Companies

Rebirth: GoLite is back in business

The once-beloved brand is making a comeback under new ownership and a brand new mission that goes way beyond selling gear. Get the exclusive scoop straight from Brand Manager Josh Clifford.


Everyone loves a good comeback story.

When the wildly popular ultralight gear company, GoLite, ceased operations back in 2014 due to a struggling business model, backpackers, hikers, and outdoor athletes around the country mourned.

Four years later, the brand is back in business under new ownership. With a fresh approach on product direction to meet the needs of an evolving consumer, the new GoLite has a unique mission that encompasses powerful humanitarian and sustainability stories. 

For starters, the brand has custom-designed and delivered 12,000+ technical uniforms for Ugandan aid workers before making a single sale. GoLite products will start shipping to retail partners in January 2019, and SNEWS sat down with Brand Manager Josh Clifford to learn about GoLite 2.0.

GoLite Brand Manager Josh Clifford looks over his notes about the rebirth of GoLite.
\”Being part of the relaunch of GoLite has been a bit like raising a child,\” says Josh Clifford. \”As a first time father, I experience everything from fantastic new joys and challenges to boundless inspirations. Collaborating with such an innovative team of free thinkers who care so deeply about our work and its impact on the world around is profoundly satisfying.\”Little Hammer / GoLite

SNEWS: Back in the day, GoLite shot to fame for its technical ultralight gear with an eye towards sustainability and affordability. Does the new GoLite pick up where the old one left off? How is it similar/different?

Josh Clifford: It’s both similar and different. Lightweight performance gear is still at the core of what we do. Our earth-friendly clothing collection merges outdoor performance with athletic functionality, making it light on the path and the planet.

But times have changed, and there’s more to the equation now. Consumers and retailers want to support brands that share their ethos, and have missions that go beyond just making great gear. That’s where the new GoLite is different.

Making great technical apparel is only part of the new GoLite business model. We intend to leverage product sales – along with new company resources, materials, processes and partnerships – to power charitable and environmental initiatives. 

SNEWS: Paint us a picture of the new GoLite customer.

JC: A great example is one of our early adopters, Joy Fodge, who embodies the spirit of the new GoLite customer. Joy is a fitness and recovery coach who helps athletes of all levels find success in body and mind. She specializes in an athletic-based form of yoga known as joga.

GoLite ambassador Joy Fodge practices Joga while wearing some of GoLite's new Spring '18 outletics  apparel
Joy Fodge, a GoLite ambassador, practices Joga—an athletic-based style of yoga—in the Yucatan, Mexico, wearing some key pieces from GoLite’s new spring ’18 line.Little Hammer / GoLite

A typical day for Joy starts off with a stretch. After her morning hydration routine, she will practice yoga or Pilates, go for a run, or do strength training before prepping for her clients. Working out a couple times a day—usually outdoors—is the norm for her, and weekends are equally as active.

The new GoLite customer will be like Joy in many ways: always on the move, always outside, and always mindful of the world around her.

SNEWS: What categories will you launch with, and what potential categories will you expand into down the road? All apparel or gear, too?

JC: We’re launching with a sustainable apparel collection that we’ve dubbed “Outletics”—shirts, tanks, pants, leggings, jackets and vests— that combines outdoor performance with athletic fit, aesthetic, and functionality.

One key thing to note about our line is our GoResponsibly™ commitment to utilizing the latest sustainable fibers, finishes, and manufacturing processes throughout the line, while simultaneously working to develop new solutions. More than 80 percent of the initial GoLite line is developed from the latest recycled fibers and processes. We’re looking to maintain and improve upon that statistic each season.

Beyond apparel, our team is also working towards the launch of footwear, bag and accessories collections in the next few seasons.

Behind the scenes of GoLite’s rebirth

GoLite Design Director Caroline MacMillan's sketchbook shows how the rebirth of GoLite went from idea to reality.
Little Hammer / GoLite

Products are born in the sketchbook of Design Director Caroline MacMillan.

