Q&A with So iLL founder Daniel Chancellor: Redefining the look of climbing

I’ve been geeking out over So iLL since I started climbing back in 2009. Back in those days, the love affair centered around their killer holds. The first route I ever put up that I was actually proud of was a V4 set with So iLL’s Appendage holds on the lead wall at Tally Rock Gym. Since then, they’ve impressed me with their bold colors, clean aesthetic, commitment to their brand’s style + community–and of course, these kickass leggings.

A few weeks ago, they once again caught my attention by launching a crowdfunding campaign to support a new journey: retro-inspired climbing shoes. Say whaaaaaaat? The goal was to offer the climbing community a shoe that combines functionality with a focus on fashion. The urban outdoorist and the rise of outdoor millennial consumers is a hot topic at my day-job running social for OIA, so I instantly knew it was going to be a success–and it was. So iLL reached 100% funding in only 5 hours.

This weekend I sat down with founder Daniel Chancellor to chat about this ambitious project, his vision for the climbing community, and what So iLL is going to dream up next:

So iLL climbing shoes (photo: So iLL)

*All photos in this post courtesy of So iLL

It’s hard to put a finger on So iLL. You’ve got climbing holds (some of my favorites from my route-setting days), crash pads, bold leggings, chalk, training tools, and now, shoes. What inspired the dream to add climbing footwear to the diverse line-up?

Climbing footwear, along with our clothing, is a direction we have been working on for years.  We aren’t trying to create the next lightest carabiner technical piece of gear.  Instead, we delivery highly designed clothing, footwear and training products.  Things that our crew can use, wear, and be proud of.

Our goal to create products that help our climbing community succeed.  Keeping climbers fashionable, and encouraging them on their journey through media, and well designed products, will be our focus as we look towards the future.

Climbing with So iLL and their new line of retro inspired performance climbing shoes. (Photo: So iLL)

Within the first 10 seconds of your promo video, we hear this: “there needs to be a fashionable alternative for the climbing community.” In the outdoor industry, there’s a growing trend of urban climbers getting outdoors for the first time, but there is also a large pre-existing climber group who simply never had fashion-forward options before–who are you making this shoe for? 

The success of this campaign has put a lot of attention toward the brand. This is great for the project, but this entire creation is not for us.  We created these products for others.  The success is motivating and reinforces us that we made quality decisions during the journey, but in the end, these shoes are for you!

We opened our first flagship retail location and climbing gym in Saint Louis, MO a few years ago.  At Climb So iLL , we are deeply connected with our community there.  We have been able to learn the needs of urban rock climbers, and deliver them both an experience, and products, that make sense.  These climbers eventually move outside (like we did), and the product was designed to transition with them.

Our lifestyle products can be used by all outdoor enthusiasts, but it stars within our niche. Our hearts are with the urban climbers around the country, and the communities in which they exist.  The sport is growing exponentially, but the fire seems to start here.   

So iLL's line of climbing shoes is the first to dye high performance rubber this way. (Photo: So iLL)

Aside from their stellar looks, what makes these shoes a unique addition to an already booming climbing shoe market?

The rubber on our climbing shoes has a special story.  It was developed for the U.S military.  The Navy Seals needed an outsole rubber that was both sticky, and would retain color.  They were building an approach shoe, and were in need of this technology.  When we heard about this new “Dark Matter” rubber, we immediately were drawn towards it’s properties.  Putting color on the outsole of a climbing shoe (with real sticky rubber) has not been done before.  There is a first time for everything, and this is what we are most proud of.

So iLL’s Kickstarter campaign has been a phenomenal success–the original goal was $10k, but you’re currently sitting at well over $100,000 in pledges. What drove the decision to use crowdfunding for this project?

We wanted to accomplish two things with the Kickstarter Platform.  1) We really do believe in these shoes, and wanted to give climbers the opportunity to try them at a discount as early supports.  2) The kickstarter has helped us with production minimums.  Being such a small company, it has been difficult to build 6 models, in so many sizes, with so much inventory to start.  We needed help, and our community delivered.

So iLL founder Daniel Chancellor and his new line of climbing shoes. (Photo: So iLL)

While So iLL has a big digital presence and strong community, it’s still a fairly small operation. How big is the team, and how do you manage to build so much hype and energy while still remaining true to your grassroots values? 

Great question.  I know that we appear massive online!  People think that the company is huge, but we are TINY in the outdoor space.  We have 5 employees in the office, and interns, that’s it.  There is a blog on our site that talks about us just now moving out of my basement (a few months ago).  We finally rented a loft apartment.

