Jeff Popp and Casey Lorenzen founded their backpack brand Mile High Mountaineering — now known simply as MHM — in 2009, and have since grown it into a full line of innovative and award-winning backcountry packs for hiking, backpacking, skiing and snowboarding. Last year they launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to create CO.ALITION, an offshoot sister brand with an emphasis on "urbaneering" packs with integrated-technology features like built-in mobile-device charging systems and wireless hard drives. Their latest endeavor, a flagship storefront in the hot Berkeley neighborhood, will celebrate its grand opening tonight — when the partners will highlight both brands.
"I've had family living and working in this neighborhood for over 100 years, so it's cool to come full circle and be living back here myself and opening a business here," Popp says, while giving a sneak peek of the the new shop at 4405 West 43rd Avenue.
The party begins at 5 p.m. today, and will feature free beer, pack giveaways and discounts, as well as a gallery display of photography by Nick Paradiso, presented in conjunction with the First Friday festivities along Tennyson Street. "Don't forget to mention free beer," Lorenzen says. "That's important."
The storefront will do double duty as Popp's design studio and the new MHM headquarters. Popp recently brought on another designer, Michelle Hodulik, and is looking to expand both lines now that he has international distribution partners. As MHM and CO.ALITION grow — the former is increasingly popular in Europe, while the latter is "big in Japan" — Popp and Lorenzen both say they want their new Denver store to emphasize their local roots.
"Jeff and I are both Colorado natives and we want to be the go-to place for packs for people in Colorado and in Denver especially," Lorenzen says. "People around here are fiercely local, and we love that. Now we can invite people in to see our stuff, show it off for them, show them our design studio. For startups and entrepreneurs, especially in the outdoors industry, Colorado is really becoming the hub and it feels great to be a part of all that."
The local connection is implicit in everything in both lines: MHM Gear's most popular designs are all in available in orange and blue combos. Those include the Fifty-Two 80, an 80-liter backpacking pack; the Salute 34 hiking pack that has been garnering industry buzz in National Geographic and Backpacking Magazine; and the Powder Keg 32 backcountry snow pack, which is also available in a black-and-red design produced in collaboration with local snowboard manufacturer Never Summer Industries.
The first "urban" pack from CO.ALITION is dubbed Colfax. Of course.
"People around here work hard and play hard," Popp notes. "In any other market, these would be two totally different audiences, for outdoor packs and urban packs, but here it makes sense — and for us, it's in our DNA."
The new CO.ALITION packs feature an integrated "smart charging" system for USB-powered devices. More expensive models also include Seagate Wireless Plus drives that broadcast as a secure Wi-Fi network for streaming media and files to those devices, and are available in 500 gigabyte, 1 Terabyte or 2 Terabyte storage options.
"We really saw an opportunity to do for the urban market what we'd done for the outdoor market, because we saw an ocean of mediocre hipster bags out there," Popp says. "We took everything we've learned about making backpacks and put it to designing a really great-looking lifestyle bag that is perfect for traveling or commuting or as your everyday bag. Most people looking at it will have no idea of the technology integration inside: The integration is so good you won't even know it's there, but it's incredibly useful when you need it."
Lorenzen looks out across the street at the construction project that will one day feature Atomic Cowboy, Denver Biscuit Company and Fat Sully's restaurants. As he straightens a rack of packs by the window, he reels off a list of his favorite bars, restaurants, tattoo shops and other businesses down the block.
"We're really excited to be here in this neighborhood," he says. "It feels like a great moment for change and opportunity."
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