With its brand slogan of ‘outside made simple’ Alite Designs wants to entice everyone, from seasoned campers to couch potatoes, outside with its versatile and fun range of outdoor products. “Our whole mission is to get beginners turned on to going outside – not technically outdoors but just outside,” says Tae Kim, founder of this urban-outdoor company based in San Francisco.
Kim had been working as design director at The North Face for seven years when he alighted upon the idea of setting up his own company.
“I began to realise that a lot of people had a hard time going outdoors if they were new to it as many outdoor shops would make them feel bad if they didn’t know exactly what they were doing,” he says.
“When I was growing up in Alaska I had an uncle who showed me all sorts of stuff – it was a really good transition to the outdoors. In a similar way, the reason why I started Alite was all about helping beginners go outdoors in a more casual and fun way.”
Although his company has only been going for three years, it has created some real hits. “The Monarch chair is our best seller – we sell nearly 50,000 to 60,000 of these a year.
They are super technical and quite expensive compared to other chairs but they are made to last a lifetime,” says Kim. Although, it is a camping chair the idea is, like with all its products, it can be used for camping but also everyday living.
“Our products are supposed to mimic a versatility that allows the inner campers to say ‘I don’t have to use this only a couple of times a year, I can use it in my dorm room and in the park’,” explains Kim.
In fact, to further help its customers make the full transition into campers, Alite off ers ‘Camping 101’. “We rent an organic farm where people can sleep overnight and so helping them get familiar with food, gardening and farming,” he says.
User centric approach
The design process at Alite is very user-centric. By talking and observing users, it can discover what barriers and fears they have about camping. “We interview a lot of people and figure out what problems they have. We then brainstorm and design products in that direction,” says Kim.
In terms of software tools, it’s a real mixed bag. As Kim explains, the whole outdoor industry uses Adobe Illustrator to design shoes, tents, backpacks and clothing.
In addition to this, Alite also uses 3D computer aided pattern making and for the more mechanical pieces, Rhino and SolidWorks. “We do a mixture of all of this stuff and it’s really an amazing process,” comments Kim.
The company also wants to be seen as a sustainable and ethical manufacturer. “We don’t want to stand on a pedestal shouting that we are a sustainable company but we love having the dialogue around sustainability and we are trying to make the best decisions possible on material selection and also how to make really durable products.
“Our key initiative is if we could make the products last a lifetime that would be more sustainable than making something that would fall apart. We work with our vendors and manufacturers to figure out the best manufacturing process for that,” says Kim.
Alite’s products are sold through a number of retailers and distributors as well as directly through its website, which currently only ships to the US and Canada but the company is looking to expand this in the future.
So, what can we expect next? According to Kim, it’s products that will tackle the main reason why people don’t go camping – the bathroom experience. “To enjoy the outdoors you don’t have to rough it so we are working on a more portable bathroom experience in the outdoors that will make it really pleasant for you,” he says.
Now there is a reason for Alite to get its products distributed worldwide as that will no doubt entice many urbanites out of their bricks and mortar and into tents. Throw in a ‘Sexy Hotness Sleeping
Bag’ and they may never leave it.
Alite Designs make going outside simple for those not wanting to rough it