We do all of our own sales, we do all of our own marketing, and we do all of our own branding.  Our entire team pulled together on this one and made it happen.  Evan packs boxes in our warehouse and also does all of our product photography.  Ryan answers the phone and does service, but shoots all of our lifestyle photography.  Paul works in house as our marketing guy.  Lisa answers all of our kickstarter questions online and has been working behind the scenes.  It’s really been a team effort.  My friends Daniel Wilson and Tennyson Tanner both helped us with the videos.  They are both local guys.

The team is small, but we are all very proud of what we are doing.  We really actually do the work of 10-15 people, and I”m very proud of what we have accomplished as such a small operation.

The shoes aren’t even in full production yet, and they’re already a success. What’s next on the horizon for So iLL? 

We are going to continue designing and producing high quality, innovative and fashionable products for rock climbers.  We are going to continue encouraging others to stay positive and to take hold.

Big thank you to So iLL founder Daniel Chancellor for taking the time to sit down with me and do this interview in between a hectic travel schedule, snapchatting the brand’s adventures (follow ‘em: soillinc), and trying to change the industry with climbing shoes that look just as great as they perform. You’ve got until Tuesday evening to support the Kickstarter and get your hands on a pair of these shoes at the insane backer rate before the price goes up when they hit the broader market this summer!

Stay tuned for a full review of the shoes when I get my pair of So iLL beauties
and put them to the test in California this summer. 

Gear Round-up: Winter Essentials

Here’s the thing: I hate winter. Yes, I think snow is magical and I love waking up to a wintry world full of icicles and frost–but as soon as I’m out of my heated nook and actually existing in the cold, I’m miserable. Maybe it’s my Florida blood, maybe it’s my Raynaud’s syndrome, but the fact is indisputable: I’m really bad at winter.

Unfortunately, my pursuit of mountainous landscapes and exploring new places has led me to be insufferably stuck with winter. Living in Denver for a few seasons has helped thicken my skin, but finding the right gear to survive winter was the real key to keeping my sanity while everyone else is all “woo, I love snow, let’s go skiing!” (I’m awful at skiing, for the record.)

Whether you’re a winter-hater like me, or a full-fledged fan of the worst season ever, this gear is my go-to for staying warm and making the most out of these next few months of winter. It’s a collection of products I’ve fallen in love with during my travels, gear I’ve been testing, and things that will make excellent gifts during the holiday season–wink wink.

Review of the Cotopaxi Bengal waxed jacket on TheMorningFresh.com

Cotopaxi Bengal Jacket

I’m honestly not even sure if I can find the words to describe my undying love for this jacket. I first saw the Cotopaxi Bengal jacket at Outdoor Retailer this summer, and it was love at first site. The color, the waxed canvas, the pockets, and the feel-good that comes with supporting Cotopaxi–this jacket has it all. The longer length is exactly what I needed to balance out my closet (err, suitcase?) full of shorter puffies. The cut is exactly what every lady wishes for when on the hunt for a jacket–it’s sturdy and keeps you warm, but fits my body in a flattering way that doesn’t drown my shape in fabric.

Review of the Cotopaxi Bengal waxed jacket on TheMorningFresh.comReview of the Cotopaxi Bengal waxed jacket on TheMorningFresh.com

And the pockets! There are so many damn pockets, and I can hardly contain how excited I am about it. It seems like men always win the pocket jackpot with apparel, but Cotopaxi did us ladies justice with more pockets than I know what to do with. There are simple open flap pockets, interior zippered pockets, button-clasp pockets, pockets-on-pockets, so many pockets. I’ve stopped having to carry a purse with me when I wear this jacket–which is fabulous since I don’t actually own a purse anymore.

As if this jacket needed anymore praise: I’ve had it for months and still haven’t had to wash it yet. I’ve been romping around the desert in Utah, city slicking around town in Denver, exploring Jackson Hole, hopping planes around Seattle, you name it.

Edgevale North Coast Shirt Jacket

Review of the Edgevale North Coast shirt jacket on TheMorningFresh.com

I am such a sucker for button-downs with rolled up sleeves. I would wear ‘em every single day if I could get away with it. Problem is: even my thickest flannels are still pretty weak when it comes to truly battling winter. Cue the Edgevale North Coast shirt jacket. I’m a tiny gal, and even their smallest size was admittedly a tad big on my frame–but I love this garment. Edgevale describes it as a “soft shell technology and classic styling to create a wind and water resistant garment that’s ultra versatile.” Spot on. It’s thick, much heavier than your normal button-down/flannel, and it’s so damn cozy. The garment wears in a way that combines tomboy style with feminine layering options.

