City living is a lame excuse for being cooped up…. That line comes from Alite Designs’ company description, which goes on to note that even though headquartered in the dense city of San Francisco there is “magical outdoor fun all around us.”
The company’s products reflect that. We have long been fans of Alite and its gear, which includes packs, bags, camp chairs, and zip-together sleeping bags. We caught up with founder Tae Kim to learn a bit more about the company.
GearJunkie: You used to work with The North Face. Why did you decide to leave and start your own company?
I felt that I had absorbed all that I could from working in a corporate setting at The North Face. I put in a solid 7 years and it was time to move on in order to challenge myself, take my design skills to the next level, and push myself in creating cutting-edge designs.
How hard was it to get through the first year or two?
Quite difficult. There were definitely no luxuries that big companies have. There were a handful of us friends working together for long days in my apartment. It felt as though we were in a band, in a good way! We had tons of fun and learned a lot from each other.
Your first product was a chair. Why a chair? Is it still being made?
We saw a gap in the market and decided to fill it. The idea for this chair design spawned from the concept of sitting on any type of slope — hillside, mountain terrain, etc. The chair is still being made and one of our leading selling products to date! It has paved the way for many other designs both at Alite and with other companies. Huge success! The fact that it only weighs 1 pound and can hold up to 250 pounds still makes me excited!
Where do you want to position Alite in the outdoors market?
We’d really love to open up the market to people intimidated by the outdoors. We aim to give useful information, tools, designs, and inspiration to get people to really venture out and connect to nature, whether it be an extensive backpacking trip or an afternoon in their backyard.
How do you go about developing new products?
A crazy process based on The Stanford Product Design Need Finding Philosophy. Finding solutions to strong problems through vigorous field testing until we find the best results and outcome is the name of the game.
What’s on the horizon for Alite?
It’s our goal to provide easy access to outdoor gear, an example being our Ranger Station Lending Library. This is where we rent out camping equipment for folks to use for the weekend, all for free. People that are new to the outdoors usually don’t want to make a huge initial investment in a tent, sleeping pad, bowls, plates, backpack, chair, utensils, and everything else a night in the woods encompasses. It’s on the horizon for us to expand this program nationally. We want to be the Netflix of the outdoors!
How are you related to Boreas?
Boreas was started around two years after Alite was established. We wanted to expand and create another company that would target a different demographic of outdoor enthusiasts — people that are more advanced in the outdoor realm and seek out more adventurous and longer treks in the wild. It is heavily focused on design and leading technology.
Do the companies work together? Feed off one another?
There are two separate teams for both Alite and Boreas, but we work under the same roof and share the same space daily. Although the target audience and stage of development for each company varies, we most definitely feed off each other! To say we’re one big happy family would be a stretch, and there are some heated and dynamic discussions on a weekly basis. We inspire each other and have created a strong community atmosphere. Competition is always in the air as well as numerous high-fives and wrestling matches.
What’s your favorite piece of gear made by Alite? By another brand?
The Monarch Chair is my favorite piece, and I believe it is the best product I’ve designed. My current favorite piece of gear made by another brand is the Estwing Axe. We sell it at Alite and stand behind it 100%. The history of the company and how they manufacture the axes is fascinating and encouraging.
What’s your favorite sport?
Right now it’s fishing, especially in the lakes here in California. I am originally from Alaska and grew up salmon fishing in the ocean, so fishing here has taught me a whole new skill set and has presented many more challenges than I expected.
Any big adventure plans?
Oh yeah! I’m in the midst of planning a crazy fly fishing trip to the Sierras. I’m loading up my lifted 4×4 Jeep Cherokee and heading to the Sierras on a route that is 90% off-road. Hot springs will be involved for sure!
What can we expect to see from Alite next season?
Really intriguing yet practical kits of our products mixed with other peoples’ products we carry. We love to pair together items that fit together nicely in a packaged form in odd ways. Our Sex in the Woods Kit was a huge success, so stay tuned to see what else we have up our sleeves.