I always enjoy running into companies that have a wider view of what it means to be green. In the case of Josh Helke’s Organic Climbing, green doesn’t just mean reusing scraps of fabric (which they do) or powering their shop by wind energy (which they do) or promoting cell phone recycling (which they also do); but it means loving what you do and creating a product that will outlast the competition.
Jason: Organic Climbing – how did you come up with the name?
Josh: My wife is a Geologist. We were doing research near Price UT and I decided on the trip I wanted a better bouldering pad. We talked about starting our own company and making all pads one-of-a-kind by reusing our cutting scraps. We decided that they would all be organic-one-of-a-kind-artistic pieces.
Jason: How did you get your start with your company? Are you an entrepreneur or were you driven by your artistic/creative upbringing?
Josh: Creativity is in our family. My mother and younger brother are ceramist. I have designed and shaped hundreds of [climbing] holds for companies around the industry. I’ve designed gear. I’ve route set for over a decade and established over 700 first ascents. So, I have always been looking for some creative outlet. Once I started organic, I knew I could stop looking. I love what I do every day 100 percent. And I get to chat with awesome people around the world!
Jason: Has it been easy since the beginning of the biz or have there been tough times?
Josh: It has never been easy. When I started, I had never really used industrial sewing machines so when they would break (always at the worst times late at night) I would freak out. Then, as we grew, there was the how-to-hire-employees, train those employees, and be a boss man. Every step of the way is a new challenge; but, like in climbing, it is what keeps it fun and fresh.
Jason: What makes you happy to go to work everyday?
Josh: Knowing that I am creating pieces of gear that will make someone smile when the open them on the other end of shipping and be psyched for years to come. There is also something so cool about going on a trip (like I did this last weekend to the South east) and meeting customers face to face, getting an idea for new gear and getting right back to the shop and sewing up some prototypes. I get to create the gear people want with my 2 hands. It is soooo coool!!!
Jason: You’ve been climbing since you were 10. What are your favorite climbing / outdoor memories as a kid?
Josh: The many years my little brother and I spent exploring all across Minnesota and Wisconsin, developing awesome new sport and boulder lines. Also, the first year I moved out to Laramie WY, before I started Organic, Andy Rather, my wife Liz and I, would climb every day, averaging 5 new problems each. It was so awesome to have a fresh canvas in front of us to explore and climb.
Jason: Tell me about how you are green.
Josh: All of of our pads use a new soy foam open-cell as well as a non-PVC-closed-cell foam. We also reuse all of the cutting scraps in our shop to form the one-of-a-kind stripes you see on all of our gear! We also focus on building all our gear to the highest quality possible to be sure it lasts for ages. Our shop is also powered by 100 percent Wyoming wind energy!
Jason: I love that fact that you build equipment that lasts. Tell me about the environmental impact of your products.
Josh: We do have to ship our products and many of the materials we use in them, however we do our best to minimize our footprint by buying our foam and fabrics from USA suppliers and not outsourcing any of our products.
Jason: For climbers and boulderers that want to upgrade to Organic, what should we do with our old crash pads?
Josh: I tell people that there are so many kids clubs that can use them if they are in ok condition. You can keep them under your own climbing wall. Or, you can donate them to a local animal shelter to use for dog beds.
Jason: How are you spreading the word about taking care and being a good steward of our precious climbing areas?
Josh: We sponsor many many crag clean ups and we are very aware of who are local steward of areas and do our best to return support to those individuals. I try to travel to many of the major areas each year and we work with many grass-roots, local organizations through raffles, comps, etc. to help raise money for their projects.
Jason: What other climbing / outdoor companies do you like that support the environment?
Honestly, I feel like many outdoor gear companies ride the green wave but are doing fairly little. I can rant on this for ages, but it is simple: make a bomber product, not one that falls apart, That way, you are doing the best thing possible by minimizing consumption. Why make it if it is not going to last??!!!
Jason: What’s your take on pad stashing?
Josh: I am not a fan, the game is to climb and carry your gear!
Jason: Favorite place to climb?
Josh: South eastern sandstone followed by my Minnesota homeland
Jason: Most rewarding line?
Jason: Favorite shoes?
Josh: Currently Five Ten 5X, best all around shoe I have ever worn!
Jason: What cell phone do you use?
Josh: LC Chocolate
Jason: Do you have a favorite personal electronic gadget?
Josh: I like my Macbook and iPod
Josh: It is the future of the sport for sure, and I am psyched to see people taking it to the next level!
Jason: How many Organic pads does it take to be safe (I mean little risk of injury) at 45 feet?
Josh: Pads can only do so much, if you have a well skilled spotter you can do amazing things and live to tell about it!!
Jason: Any tips for staying safe while bouldering?
Josh: Spot each other, spotting is so important, also watch your pad placements!
Jason: You guys doing anything different for your biz in this 2009 economy?
Josh: I am focusing on getting out more and showing people the quality of our pads first hand and talking to my customers and climbing with them in person. Face to face interaction is what we are about!
Jason: I love your YouTube video. At 1:45 you show the differences of Organic’s foam to other foams. That is quite a visual. You say that it is a proprietary product. Can you elaborate?
Josh: I can tell you that is is expensive but well worth it, and it is also eco sensitive : )
Jason: How long does it take for me to get my custom pad?
Josh: Pads can range from 2 days – 3 weeks depending on how difficult the custom design is and if you need it for a trip etc. I am always happy to help out a fellow climber : )
Jason: Last words?
Josh: Thanks to Cells for Cells and I would encourage people to check out the great service they provide and contribute!