Edgevale North Coast shirt jacket review on TheMorningFresh.com

[Read more…]

Outdoor Essentials for an Endless Summer

Spring is swell, and autumn is amusing (and winter, well, it’s woeful if you ask me) – but summer is forever. My mission this season has been to embrace the idea of microadventures, and just get outdoors as often as possible. Whether it’s camping in the backcountry, hiking after work, or just going for a lazy Sunday drive in the foothills, this summer is all about being outside.

In fact, I’m writing this guide to the essential gear for an endless summer while swinging in my hammock out in my backyard. For the record: It’s 73º, breezy, and full of sunshine out here. And I just reached over to pluck a golden cherry tomato from my garden and plop it into my mouth. Like I said, summer forever. 

After months of testing, wearing, and munching, here’s a guide to my favorite summertime outdoor products:
Camping in Cottonwood Pass while snacking on a meal from Fireside Provisions

Camp food from Fireside Provisions

Ultra light backpacking is fine and dandy – but most of the time, I’m way more into convenient camping. I’m all about picking a random forest road, driving down it until I find a suitable dispersed campsite in the woods, and setting up a cozy nook in nature while snacking and soaking up fresh air. Have I become a lazy camper? Perhaps. But I dig it – sometimes you have to ditch the complications of getting outdoors and embrace the easy route. Cue the simple solution provided by the folks at Fireside Provisions. [Read more…]

Getting Wild 4 Backcountry

Can I just take a minute to gush about how delightful it is to have Amble around again? How much more magical being outside is with my partner-in-adventure? It’s almost too much. Campfires feel warmer, sleeping bags are snugglier, and trails always seem to get a little messier.

She was born to be an outdoor pup, and as she’s getting bigger it’s always remained a top priority to make sure she’s eating right. Amble has been grain-free since she was a puppy, and gets spoiled with fresh-cooked eggs, high protein meals, and a likely excess of healthy treats. When given the opportunity to let her do some gear testing of her own, I was a little skeptical about letting her try a new food – until I did some research on Merrick Pet Food. They use freeze-dried raw meat and locally sourced produce – all grown in the USA – from family farms. Plus, everything from raw ingredients to the final packaged product are produced under the same roof. I was sold.

But how exactly do you let a dog gear-test food?photo 2

I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to tell how Amble felt about the food. Would she react differently? Would I notice anything else? Who knew. Then I opened up her Pacific Catch kibble, fished out a little bit of freeze-dried salmon, and used it as bait to get her to go through her usual commands. After the treat disappeared into her mouth, she stared at me with the most intent, borderline-crazed expression I have ever witnessed. Clearly, she wanted more.

The second clue that Merrick got the Amble stamp of approval came when I introduced wet food into the mix. Amble has always been very into food, but once I mixed a few spoonfuls of Alpine Rabbit Stew into her dinner, she totally went bananas. She spent 20 solid minutes licking her bowl clean (it was totally clean after about 45 seconds). When she was done eating, she came right over to me, sat down, and kept looking from me to the countertop where the food was.

In that moment it became very clear to me how the whole “letting your dog gear test food” concept works out.

20150607-DSC0265120150607-DSC02695 [Read more…]

The #CouchtoCrush Challenge

The idea of going from couch potato status to crush-mode began back in September when I got a ludicrous idea to sign myself up for a hefty birthday challenge after a six-month break from climbing. I trained and tried my hardest – but after my birthday, afternoon sessions at the climbing gym were quickly replaced with a new job and new obstacles (read: new excuses).

About a month ago, I found myself back in the gym. This time, I had a partner to keep me accountable, a steady work schedule to plan around, and a membership at a rock gym complete with a fitness area, yoga studio, cycling room, crossfit box, and the works. It’s been a transformative experience, and a lot of readers expressed interest in a post about what my training consists of – so I decided to turn it into a series of #couchtocrush guides.

#couchtocrush climbing training guide What’s in the #couchtocrush guide series?

Getting Started

Ricebuckets + Foam-rolling

Core Training

Climbing + Hangboards

Fitness-ing

Nutrition

Recovery + Injury

I’m certainly no expert, so I combined my experiences with resources from around the climbing community to help you educate yourself on how to create your ultimate #couchtocrush training plan. I’ve been pushing myself with the goal of getting back in shape in time for Tally Rock Gym’s annual Save The South bouldering competition – what’s your reason for going from #couchtocrush?

