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. 

Comments

  1. says

    Hey!
    To start, I’d like to say how much I love the name of the company! Its, well, So iLL!
    The story behind the shoe is pretty impressive. I wonder if the shoe really expanded the business (beyond its first products). With hearing about the shoe, I’d imagine the other products are on point as well. And the mission of the company – awesome – “Our goal to create products that help our climbing community succeed.” Daniel Chancellor is quite an inspiration. I’m tempted to buy a pair of the shoes, I wish I had more time to climb.
    I recently started an activewear company that portrays many of the same values. Its all about adventure with us- and any outdoor activity you can think of. However, we’re still just a start-up. We’ve just started a campaign for our jeans that are not only extremely comfortable, but stretchy enough to handle the demands of climbing, or any adventure for that matter. (And they’ll still look good after a hard day). Check it out: psychedlife.com/24-7.
    Always love to hear success stories like this! Great post.

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