this article and put it in the front of a binder where he would see it often. A chance encounter with Gibson on the Brigham Young University campus during a conference on social impact led to Davis’ decision to become an entrepreneur as a way of helping as many people on the planet as possible. Davis had hoped to work for Gibson someday. However, Gibson encouraged Davis to become an entrepreneur himself.
Just a few months later, Davis started up his own business. Davis then moved his family to Brazil, where he ran two businesses. One of these, Baby.com.br, was named Brazil’s startup of the year back in 2012. The other business was called Dinda.com.
Davis had a lot of success in Brazil. He learned how to run a business. He also learned how to balance his work and life. Brazilians typically work a longer day than their US counterparts, often as late as 8pm in the evening. Davis’ family was living in São Paulo, which was five miles from his office. It wasn’t safe to walk that distance, but a rush hour commute could take up to two hours.
Davis realized that if he were to leave work by 6pm, he’d still be able to get home in time to have an evening meal with his family, to help his children to do their homework, and to read and pray together at the end of the day. Much to the surprise of his investors, Davis started leaving the office at 6pm. Whereas most startup founders would work as late as possible, Davis was leaving at a reasonable time in order to enjoy time with his family.
The fact that Davis was making business decisions based on the needs of his family created a really special culture in the office. Because of the focus that Davis put on spending time with his family, he was able to attract some talented women who wanted to start families but were unable to do so while working elsewhere. This included bringing on board a woman who had held senior management roles at Walmart. Two thirds of the employees there were women. This was confirmation to Davis that if he stood by his values and did what was right there could be great benefits.
In 2004, Davis founded, and later sold, PoolTables.com, which was America’s largest pool table retailer. The company was one of the first digital-first brands to not only sell online but also sell through their own independent retail outlets.
Davis states that for some people creating art or music is the deepest yearnings of their soul, while for him it is creating a business. Davis holds an MBA from the Wharton School and an MA in international studies from the University of Pennsylvania. He is also a Fellow of the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies and an alumnus of the Spanish international program. He also holds a BA in international studies from Brigham Young University.
Davis knew that he had a mission to carry out. He did consider starting up a non-profit; however, he soon decided that the best way that he could make a change was to start up another business so that he could use the profits to make a difference in the world. He would also want to use the brand to inspire other people to do good.
The Smith family moved back to the United States, and it was around this time that Davis began getting in touch with many of the connections he had previously made in Silicon Valley, looking to form a new business. He raised the largest amount of capital that any B Corporation has ever raised from institutional investors, and Cotopaxi was set up to put money into humanitarian mission from its profits. Headquarters for the new company were narrowed down to San Francisco, Seattle, and Salt Lake City. His wife decided that they should start up in Salt Lake City.
What Is Cotopaxi?
Cotopaxi is an outdoor apparel and gear company. It is also a certified B Corporation. This means that the company has been deemed as meeting the highest standards with regards to social and environmental performance, legal accountability to profit and purpose, as well as public transparency.
According to the company website, Cotopaxi seeks to use its profits to “fund sustainable poverty alleviation, move people to do good, and inspire adventure.” The company is thoroughly committed to its mission to make a difference to the world.
The “Do Good” mission has been built into everything that Cotopaxi does. For example, whenever you order anything from the Cotopaxi website, you will get a handwritten note from a refugee teenager in Utah. These notes are part of a program which is funded by Cotopaxi products. The program is designed to teach refugee teenagers valuable skills such as how to write their resume and how to open up a bank account.
The company doesn’t just set out to help people in Utah, though; it also aims to help people from all over the world. One of Cotopaxi’s best-selling products is insulated with llama wool which is sourced from people in Bolivia. Normally, Bolivians will only earn around $100 each year, but Cotopaxi pays more to help improve their livelihoods.
There is a line of bags made by Cotopaxi called Del Dia which was born from trying to solve two different problems that were identified in the company factory. First, there was a lot of waste material from the production of the bags. Cotopaxi uses the same factory as a lot of the big outdoor brands use, and in the process of cutting and sewing bags and backpacks there is a lot of waste. They wanted to find a way of using up all of the waste materials.
Second, the sewers had never had a say in the design of the products themselves; they just made what they were told to. Cotopaxi wanted to change that, and the sewers were asked to design the products themselves using the remnant materials. The only rule that they were given was that no two bags could be the same.
Worker satisfaction is high at Cotopaxi. The sewers all love their jobs and on average the workers have been there for eleven and a half years. The workers are paid well, treated well, and there is a great working culture, including basketball and volleyball teams.
Cotopaxi is a company that is trying to demonstrate that capitalism can be done in a more balanced, responsible way. Davis remembers reading Milton Friedman in an Economics 101 class where he talks about the role of capitalism and the role of businesses being to focus exclusively on increasing and maximizing shareholder value and profits. This all made sense to the young Davis Smith, but as he grew older, he started to believe that this was not necessarily the case. As he was running his own businesses, he started to feel very differently.
Davis believes that it is possible to eradicate extreme poverty within our lifetimes, but it shouldn’t just be left to governments and nonprofits; the private sector should play its part as well. He trusts in his belief that people will want to support businesses that look beyond profits.
For Davis it is important that Cotopaxi’s mission is at the core of everything it does and that it is not just an afterthought on the periphery of the brand. Many companies have their own corporate social responsibility programs—and many of those companies wait to establish such programs until after the company has made a lot of money. However, Cotopaxi’s socially aware mission is very much at the heart of the brand and everything that it stands for. They have thought about how they could bring the ethos of the brand into everything that they do, from the customer experience to the culture and the supply chain.
Of course, Cotopaxi is more than just a socially aware business; it is an outdoor brand. Davis also has ambitions to make the brand into the next big outdoor brand, competing with the links of Patagonia and North Face. And the more successful the business is, the more people it will be able to help.
The Cotopaxi Foundation
The Cotopaxi Foundation was recently established as a way to give back to the community and beyond. First, the foundation allows the company to do something that is permanent and linked to Cotopaxi in a permanent way. Second, prior to the formation of the foundation, the company was giving grants and investing in their supply chain. The foundation allows other people and businesses to support them in their mission. Before starting the foundation, there wasn’t a way for people to donate. If a customer was passionate about wanting to help out by making donations, they couldn’t. Because the company wasn’t a non-profit, there was no way to receive donations. Once the foundation was set up, it meant that people could donate alongside a purchase. The money would go straight to a cause that they were enthusiastic about.
In 2020 alone, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated to the foundation by customers. This has been done through microdonations, some of which have gone towards COVID-19 relief for refugees or towards the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to help improve race relations throughout the United States. These are issues that Cotopaxi’s customers believe in.
Cotopaxi Is Making the World a Better Place
Because the company’s mission is at the heart of everything that they do, Cotopaxi is rewriting the rules of capitalism. Its innovative product design is focused on inspiring adventure while the business as a whole is geared towards helping as many people as possible. Cotopaxi is a brand that is passionate about so many issues, and the driving force behind this exemplary business, Davis Smith, continues to find new ways to improve the world for his employees, the supply chain, and for the wider world.