Be sure to share your training photos on Instagram + Twitter with the #couchtocrush hashtag – I’ll be selecting the best photos for a chance to win prizes like ClimbOn! skin salve, handcrafted Kendal Jackson Bags chalkbags, and more!

The main guides will roll out starting tomorrow, but since so many people asked about my workouts, here’s a bonus post about getting started with a few quick breakdown of one of my morning circuits with Heather. A few quick tips? Drink a lot of water. Start waking up earlier. Think about what you’re putting into your body (and how you can be healthier). Climb with intention at the rock gym. And do more yoga while you’re at it. 

The most important part of the plan? Commit. Get up and get yourself to the gym. Just do it. I schlep myself to Movement Denver at 7:00 AM on weekdays mornings – always sans make-up, sometimes with pillow lines on my face, usually still half-asleep. But I get there, and after a few minutes of grumbling, I’m always stoked to train. Let’s do this!

The Essential Guide to Winter Camping Booze

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for this year, and friends are right at the top of my list. Since moving out to Colorado at the beginning of the year, I haven’t been able to spend very much time with my family – so my friends out here have become my tribe. To celebrate the holiday weekend, I’m packing up my Stanley thermos, and heading out to Shelf Road to climb with a crew of fellas from back in my Tallahassee Rock Gym days.

But winter camping isn’t always my thing.

The cold gets to me sometimes. But I know the season for camping trips is probably cooling down a bit, so I couldn’t pass up the invite to climb in perfect 60º weather only a few hours away. Aside from my climbing gear and camping equipment, I have one priority for this trip: drinks. These fellas know how to have a good time, so I put together three essential drinks everyone should bring along during winter adventures.

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Hot Chocolate with Irish Cream

This is possibly my all-time favorite winter drink. I’ve always adored hot chocolate, so the next progression was clearly to introduce liquor to the mix. I added three shots of Saint Brendan’s Irish cream liqueur (aka Bailey’s for poor people) to the Stanley one-handed thermos filled with water and three scoops of hot chocolate mix – bonus points if you add a shot of whiskey and some coffee! And of course, top it all off with an offensively large mound of heavy whipped cream for good measure.

Okay, so the whipped cream might not be practical for the outdoors – but the one-handed thermos definitely is. This thing keeps drinks hot for up to six hours, tags along easy everywhere from adventures to my morning commute, and doesn’t spill even a single drop.

 A Flask Full of WhiskeyDSC_8046

When you’re hiking around with a pack full of ropes and gear, there isn’t an abundance of space for fancy winter libations – which is where the 8 oz. Stanley Adventure flask (which is on sale right now!) comes into play. I bought a small 12 oz. bottle of my favorite whiskey, Bulleit Rye, and loaded it into my flask to keep on hand for moments when the crew needs a pick-me-up, or when I’m in need of a victory swig after a climb. A simple flask packs easy, doesn’t add a lot of weight to your load, and can add a dash of adult-enjoyment to any beverage. Perfect stocking stuffer idea, anyone? I know. 

 A Six-Pack of Seasonal Beer

The easiest drink for camping, ever, period, is beer. It’s plentiful, cheap, and always refreshing after a day of exploring. Winter is a great season for bringing beer because you know it’ll stay cold – there’s nothing worse than a hot, skunky beer when you’re camping in the summertime. For our Shelf Road adventures, my buddy Jeff decided to pick up a six-pack of New Belgium’s seasonal winter ale. He describes it as “a white IPA, so it’s not as hoppy – and it has a really clean taste with a smooth finish. Honestly it’s the perfect winter beer.”

I let Jeff borrow my Stanley vacuum-sealed pint glass, which features a built-in bottle opener on the lid! This might be my favorite Stanley product right now, since the big mouth opening and spacious 16 oz. capacity are ideal for optimized beverage size.
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Bottoms up, y’all!

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Stanley as part of their Give The Gift of #Stanleyness campaign. Thoughts (and genius beverage suggestions) are 100% mine, as always. If you want to help support The Morning Fresh, click those links – Eddie Bauer is currently offering free shipping on all orders over $49!