GoLite supplied these Ugandan aid workers with 12,000+ uniform pieces, including these technical red shirts, to help them in their humanitarian…
Hammer / GoLite

This crew of Uganda relief workers (with David Carlson of Medical Teams, left, and Josh Clifford, middle) are all smiles in their new GoLite uniforms, which are made of lightweight, durable and quick-dry fabrics – ideal for the extremely hot Uganda climate. GoLite produced 12,000+ performance polo style shirts and medical scrubs for the workers. Previous uniforms were comprised of heavy, non-wicking, slow-to-dry materials.

GoLite uses thousands of green plastic bottles like these, which most fabric recyclers don't want, to create its Re-Green recycled fabric, which uses…
Little Hammer / GoLite

Most companies don’t want green plastic bottles, but GoLite turns them into its flagship Re-Green material, which requires no dying and therefore uses 80 percent less water than other recycled fabrics.

GoLite brand director Josh Clifford and design director Caroline MacMillan looking at fabric swatches on the road to bringing GoLite back to business
Little Hammer / GoLite

Brand Director Josh Clifford and MacMillan ponder the color scheme of the new GoLite line.

GoLite fabric swatches for spring 19 center around deep ocean blues, soft greens, clean neutrals, and a few pops of energetic color.
Little Hammer / GoLite

“Color is one of the most fun parts of the job, and the most challenging,” says MacMillan. “It’s a delicate balance of trends, what’s wearable, and necessary basics, while still leaving room for fun. We chose a deep ocean blue and sea glass green for our brand colors, inspired by the natural beauty of the PNW. The spring palette grew out of that theme, expanding into a range of rich blues, soft greens and clean neutrals, layered with saturated brights that add energy to the line. 

GoLite Caroline MacMillan looks at workbook line drawings on of the GoLite's spring '19 bra line at her computer.
Little Hammer / GoLite

MacMillan working through the bra line. “You can get caught up in the visuals of a style – making sure the design lines and proportions look good, that the colors and trims are right – but you can’t lose sight of how it will be used. It may be cute, but does it function? Is it the right piece for the activity? We put every piece in the line through that filter.”

GoLite ambassador Joy Fodge running in GoLite's new spring '19 apparel.
Little Hammer / GoLite

Tech features of the spring ’19 GoLite line include recycled fabrics, Polygiene odor control, ample stretch and wicking properties, reflective details, UPF protection, and more.

SNEWS: The apparel market is chock full of excellent brands. How will GoLite stand out among the masses?

JC: That’s exactly right. We are surrounded by great products from exceptional brands in the outdoor space. To succeed, we knew it would be crucial to go far beyond the age-old comfort zone of product performance. We’ve been inspired by many companies, such as Patagonia and Cotopaxi, doing serious philanthropic work around the world. So, when we set out to reintroduce GoLite, we knew we wanted to play a significant role in this movement.

Our key brand impetus, GoAid™, was born from the inspiration to go beyond making great products and integrate humanitarian initiatives directly into the business model. This is what drives us every day.

A Ugandan relief worker models her new red GoLite technical work shirt. GoLite donated 12,000+ shirts to the relief effort.
Little Hammer / GoLite

In fact, as of today, before we’ve even sold a single product, we’ve given away 12,000 pieces of custom made GoLite clothing to global health workers in Uganda. Yes, we are doing business a bit differently, and we’re proud of it. Next up is a micro-enterprise initiative leveraging surplus fabric to empower people to independently support their families. These are the first of many GoLite GoAid™ projects to come.

SNEWS: Will GoLite have a flagship product?

JC: Yes! One of the pieces we are most proud of is the ReGreen Windshell, made from 100 percent recycled polyester. The fabric is called ReGreen and it has an interesting story.

