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Alite Designs

Happy Camping, San Francisco

What do the Sexy Hotness Sleeping Bag, Kung Fu Collar, and Monarch Butterfly Camp Chair all have in common? They are all bestsellers from San Francisco-based outdoor company, Alite Designs.

From their product names, you can imagine the quirky, hipster nature behind Alite gear. The products are meant to be fun, functional and versatile — that's the only way to get people camping again, says Founder/President of Alite Designs, Tae Kim.

Backed with an MFA in Product Design from Stanford University, Kim left his seven-year run as Design Director of The North Face to open Alite Designs in July 2008. The company’s studio is on Potrero Hill.

Kim was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, so being outdoors is in his blood.

“In Alaska people buy gear because they'll die if they don't have the right gear; not to look sporty,” he says.

With Alite, Kim is on a mission to incorporate the Alaskan love of everyday outdoor gear into the fashion-forward life of today's urban San Franciscan. The bright, contrasting colors and clever designs make Alite gear desirable to campers and non-campers alike.

“We want to be fun and casual about it because so much gear out there is so serious,” Kim says. “And we like to spend a little extra on interesting features.”

For example, their premier design, the Monarch Butterfly Chair, is a fold-up, two-prong chair, where you use your legs a the other two legs of the chair. It's surprisingly comfortable and perfect for camping or a festival in the park.

The Sexy Hotness Sleeping Bag, which Alite dubs “the perfect sleeping bag for making love in the woods,” features zippers on both sides so that the bags can connect an unlimited number of people.

In fact, Alite is currently in the process of attaining a Guinness World Record for the most people connected in sleeping bags. With no actual record to beat, Alite went with the sexy theme of their bag and connected 69 random strangers in Alite sleeping bags at the Noreaster music festival last weekend in New Hampshire.

The bag also unzips into two legs so you can walk and even use the bathroom without getting out of the bag.

Yes, as campy as this camp gear may be, it is also practical. In fact, Alite products are sold at such reputable stores as REI, Eastern Mountain Sports, and Cole Hardware.

“We don't worry about being pegged with the hipster image, but more with the fads and fashion trends,” Kim says. “As fad and trends go up and down our mission stays the same and we offer good, lasting products.”

While Bay Area residents are known for living active lifestyles, there is still a large community that considers walking the vineyards of Napa as being one with nature. Through Alite, Kim's goal is really to lessen the gap between urbanite and Everest-climbing outdoorsman by making low-key camping exciting and accessible.

“People see a lot of barriers when it comes to camping. They either don't know where to start or find the prices too high,” Kim says. “We are the problem-solvers.”

Alite has a defined study group who they survey before the design process begins. The group is comprised of 22 to 35 year olds, who recently moved to San Francisco, use a bicycle as their main source of transportation, haven't really explored the wilderness, but are trying to find a relationship between city and outdoor life.

According to Kim, the number one reason people aren't going camping is because of the limited restroom options. Thus, Alite is now tackling the unpleasantness of campsite bathrooms, or lack thereof.

Alite is also working on revamping its online store, which will also feature a Camping 101 guide next month. In addition, Alite is planning to open a three month pop-up store in San Francisco early next year.

“When you work really hard in city environments, you need outlets for connecting with nature and friends,” Kim says. “We just hope our products really help in seeking out those paths.”