Tell us about you ?
Matt: My name is Matt and I live in Boulder, Colorado, USA and I’m the owner of Red Paw Packs. I started my business as a hobby in college, and eventually chose to pursue it full time. If I’m not in my shop working on sewing projects, which I usually am, then I’m usually out exploring the Front Range mountains local to me by hiking, skiing or whatever else seems to spark my interest.
How did you come to hiking? more specifically UL hiking?
Matt: I spent a lot of my teen years playing in the woods of Florida learning basic skills like making fires, setting up shelters, camping, etc, but never went on a trip with a distance goal or objective other than just “having fun.” I went on my first backpacking trip at 19 years old through my university which offered guided trips. After putting my first steps onto the Appalachian Trail, I realized just how much potential backpacking had to become a huge part of my life. Because of my heavy-packing ways from camping as a teen, I decided to try the opposite for that first trip, and I actually packed too light. I learned a lot from that trip and was hooked right away.
What is your UL hiking vision?
Matt: Generally, for me, the reason to hike Ultralight is to increase overall enjoyment. I’m not an athlete by any means. With a lighter pack during the day, it allowed me to focus less on my body being exhausted or hurting, and more on the reason why I was out there: to enjoy myself and spend time outside.
Why did you decide to make your equipment?
Matt: I decided to make my own equipment pretty much right away. For my first backpacking trip, I even brought a few cheap home-made gear items that ended up not working as great as I had pictured in my university dorm. About a year later and a handful of trips under my belt, I figured out how the items (backpack, tent, sleeping bag) worked and how I wanted them to work differently. The initial motivation to start making my own gear was cost. Being a broke university student, I didn’t have much choice other than to shop on sale or to make the items myself. Then I got my first sewing machine and started tinkering with really basic stuff. I never touched a sewing machine before then, and had to teach myself literally everything. My first project was a backpack, that I still have today, and it served me on a lot of trips. Right after finishing that first pack, I knew there would be a second, third, and many many more. Being able to choose exactly how your gear looks and functions became a really addicting hobby, and I fell in love with the trade.
Can you tell me tell me the story behind your brand names?
Matt: The story behind the brand name Red Paw Packs is all about my dog (golden retriever) Lucy. I got her and brought her to university with me at exactly the same time I started backpacking and making my own gear. It was natural that she came along on every trip. On her first overnight hike at Providence Canyon in Georgia, she trudged through miles of red clay that left her gold fur a red and orange hue for weeks. After that trip, her trail name became Red Paw. It seemed silly at first, but once I started making gear for both of us to enjoy on the trail, it became apparent my little sewing operation needed a name. And what better name than my best friend who comes with me on nearly every trip?
How do you feel when you see hikers with your equipment on the trails?
Matt: It’s really amazing to hear from and see my customers enjoying the equipment I made them on the trail. Especially when they send me a picture of them completing a thru hike. It brings me joy that they enjoy using the gear I made enough to walk with it for months on end and through thousands of miles. I have yet to encounter someone in public, here in Boulder, using my gear. But now that I make and produce a lot more, I know that it is inevitable and I look forward to it.
For you there is an ecological impact to buy are equipment from small manufacturers?
Matt: Ecological impact is an interesting issue when it comes to having a small business and comparing it to larger manufacturers. I will say that buying from small makers definitely has a lower carbon footprint, particularly if purchasing within your own country. The huge corporations who make gear like you’d purchase at a big box store generally are outsourced to foreign countries and have much larger ecological impact because of transportation, pollution, waste, etc. In my own business I definitely reduce any potential waste in regard to fabrics, materials, or anything else simply out of necessity due to cost. Scraps of Dyneema or other sailcloth fabrics don’t get thrown away in my shop unless they are completely unusable. I’ll later re-use them to make products out of scraps, practicing stitching techniques or create prototypes for future products.
How do you see the small shop in 2021?
Matt: 2020 was a hard year for a lot of businesses, and it just so happened to be the first year of being 100% reliant on Red Paw as my only job. Despite the factors that could have impacted us negatively, Red Paw has grown an amazing amount in the last year in terms of notoriety, reach and ultimately getting gear into the hands of hikers. In 2021 I expect to work even harder, make more UL gear, and keep growing the business. As of now I’m unsure if there will be any new product releases, but I definitely plan to keep refining my current designs and get even better at making them.
Do you think that people want more and more to turn to small shop ?
Matt: Generally speaking, I think people find value in supporting small shops. People know that by buying from the small maker instead of a large business, they are directly funding that person’s ability to live their dream and run their business. There is also an inherent personal nature of supporting a small business, that comes with the perks of good customer service and commitment to quality that the larger stores simply can’t offer.
Finally, if you had a message to pass on to everyone who would watch this interviewl and who would like to support the small shops?
Matt: A message I’d like to pass on to readers is that if you have any inclination to try making your own gear you absolutely should. You can learn a new skill and create something you’re proud of– an experience that is not common enough these days. I have a series of videos on my YouTube channel dedicated to helping people get started with MYOG (Make Your Own Gear) and sewing and I totally recommend those if you need a launching point. I love making my own gear so much that I feel like I need to spread the good word and try to spark other’s curiosity. If you think you want to try it, DO IT!