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. 

#VanLife Q&A: Ask Me Anything

Oh, van life. Even after my year spent living on the road, I still get questions about van life all the time. It’s such a romantic idea for adventurers, and I admittedly have my moments of longing for life in a retrofitted Sprinter van. After getting so many reader comments asking for insight and advice on living in a van, I decided to put a Q&A together to put it all out there.

My retrofitted 2005 Dodge Sprinter van, which I lived in for 365 days.

“I was just so inspired by your blog and reading about your 365 day trip around the country in a van, I wanted to know more about your planning for it and what you had to take into consideration to just pick up and leave your life behind for a little while.” – Natalie W.

The decision to start this whole “van life” thing came on a whim while I was living in Colorado. It was about 6 months after I had gone on a monthlong cross country road trip after graduating college. I didn’t have any debt, and hadn’t yet touched my life savings. I was freelancing with LivingSocial, so I could work anywhere with a wi-fi connection. It was the perfect timing to pick up and hit the road – so I decided to take advantage of it!

“I want to live a life like you traveling the world in a van but the only thing I can’t understand is money, how did you find yourself to be able to pay for food and gas for a year? I want to spend my life adventuring like you but money will hold me back, any advice?” – Raymond

I moved back to Florida and saved up for a year before finally heading out on the open road. While I was out on the road, I frequently picked up freelance writing gigs and copywriting work (but it honestly added up to peanuts).  I also totally blew through my entire life savings during the trip – which is something I regret. I was b-r-o-k-e at the end of my trip, and it made it really hard to transition back to the “real world.” I would definitely recommend securing steady on-the-road work if you’re going out on the road, unless you save up like $20k+ for spending money.

DSC_2159DSC_7940“Did you work at all on your adventure? How much money did you save up before you set sail? Did sponsorship’s cover a lot of your costs?” – Connor M.

I attempted to work a respectable amount during my trip, but didn’t do enough to make it sustainable. I took freelance writing gigs often within the outdoor industry, and worked as a ghost copywriter picking up jobs like writing 100 product descriptions for Office Max office supplies. My trip partner Niko even spent a month working as a delivery man for an organic mattress company in Boulder, CO at one point to help pay for unexpected van trouble.

Sponsorship is something I get asked about almost on a daily basis–and a lot of folks have misunderstandings of what a typical sponsorship relationship looks like. I am not a professional athlete, so my sponsorships primarily come in the form of support through gear and travel–my paid partnerships with brands typically focus on content creation. That said, partnering with amazing brands like Goal Zero, Teton Sports, and ClimbOn! was tremendous in getting my van outfitted. Their generosity helped me supply my trip with quality solar equipment, camping gear, and eco-friendly toiletries–three very crucial things for van life! [Read more…]

Your questions about the Simply Adventure trip, answered!

Seriously, ask us anything about our yearlong Simply Adventure climbing trip! Whenever we talk to folks about our Simply Adventure trip, everyone seems to be bursting with questions about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and why we decided to spend a year living in a van together to travel the country. We appreciate all the curiosity and support, so we reached out and asked people to send us their questions. Here’s what you wanted to know:

Where do you plan to go?

Everywhere. We plan on hitting up basically every state within the continental United States – except for Kansas and Oklahoma, because really, those states are no fun for climbers who have already driven through them a dozen times.

Here’s a very rough idea of it: on Thursday, we’ll drive until we cross out of Florida – finally! We’ll stop in New Orleans for lunch, since Niko has never been, and then we’ll move on to Houston and Hueco. After a few weeks of climbing in Hueco Tanks, we’ll move on to Taos, then J-Tree, then up to Salt Lake City and Moab in mid-March. After that, the plans are less ironclad, but we’ll pass through Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, travel up the pacific coast from San Fransico to Washington State.

After exploring the pacific northwest, we’ll trek through Montana and Idaho before heading back to Salt Lake City. Then we’ll visit Wyoming, Colorado, and head up to the Dakotas before journeying along the border states like Wisconsin and Minnesota. We’ll be at Red River Gorge in September, North Carolina for the Hound Ears competition in October, and then up the northeast for fall.

Did you ever name the van?

Yes! When we first got the van, we asked readers to come up with some potential names for it; Mike from Mike Off The Map came up with “Craggin’ Wagon,” and we loved the name.

Who drives better?

