the cotopaxi culture

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Matt Pittman is the Corporate & Group Sales Manager for Cotopaxi, an innovative outdoor apparel company aimed at shaking up the outdoor industry. Started in Utah, they create every one of their products around a single thought: “Gear for Good.” Through their various philanthropy programs and employee initiatives, Cotopaxi is truly living their brand in and outside company walls. I spoke with Matt on an important topic that’s buzzing in the world of HR: creating a great company culture. 

Tell me more about Cotopaxi.

Cotopaxi is fairly young, we are only three years old. We have 50 employees. That encompasses our home office, retail store, and our warehouse in Salt Lake City, Utah.

What sort of unique things does Cotopaxi do to engage your employees? To show appreciation for your people?

There are a number of ways we do this, actually. One thing we do that’s pretty unique is, about twice a month, we gather for what we call Academia. Every other Friday the entire company comes together for 2 hours for general overview of the business as well as calling out special announcements or appreciation moments. Then we always end the meeting with what we call a learning event to discover something new or something you might not otherwise get exposed to. We’ve had a lot of different ones for example, harmonica or paint lessons, a session on traveling on a shoestring budget, speakers that have summited Everest. Really just getting in something out of the ordinary. We had a woman who was developing a new way of getting protein. So one event, you know, we ate grasshoppers and crickets served up in different ways!

In your email before this call, you also mentioned something called ‘Into the wild time’?

Yeah the company is pretty stern on this! 10% of each employee’s week is ‘expected’ to be out in the wild and/or to do service oriented work.

We want you going out and taking advantage of the Cotopaxi gear and your surroundings. It can be anything- spending time out in nature or service work, like working in a community garden, the local refugee program, or food bank. Whatever you choose as long as it’s making some sort of impact and you are getting out of the office.

It sounds like you all really take employee wellbeing to heart.

Yeah. We have our purpose, but at the end of the day, everyone has their own passion project. We want everyone to be just as passionate about their own agenda as well as our own.

Gear for Good. Would you say this is your company’s purpose?

Yes. We asked ourselves, how do we shake up the industry and specifically the outdoor industry? Ultimately the organization is really geared at alleviating global poverty.

We are a Certified B Corp and 2% of our top line revenue goes to the impact model of alleviating global poverty. You as a consumer get a great piece of gear, and we guarantee that for 61 years. That’s the average life expectancy of a person in the developing world. And we let every consumer know that their purchases go toward the mentioned goal.

I just purchased a Cotopaxi jacket with ‘Gear for Good’ stitching all over it, but I was really excited to see a thank you note written in a different language inside my bag. Is that from the refugee program here in Salt Lake?

People don’t realize how many refugees there are in their own cities, like Salt Lake. And something simple as a thank you note (like the one found in your jacket) can help to develop their writing skills as well as spread our message to consumers.

Specifically, [in the refugee program] we have the letter writing program as well as a coding program, where we invite them to learn basic computing skills. Job Search 101 is another piece. Individuals at Cotopaxi help them with the skills and basic knowledge on how to acquire a job here in the states. How to dress for interviews, how to present yourself online through LinkedIn, and how to write a resume are all covered. Lots of individuals in the company will donate their time to help in this program.

How else does Cotopaxi keep their culture on brand?

One unique thing we do is the Questival event! It helps to spread our culture across different cities, because one component of every Questival involves philanthropy or doing something in the community. In fact, a lot of big organizations are now asking for their own corporate Questivals. It’s great way to build teams and get to know your city while having fun and doing some good on the side! As for Cotopaxi employees, when the event travels to someone’s home town, our employees are encouraged to go and support the company.

So, what would you tell bigger B2B companies who may think they can’t reach a culture like Cotopaxi? What can they do to have a great company culture?

I think awareness! Be aware that you can make a difference. You can be responsible for generating revenue while also impacting day to day lives of others. It can be done no matter the size of your company.

I mean, everyone wants a great culture but not many people are willing or know how to put in the effort. A lot of organizations attract great people and want to drive and impact a great culture, but they don’t know where to start, so they don’t. What does get in their way is support. It’s about finding that one thing that is important to an entire organization, making sure everyone is aware, and moving forward with it. Big organizations that don’t have this really like Cotopaxi because they buy gear from us to give to their employees to help support our purpose and our mission. They can connect through our brand.

In today’s environment, we are always burning on both ends. If you don’t take a moment here or there you’ll burn through employees. I love Cotopaxi’s culture, because of that 10% time that is devoted to me, I can selfishly use it. Whether it be used with my family, alone time, or more formal like with the refugee program. You’ll have a more interactive group if you develop that knowledge of employee wellbeing into your culture.

My last question, describe Cotopaxi’s culture in one word:

Soulful.

That may sound cheesy. But it’s great that there is an opportunity to grow, work with likeminded people, create a great product, and have everyone believe in what we are doing. Cotopaxi has a soul, so to speak. People take it to heart. Yes, we are growing a business, but there is a bigger segment of the world than our own.

Want to learn more about the Cotopaxi culture? Create your own ‘learning event’ and invite them to speak at your next company or team meeting! Contact Matt Pittman and discover how your organization can develop and foster a culture that makes a difference.

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