We were fascinated to learn that green plastic bottles are less desireable to fabric recycling companies and often end up in landfills. But we are working with Tzu Chi, Taiwan’s largest recycler, now managing 4,500 recycling centers across the country to collect and recycle those unwanted green bottles into beautiful jackets. Tzu Chi is also one of the largest Buddhist charity organizations with over 10 million members and volunteers worldwide.

By making the fabric from recycled bottles we save over 50 percent of the energy which would normally have been required to make the fabric. And by using the green bottles and not dying the fabric, we reduce water consumption by up to 80 percent, further reducing the ecological footprint.

SNEWS: Tell us about the new ownership and leadership team. Is there any connection to the founders, Kim and Demetri “Coup” Coupounas?

JC: GoLite is funded by a Taiwanese-based holding company that now includes Seattle-based sales and marketing, operations out of Wichita, Kansas, and an international supply chain. The new structure offers the brand a host of benefits including vertical integration, financial stability, and green textile innovation. The new GoLite HQ is in Seattle where a seasoned leadership team facilitates business development, product design, operations, sales and marketing. We honor all that Kim and Coup created and are working to build on the strong core fundamentals they established.

SNEWS: In its final 18 months or so before it filed for bankruptcy under the old leadership, the brand saw some serious turbulence. How will the new team be addressing apprehension that exists in the market, especially among former dealers?

JC: GoLite is relaunching with a firm commitment to specialty retail with plans in place to visit retail partners across the country in their stores leading up to and following an official launch at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver. I’ll be hitting the road with our reps to conduct what we’re calling our Listening Tour and I look forward to meeting retailers one-on-one in their store environments. Our goal is to introduce the new GoLite mission, vision, and product, listen to their unique needs, address any spillover concerns from previous challenges, and brainstorm unique ways we can better collaborate. Our VIP tour kicks off this month in Seattle.

SNEWS: What are the GoLite 3 to 5 year goals? What do you see this brand becoming in its second life?

JC: We want to remain a conscious brand, one that believes that profit without a positive impact is a loss. We will be a brand that puts equal amounts of energy into our GoAid™ humanitarian initiatives as we do into the research and development of new and improved earth-friendly materials and processes.

We’re extremely fortunate to have a leadership team that nudges us to do more good. They continuously ask, what good can we do next? I have no doubt that this important question will continue to be asked of us and we will continue to deliver. And, of course, we will always be a brand that makes high-quality performance products that are both light on the path and the planet.

SNEWS: What’s your channel strategy in regard to direct sales versus specialty retail versus big box?

JC: The focus of our strategy is to partner closely with specialty retailers to share our brand story and products with customers. While we will have a direct channel through our web site, we are not planning to open brick and mortar GoLite stores. The main purpose of our online marketing initiatives will be to generate a broad level of awareness about our unique social and environmental initiatives and products in order to fuel comprehensive sales. Our product offering and price points naturally lend themselves more to specialty retail, limiting our distribution and further enabling us to focus on specialty retail collaborations versus big box.

SNEWS: So will you sell on Amazon?

JC: GoLite has the advantage of starting our distribution with a clean slate and we want to have maximum control of the brand. Our plan is to work closely with a few select third-party retailers who can give us exposure on the platform, however out of the gate, we are not planning to sell direct on Amazon.

SNEWS: Why should retailers consider making GoLite an anchor brand of their apparel departments?

JC: We’re committed to collaborating holistically. We’ll go beyond just providing retailers with great sustainable products. We will actively listening to their needs and challenges, and where possible, we’ll pivot in an attempt to address them. We want to build long term partnerships that grow with ongoing, transparent dialogue and to test-drive custom programs that are meaningful to you and your unique communities.

SNEWS: Will GoLite be exhibiting at summer OR?

JC: Yes! We’re excited to share that we’ve been invited to exhibit in the Venture Out section of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. We’ll be unveiling GoLite officially in Denver this July, so please come on by the booth to meet us.