Four winters ago, Kelli Jones of Jackson, Wyo., hopped a barbed wire fence in the backcountry and tore a big hole in her brand-new puffy jacket. Turns out, that pesky barb would spawn a booming side hustle.
Outdoorsy types know the sinking feeling of tearing a favorite piece of gear, and they know the catch-all solution: duct tape. Square, boring, not-so-stylish duct tape.
“I was bummed,” she recalled “I was not
putting a piece of duct tape on this jacket."
She tinkered with different adhesives and fabrics in her garage. Eventually, she ended up with a permanent nylon patch that she – and others who don’t sew – could apply as easily as a sticker. And the patches could be made in fun shapes and colors. Not only had she repaired her favorite jacket, she’d added an extra touch of personality – a reflective heart on her sleeve.
“I still have that puffy jacket from 2015,” she said. “It’s my warmest one.”
After searching around for something like what she created, she discovered she had stumbled upon something new.
“Why isn’t this a thing?" she remembered thinking. "Well, I’m going to make it a thing.”
She dove in, while keeping her accounting day job. She opened an online shop and – armed with her “bubbly” personality, she said – introduced herself and her product to anyone who would listen.
She even used Business Council incentive grants to attend trade shows, where she met a representative from a Swedish company with lots of scrap fabric headed to the landfill. She rescued the fabric, made more patches from it and kept lots of damaged gear out of landfills, too.
Besides the convenience, the personality and the fact that her customers get to keep their favorite gear, “people love the sustainability story,” she said.
Her patches are sold in 150 specialty shops and in all REI stores. Jones is working with a company (it’s still top secret, but it’s “big”, she says) to provide her patches with the purchase of gear, just like you often get an extra button when you buy a shirt.
The patches continue to receive positive reviews by customers and gear testers, and the outdoor industry recognizes Jones as an up-and-comer. Outside Magazine featured Jones and the Wyoming Business Report nominated her for its Women of Influence award.
She has a small, creative team working with her. The patches are manufactured in California, but the design, development and distribution happens in Jackson.
She’s currently looking to hire a partner and make her side-hustle a fulltime gig in the coming months.
"I've proved the concept now, so I think it's time to really make a go of it," she said.