Gear Legends: Cotopaxi

Davis Smith says his formative years growing up in various parts of Latin America cemented his dream to balance profit with purpose. “I’d see kids on the street without clothes and without places to go,” he says of growing up in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru—wherever his father’s job in construction took them. “Even then, I knew the only difference between me and those kids was where I’d been born.” Smith was born in the United States. Smith founded Cotopaxi in Salt Lake City with the intention of building people and humanity into the core and heart of his brand.

Each year Cotopaxi donates a portion of its revenue to initiatives alleviating poverty, and its designation as a B Corp ensures fair practices and sustainability in every link of its supply chain. 

Smith remembers first sharing his idea with a trusted mentor. “He told me, ‘So you know, people won’t buy your product just because you’re doing good in the world,” he recalls. “They have to love the product.” 

He says he has always loved the outdoor lifestyle, (as a kid he spent time hiking with his dad near the Cotopaxi volcano in the Andes Mountains), but outdoor clothing? Not so much. “This is a massive industry with a ton of really big companies that are 50—even 100 years old,” he says. “I wanted to build something new for millennials and Gen Zers that didn’t look like their parents’ and grandparents’ brands. I saw an opportunity to do it differently with bright, color-blocked jackets and backpacks, fluorescents that convey joy, optimism and youth,” he says. The result was a bold, retro aesthetic that possessed an ethos of “doing good.”

Smith didn’t have a background in clothing design but plenty of experience in creating digitally native companies. In 2004, the freshly-minted Brigham Young University grad founded with his cousin Kimball Thomas and watched it quickly grow into one of the largest independent pool table retailers in the U.S. Six years later, the cousins sold it, and Smith went on to attend Wharton Business School. In 2011, he rejoined Thomas to launch a second company, Brazil-based

Cotopaxi founder Davis Smith
Cotopaxi founder Davis Smith; Photo by Adam Finkle/Salt Lake magazine

“But just like I didn’t want to be a pool table guy forever, I didn’t see as my final stop, either,” he says. So, in 2014, he left the business in his cousin’s hands and together with his then family of four (now six) moved from Brazil back to Utah to launch Cotopaxi.

He tapped a friend from Wharton, Stephan Jacob, and outdoor industry veteran CJ Whittaker to be his co-founders. They raised venture capital, hired a small team, then went to work creating five multicolored backpack designs and a couple of water bottles, all printed with their company mascot, the Andes-native llama. Next, they bought actual llamas. 

“We found the llamas on Craigslist and took them around to college campuses to advertise our company-launch event called Questival,” a 24-hour adventure race where teams are given challenges that range from picking up trash to summiting a peak. “It was a huge hit. Everyone got a backpack made of remnant fabrics for participating.”

Now, Questivals happen all over the country annually. Cotopaxi has grown from six to 126 employees and sells all sorts of travel gear and apparel, including duffels and packs, jackets, T-shirts, hats, sweaters, you name it. Although most of its products are sold online, the company has added five brick-and-mortar stores in Utah, Colorado and Washington. 

Creating the first venture capital-backed Benefit Corporation and Certified B Corp, Smith not only admits there’s profit in this digitally-driven new age of activism but preaches that mission-based companies build trust and value. He says his (modest) raison d’etre is to change the face of capitalism. “Right now, it’s fashionable to fix things,” he says. “I hope it stays that way. We’re making money and we’re helping to alleviate poverty. It shows other companies what’s doable.”

Gear Guide

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Teca Cálido Jacket

Teca Cálido Jacket from Cotopaxi

Don’t be fooled. Even though this lightweight jacket stuffs into its own chest pocket for easy storage, the Cálido packs a serious punch—warming your core and keeping drafts at bay. Made from 100% repurposed fabric and insulated with 100% recycled polyester.

Luzon 18L Del Día Day Pack 

Luzon 18L Del Día Day Pack from Cotopaxi

These one-of-a-kind wonders are made of repurposed remnant materials, meaning no two packs are alike. Its simple, no-fuss design features a roomy main compartment so you can fit anything and everything, plus a few side pockets that keep keys, phone and snacks out of the way.

Teca Half Zip Windbreaker (unisex) 

Teca Half Zip Windbreaker from Cotopaxi

Wind doesn’t stand a chance against this 100% remnant-fabric windbreaker. With a form-fitting scuba hood, it’s easy to batten down the hatches when the winds kick up. It stuffs into itself, making it ideal for travel…or a spontaneous game of hacky sack.

Read about other stars of Utah’s outdoor industry.

Heather Hayes
Heather Hayes
A Salt Lake native, Heather Hayes has been a voice for Utah’s arts and culture scene for well over a decade, covering music, dance and theater Salt Lake magazine. Heather loves a good yarn, no matter the genre. From seatmates on ski lifts to line-dwellers in a grocery store, no one is safe as she chats up strangers for story ideas. When she’s not badgering her teenagers to pick up their dirty socks or spending quality time with her laptop, you can find Heather worshiping the Wasatch range on her bike, skis or in a pair of running shoes.

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