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Climbing Pants for Curvy Women: Funding Soars for Pangoo

Climbers shown in media are often lean and mean. After all, climbing is an effort against gravity and we tend to celebrate achievements of those at the top of the game.

pangoo origin climbing pants for women(Photo/Pangoo)
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It didn’t take long for Sara Chen to realize she was onto something. Her business idea — to make flattering pants for women with curves — hatched from a gym conversation. She and a climbing partner were simply reflecting on the lack of options for women who don’t have the body shape of skinny climber dudes (like the one writing this).

So Chen decided to leverage her background in design to do something about it. She created an Instagram account for her business idea and racked up nearly 30,000 followers in 7 months.

Women climbers from across the country welcomed the idea of high-waisted pants. Chen’s often hilarious videos got widely shared, including one showing off side pockets deep enough to carry two tallboys.

“That’s how we developed our product,” she told GearJunkie on Thursday. “We did it in collaboration with the internet.”

That collaboration has now paid off — big time. The Kickstarter for Pangoo Origin Pants received nearly $160,000 in funding in the first 10 days. But for Chen, a young Chinese-American from Detroit, the bigger win is boosting the representation of women.

“I want to make it so that all women can see their stories and their bodies represented in the outdoors,” she said.

pangoo origen pant 2
(Photos/Pangoo)

The Pangoo Origin Climbing Pant

Like many successful product designs, Chen had been considering how to make better climbing pants for a long time. Once she started talking to other women for feedback, she discovered many didn’t have a pair of climbing pants they really liked.

Those conversations led to the handful of goals that shaped Chen’s design. The first was to make them high-waisted, a hard left turn from the low-waisted styles that dominate the existing options. She also made them with an accentuated hip-to-waist ratio, so they fit snug on the waist, but roomy in the hip and thigh. There’s even a gusseted crotch for a full range of motion, so “say goodbye to camel toes and wedgies on the wall,” Chen wrote for the Kickstarter.

“Most climbing pants just aren’t developed for bodies with curves,” Chen said.

However, the pants also have other features that would attract any climber. For starters, there’s a hidden elastic ankle cinch to customize the length and fit while ensuring the extra fabric doesn’t interfere with the climb. A utility loop makes it easy to clip on your keys or chalk bag, and the pockets include zippers to prevent items from falling out during a heel hook.

As for materials, Pangoo climbing pants are constructed from a quick-drying blend of performance polyester and spandex.

You’ll find two color options on the Kickstarter. The Tiger — with an eye-catching yellow-on-black design inspired by China’s Huanglong National Park — is easily the coolest-looking climbing pant I’ve ever seen. If that’s too loud for you, check out the Dragon, a solid forest green with orange accents around the hips.

pangoo origen pants 3
(Photos/Pangoo)

Equity in the Outdoors

There’s been a flowering of interest in the outdoors in the last few years, tied to economic and political disruptions. From the cabin fever of the pandemic to the political awareness spurred by the killing of George Floyd, national events have given the outdoor industry a “kick that it needed,” Chen said.

“I got into everything I love doing, outdoor-wise, during the pandemic,” she said. “The question is: How can we create community in this space that has traditionally been gate-kept from us? Sometimes, it can manifest as products that build a bridge and help people get outside.”

Increasingly, outdoor companies like REI and brands like Arc’teryx have started new initiatives to help people of color get their entrepreneurial ideas across the finish line. Pangoo was one of 16 business ideas selected by REI’s Embark Program in 2023.

Through the program, Chen received 3 months of business training. She also got $10,000 of seed funding, which she said was pivotal in helping her transition to working on Pangoo full-time. Even the Kickstarter campaign greatly benefitted from the advice and network she gained through the program.

“Starting a company can be such a lonely process,” she said. “Being in a peer group with fellow founders of color similarly passionate about building better solutions for the outdoors was incredibly nourishing.”

That focus on community is built into Pangoo’s very name, which refers to the creator of the natural world in Chinese mythology. For Chen, the name connects to her Chinese heritage and embodies her goal to “create a new world” where inclusivity is the norm. According to Chen, that starts with clothing made by women for women.

If you want to get your Pangoo climbing pants, earlier is probably better. The Kickstarter campaign doesn’t end until May 30, but more than half of the pants in the $90 “Normalbird” pricing have already sold.

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