Niko says, “Obviously, I do.” But really, we’re pretty even. Niko is better at parking, tricky maneuvering, and driving at night (I hate driving in the dark), but he also tends to get a little distracted and fed up with driving. I can go for long hauls and am a bit steadier on the road.

How do you each plan to have your own space (in or out of the van)?

Niko sits proudly atop our new yellow home.

At least once a week, we’ll be taking solo hikes/adventures. To give each other a little breathing room, we’ll take some space for a few hours to do our own thing.

In the van, there isn’t much personal space – but we’ve divided up shelves and drawers. We also have two fabric bins we’ll use as a “catch-all,” so we can dump each other’s junk in our respective boxes when we’re sick of it being strewn all over the van.

It’s going to be a BIG learning experience for our relationship. We definitely want to end this yearlong trip still wanting to be together, so we’re putting a priority on keeping our relationship healthy and balanced.

Are you planning to post inside pictures of the van before and after the trip?

Yes! We’ve been doing before-during-after photos of the van retrofit, but we love the idea of taking a picture of the van on the first day, and another one of it one our last day of the trip.

Where are you going to use the bathroom and shower?

We got this question a lot during our going away party in Miami – some of my Cuban family didn’t quite jive with the whole “living in the woods” concept, haha! The answer? The bathroom is right outside the van door, and the shower is down the trail in the nearest river. The van is stocked with an arsenal of baby wipes and dry shampoo to help keep us clean in between proper showers.

We’ll also be stopping occasionally at truck stops with showers (haven’t tried that yet, we’ll see how it turns out), staying a night or so at campgrounds with showers, etc.

What’s your plan for accessing the internet?

Staying connected is a non-negotiable requirement for me, so I’ve been thinking about wi-fi since the beginning of our planning process. The current plan is to use my iPhone as a tethered hotspot, but if that doesn’t meet my internet needs we’ll invest in an air card.

Bonus: Spending an afternoon holed up at a little coffee shop to use their free wi-fi doubles as a great little escape from van life.

Where do you plan to camp/park each night?

The costs of paying for campgrounds each night would add up astronomically, so we’re planning to minimize our lodging expenses as much as possible by finding free places to spend the evening.

We are seasoned pros at spending evenings camping in Walmart parking lots, but we’re really looking forward to checking out BLM areas once we get out west.

My smelly old coffee container has now been replaced with a sweet new mug from The Crash Pad!

How do you get power to make coffee in the morning?

Our trip is being powered by Goal Zero Solar – and so is Niko’s addiction to coffee. We’ll have a french press to brew coffee each morning, and will use a combination of our solar power and a gas-powered stove to heat up the water.

The only foreseeable coffee-issue is that Niko could down an entire french press of coffee by himself – so it’s a good thing I like to drink tea sometimes!

How did you get the funding to do this? Are you living off savings?

Saving enough money to support this trip has been a yearlong process. We are both planning to live off our life savings, and I moved back to Florida from Denver to save money while I was working with LivingSocial. We have enough money to support our adventure on just the basics, but I plan on using my freelancing work to help us with “luxuries.” Niko will be picking up temporary jobs when he can, like working at Miguel’s in Red River Gorge.

We are also incredibly blessed to have the support of our sponsors, who are supplying us with everything from solar gear to camping food.

How did you decide what was a reasonable amount of money to save?

Honestly, we just saved as much as we could. We calculated some basic costs, gathered support from gear sponsors, and limited our spending (and traveling) during the year before our trip. We won’t be living lavishly during 2013, but we’ll have enough to get by.

A very rough map of our trip outline so far.How long was the planning process?

The Simply Adventure trip has been in the works for over a year. We came up with the idea for a yearlong trip last winter in late 2011, and throughout the year it evolved into a more defined experience with a strong mission. In March of 2012, I left Denver to move back to Florida and begin the saving and preparation for the trip. We bought the van in October 2012, and once we had the van, the trip planning went into major overhaul.

How did you decide what to bring/not to bring?

Niko has always been a minimalist, but I’m admittedly a bit of a hoarder. My purging process has been going on since I moved back to Florida from Denver, but I somehow constantly accumulate stuff. We limited our clothing to last about two weeks in between visits to laundromats, and pre-packed gear for the various seasons to be shipped to us during the trip.

Will you be at summer OR?

We will absolutely be at Summer OR show. We had to miss the winter market due to trip preparations, but we wouldn’t miss the summer gathering at Salt Lake City for anything. See you all there!

Got more questions for us? Leave ’em  in the comments!