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Li gh tw ei gh t Ri ps to p Ny lo n B Corp Prod­uct ▶ ▶ Green is good, but one out­door ▶ ▶ “He said that ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists ap­i­tal­ists g n i c a h n E y- it v ti a e r C S. inu. rns Retu Free k Back­pac $49.95 out­fit­ter put puts peo­ple first would not wa

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Focus / Small Business -

Cus­tomers who or­der one of Co­topaxi’s $49.95 Lu­zon del Día back­packs don’t know what they’re go­ing to get. That’s be­cause the out­door gear com­pany lets work­ers mak­ing the packs at a fac­tory in the Philip­pines se­lect the com­bi­na­tion of colors used, so no two are the same. Be­sides in­ject­ing some cre­ativ­ity into what is typ­i­cally mind-numb­ingly repet­i­tive work, the strat­egy helps cut down on the amount of fab­ric that goes to waste.

The $646 bil­lion out­door recre­ation in­dus­try is filled with com­pa­nies that have staked their brands on green ideals, Patag­o­nia be­ing among the most prom­i­nent. Fewer of th­ese busi­nesses, though, have em­braced a hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion, says Davis Smith, Co­topaxi’s founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. “When I looked at a lot of the work other out­door brands do around the en­vi­ron­ment, it’s amaz­ing work,” he says. “Some­times it’s around preser­va­tion of land or na­tional parks. The sad thing is, re­ally, it’s the elites that go to those things.”

A Whar­ton grad­u­ate whose pre­vi­ous startup was a baby prod­ucts e-tailer in Brazil, Smith draws in­spi­ra­tion from his itin­er­ant child­hood. Co­topaxi, which he founded in 2013, is named af­ter the vol­cano that looms over Quito, the cap­i­tal of Ecuador—a city where he once lived. Its logo is a sil­hou­ette of a llama’s head.

Smith ini­tially set out to model his Salt Lake City-based com­pany on shoe­maker Toms Shoes and eye­glass e-tailer Warby Parker, whose buy- one, give- one for­mula has helped turn them into house­hold names. When Co­topaxi in­tro­duced its first back­packs, a por­tion of the sales of each de­sign was ear­marked for a par­tic­u­lar non­profit.

It made for a nice story: Buy a Cusco pack and help fund a shel­ter for street chil­dren in the Peru­vian city of the same name. But as the com­pany’s range ex­panded to in­clude al­most 100 prod­ucts, from wa­ter bot­tles to tents, its do- good man­date be­came cum­ber­some to ad­min­is­ter. It also left Co­topaxi’s ben­e­fi­cia­ries ex­posed to the va­garies of consumer tastes: If a new back­pack can­ni­bal­ized sales of an ear­lier model, a char­ity could see its do­na­tions dwin­dle.

“I know noth­ing about the non­profit world, other than that I’m pas­sion­ate about it,” Smith says. “That’s why I needed Lind­sey to come in and fix every­thing.” That would be Lind­sey Kneu­ven, who joined the com­pany in June of last year to fill the newly cre­ated post of chief im­pact of­fi­cer. Kneu­ven, whose ré­sumé in­cludes stints at the Sil­i­con Val­ley Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion and the Sales­force Foun­da­tion, has re­vamped the giv­ing strat­egy so five grantee or­ga­ni­za­tions, down from nine pre­vi­ously, re­ceive a steady 2 per­cent of the com­pany’s rev­enue. “We are work­ing on build­ing a sort of en­dow­ment with those

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