A Laramie company that makes gear for climbers has found a toe hold in the market and is looking upward.
Cruxx Climbing, started by University of Wyoming graduate Tabitha Briscoe in 2015, sells hand-sewn chalk bags made from recycled fabrics. Climbers rub chalk on their hands as they climb in order to improve their grip, and they usually carry the chalk with them in a small bag.
After working frantically during the first year to keep up with demand, Briscoe took a step back recently by minimizing bulk orders. She used the time to build up her inventory, and now she’s back to selling bags to individuals and climbing gyms around the country.
“Now, we’ve gotten so much interest,” she said.
Briscoe didn’t follow an existing route in climbing to her current position when she started Cruxx a couple years ago.
Instead, she’s been setting a new route as she goes.
She began climbing with her brother when she was a teenager living in Texas. When her family moved to Casper, the climbing world became as big as Wyoming itself.
“I didn’t want to be the kind of person that just climbed at an indoor gym,” she said.
When she moved to Laramie to attend UW, she discovered Vedauwoo. There, she met people devoted to the sport, which inspired a desire to make better equipment and better the climbing community.
“I was surrounded by climbers and people who loved it so much they just wanted to climb, and all they wanted to do was have the opportunity to survive and do what they loved,” she said. “I wanted to do something that helped that along.”
As a UW sophomore in 2015, she won the John P. Ellbogen $30K Entrepreneurship Competition at the UW College of Business. The name of the company refers to a climbing term used to describe the most challenging part of a climbing route.
Briscoe won the competition with a design for a new type of crash pad that was less bulky and easier to carry than traditional models. When bouldering, climbers set crash pads on the ground below them in case of a fall.
Briscoe decided Cruxx Climbing needed a few other products to supplement the crash pads, which were intended to be her main offering. Using sewing skills taught by her mother, she started making chalk bags from leftover fabric.
“The patterns were interesting, and each one was different,” she said.
She reverse-engineered existing bags to develop a pattern, which she tweaked according to her own preferences. Then, she started practicing.
“I’m not gonna lie — the first ones came out looking like a toddler made them,” she joked. “It was a little discouraging.”
The crash pad arm of the business stalled as she ran into supply problems for the fabrics she needed. Meanwhile, the chalk bags, with their individual style and recycled spirit, proved popular.
“They’ve got these incredibly quirky fabrics, and they’re all different, too, so each bag is coming out very unique,” she said. “Everybody has the same chalk bag … especially when you get into those indoor gyms.”
She’s used worn jeans, old T-shirts and even sweaters in her creations. Her favorite fabrics to work with are scraps from sewing projects.
“No one else is going to have the same bag because the fabric was from 15 years ago, sitting in some lady’s trunk for who knows how long,” she said.
Briscoe has worked with several other women during the last few years who have helped sew products, build her website and sell bags. She said the women-only vibe they’ve developed is one way the company stands out, especially in the male-dominated climbing world.
“(Women) are feeling more and more comfortable being ladies that have super strong, gorgeous muscles and lift their own weight multiple times in a row,” she said.
Noel Williams, a student at UW and Laramie County Community College, befriended Briscoe over a shared love of climbing. Briscoe’s passion for Cruxx Climbing sold Williams on joining the effort, and now she’s selling chalk bags to climbing gyms in Colorado.
“When people see some of the chalk bags we’ve made, I can tell they get pretty enthused,” Williams said.
The company is preparing an order of 300 bags for a climbing gym in Colorado. A climbing gym in Texas is another loyal customer.
Williams said the company’s Laramie location also sets it apart.
“We are female-led and based in small-town Laramie, and I think that gets people excited and asking lots of questions,” she said.
Briscoe is planning to begin work on a master’s degree in accounting in the fall as she continues to guide Cruxx Climbing to higher elevations. Along the way, she wants to be a positive force in Laramie and in the climbing world.
“I hope to do as much as I can for everybody in the community, and I want to be successful enough to make a difference,” she said.