Heath and Emily Brown have always been passionate about cycling, but in 2015, they decided to turn their passion into a way of life.
“We’ve been married for 13 years now,” Emily Brown said. “And it’s always been what we’ve done.”
While preparing for a cycling trip a few years ago, Heath Brown decided to sew a few bags for their bikes. The duo were so excited with the end result, they founded DirtBags, a homegrown, custom bikepack company.
As the Browns explain it, bikepacking is a lot like backpacking on wheels.
“It differs from bike touring in that you are on the dirt,” Heath Brown said.
The couple said they watched the recreational activity grow in popularity and decided to get ahead of the trend by making custom bags for bikepackers.
“I had always loved working with my hands and creating things,” Heath Brown said. “But I never had an outlet.”
While the online company started as a side project, he recently quit his job teaching science at Laramie Junior High School to sew full time.
“He would teach during the day and sew at night,” Emily Brown said. “This is the first year we’ve tried to make it a full-time business.”
Building a business from the basement can be challenging, especially when the competition is major corporations selling mass-produced bulk at popular outdoor retail outlets. But the Browns said their custom bags found an international following on social media.
“We’ve done more sales outside the community than we have inside Laramie,” Heath Brown said.
In an effort to boost community awareness and gather the funds to grow the operation, he said they turned to the Laramie Local Crowd, a crowdfunding platform hosted by the Laramie Main Street Alliance designed to build community partnerships and encourage collaborations.
“We found that if you use crowdfunding as a private business, it’s amazing,” Heath Brown said.
Not only does the platform tie into the company’s marketing strategy Emily Brown dubs “guerilla marketing,” but Heath Brown said it allows the company to get a feel for the customer response to prototype designs.
“We can design a prototype, test it, and if we think it’s an amazing product, before ramping up production and seeing if the public wants it, we can crowdfund it,” Heath Brown said. “Essentially, people are pre-buying it. If it’s a flop, if people don’t want it, then the crowdfunding is not going to work and we’ve just saved our time and energy building something people don’t want.”
When the platform works, it allows the Browns time to meet the market demand.
“There’s a ton of companies out there using crowdfunding for every single prototype,” Emily Brown said.
But not everyone they talk to is sold on the method, she said.
“I had to explain it to my parents,” Emily Brown said. “I think there’s a certain generation of people that really need the concept explained. It’s a widely used strategy. It’s not just asking people for money, and I think that’s what people traditionally think of.”
When it comes to prototypes for new bags, Heath Brown said he crafts them from heavy plastic bags to cut material costs and sends the product to friends and family for testing.
“My aunt and uncle live in the Black Hills, and they do a lot of mountain biking,” Emily Brown said.
“So, they usually do most of our testing.”
The ideas for the prototypes originate while out riding, Heath Brown said.
“I try to go out and get on my bike at least once a week and ride around thinking about what I do need and what I don’t,” he said.
The company has become so popular, the Browns said they plan to use a portion of the crowdfunding revenue to expand their operation and hire employees.
“We haven’t done any international funding, and we’re receiving orders from Canada, the (United Kingdom) and New Zealand,” Heath Brown said.
Emily Brown said they recently received an inquiry from Ireland.
“People are finding us on Instagram, YouTube and all over the internet,” Emily Brown said.
With their crowdfunding effort through the Laramie Local Crowd completed Tuesday, they raised $7,455 at press time.
“It seems like we’re on the front end of the trend of bikepacking,” Emily Brown said.