Gear Review: SportRx Prescription Active Eyewear

I’ve never been blind – but I definitely don’t see as well as I should. In fact, my vision seems to be getting worse and worse. Throughout the years, I’ve amassed a collection of Ray-Bans eyeglasses that I wear whenever I’m going to be spending hours sitting in front of my computer meeting deadlines and writing stories.

But I never thought about expanding that to the world of sunglasses.

A shot from the top of the First Flat Iron in Boulder, CO with my SportRx Sunglasses

Admittedly, wearing prescription lenses helps quite a bit with my vision when I’m driving, but that’s mostly at night. Plus, I have about a dozen cheap-o sunglasses from Outdoor Retailer swag bags and press trips – why invest in a pair of prescription sunglasses?

As Rob from SportRx puts it: “If you had to pick a sense to lose forever, it wouldn’t be vision – but it’s the first one people choose to compromise.[Read more…]

Five Adventurous Must-Reads for Summertime

Top 5 Adventurous Summertime ReadsAh, summertime. The most magical time of the year, if you ask me. Mornings are cool out on the patio sipping iced tea, afternoons are perfect for lazy tanning at the park, and evenings just beg you to cozy up in your bed with open windows. And what better accessory for all of these sublime situations than a book?

I’ll be honest, I’m a horrible reader. As a writer, I’m pretty sure I should be reading 100x more than I usually do – so I’m trying to amp up my literary chops with five fantastic adventurous books. As I complete each publication (bear with me, I read at a sloth’s pace), they’ll get their own individual reviews, but here are the five books that will keep my nose buried deep in their pages throughout the summertime. [Read more…]

A Guide to Climbing Balms

Here’s the thing about climbers: we have pretty gnarly hands. We spend all day grappling with slopers, shredding our skin on crimps, and cranking on underclings. From sandstone to granite (and yeah, sometimes plastic), our hands take a beating on a daily basis. Our most abused body parts also happen to be crucial for climbing – so climbers need to take proper care of our hands.

During my yearlong climbing trip, and throughout my five years spent training indoors and crushing outside, I’ve tested dozens of hand care products. My relationship with climbing balm has been through bleeding flaps of skin, fingertips cracked from the dry cold, random burns from campfires, blood blisters, you name it. This comprehensive review has been a long time in the making, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on what I consider to be the top three salve brands in the climbing industry: ClimbOn!, Joshua Tree, and Giddy.

Climbing balm review with ClimbOn!, Joshua Tree, and Giddy. [Read more…]

Refresh Urban Outdoor Spaces with Sierra Trading Post (on a budget!)

Moving into my new place in Denver meant I had to give up one of my favorite things about living in Florida: outdoor space. I went from a sprawling backyard with enormous garden, chicken coop, and big patio to a tiny upstairs stoop and a shared courtyard. It’s an undeniable downgrade, but I love my new city digs — the only solution is to work with what I’ve got!

When the folks at Sierra Trading Post asked if there was anything I needed to help settle into my new place, I was a little confused. How could a gear company help me with household needs? Well, I quickly came to find that Sierra Trading Post is secretly a killer place to score home goods! Crazy, right? They have everything from small kitchen appliances to decorative throw pillows — and they ended up providing the perfect solution for re-vamping my small outdoor space on a budget.Refresh Urban Outdoor Spaces with Sierra Trading Post (on a budget)!

The first thing my patio area needed was somewhere to sit. The Picnic Time folding travel table with chairs was a great choice for the main piece — it doubles as camping furniture too! The lightweight folding table is surprisingly sturdy, and the two small accompanying chairs fit perfectly in their tiny stoop nook. A seating area outside has led to new habits of eating lunch al fresco, reading in the sunshine, and taking more breaks from sitting inside all day. I have left the set outdoors for a few months now, and it’s held up well through rain, hail, and even a few late-spring snow storms.

I’m a firm believer that there is no such thing as too much greenery — so I ordered a few planters to give me an excuse to buy new plants. The matching plastic pots were quickly filled with young tomato plants (which have since all been relocated to my second-story windowsill to protect my veggies from greedy squirrels). My four little tomato stalks aren’t exactly impressive, but they still help fill the void of not having a garden anymore. I love that taking care of my plants gives me another reason to spend a bit more time outside each day.Planting plants. Yeah.

Bonus: If you’re an addicted plant collector like I am, check your local thrift stores for cheap pots and planters — then head down to the local farmers market to snag some plants like these gorgeous heirloom tomatoes I got in Denver!

PS: How gratifying is that feeling of getting dirt caked under your fingernails while gardening? Ugh, so good. [Read more…]