Accurate, honest self-assessment is a key attribute of any adventurer, or successful business. To better understand where we're going, we need to understand our origins and development. We need to recognize where we've been, and appreciate how the decisions we've made have resulted in where we are today.
Founded more than a decade ago, Kulkea is poised to take its next steps forward. But those steps will rely on the strong foundation and values built over the years by CEO David Abramowitz and his team. Abramowitz founded Kulkea, in part, due to his desire to own a business, and "because I found a product need."
In short, he felt the ski bags available in the early 2000s fell below his standards. During a weekend ski trip to Vermont, Abramowitz "went to the local shop looking for a replacement for my ski boot bag."
"The bags didn't look like they were even designed by a real skier," he said. "I thought I could design something better, and that's when it hit me. After the weekend, I put together what I thought a real skier would need, and then I ran it by my brother, who thought it was a smart solution."
But recognizing a market need, and having the wherewithal and determination to fill that need, are often two very different things. For that, Abramowitz looked to the example set by his own mother.
"The true inspiration for Kulkea is a Finnish mother who survived the Winter War (between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939-40) to venture the world," said Abramowitz. "She skied miles to school with a white sheet for winter camouflage from enemy airplanes. She left home at the age of 17 to visit the places she'd read about. She was a successful entrepreneur. Her lifelong hobby was travel. She taught her children about the outdoors, perseverance and to eat, sleep, and breathe adventure."
Two of those children, David and younger brother Steven Abramowitz, launched Kulkea in 2009. From the beginning, Kulkea entered a "crowded, mature snow sports market," said David Abramowitz.
"The competition was much larger with longstanding market relationships," he said. "They had years of connections, brand recognition and financial resources. We were the small start-up brand to first ignore, then copy. The challenges were overwhelming at times, but through perseverance and focus we became the most premium gear bag brand in the snow sports market."
"Overcoming those challenges reinforced for us that what we were doing was right," said Abramowitz. "It taught us to never compromise on our product development, quality or values. It taught us to avoid the distractions and keep moving-forward."
Fernando Robert, Kulkea's head designer, said Abramowitz's drive was a big part of the attraction of working with the upstart brand.
"The first time I met David in person was in the Ho Chi Minh City airport when we were visiting his factory for the first time," said Robert. "We had worked only remotely for nearly two years up until this trip. It was his first time in Asia, and we connected enjoying the development work and appreciating this foreign city.
"This is when he first told me about the Finnish origin of the brand and how it meant 'to go,'" he said. "I realized then David had all the ingredients to create a great brand – a great story, a unique product, a very capable founder, and a strong drive to build something big."
From the original Boot Trekker bag, the Kulkea team developed a full Trekker line, with Powder and Thermal models, a Speed Line including the Speed Pack, Speed Star, and SP Pro, and various other pack styles such as the Tandem Ski Boot Duffle, Kantaja Ski Bag, and the multi-sport Micro Pack. All are made to Kulkea's exacting standards in Vietnam.
"An early challenge was getting the right manufacturing partner that could execute the designs David and I envisioned," said Robert. "We were very lucky to partner with one of the largest bag factories in Vietnam early on. This allowed us to execute his designs and also source the best possible fabrics and trim available.
"This helped Kulkea's brand separate itself from the competition that mostly seemed dated and uninspiring," he said. "Kulkea has moved on since then, but continues to work with a great factory that can execute anything we come up with."
Primary to every Kulkea design, said Robert, are two overarching factors – performance and style.
"As a skier himself, David understands the needs of his customer and applies that insight into construction decisions during the design process," said Robert. "This way all of his products meet a certain standard of durability and quality. This gives our customers peace of mind when carrying their gear, so they can focus on the adventure ahead."
Those products have also created a solid foundation for the brand, reflecting Kulkea's guiding principles and allowing it to expand with confidence.
"Unlike many other brands, we actually develop all of our own products," said Abramowitz. "We draw on our personal experiences to conceive products, design the right functionality and identify required tolerances. We're deeply involved in all development phases from specifying initial designs to working at the factory on sampling and production to rigorous testing.
"This meticulous attention to detail is what has created for Kulkea a reputation of crafting 'overbuilt' products with smart design, clever details and impeccable quality," he said. "We couldn't be happier about being called 'overbuilt.'"
Built to perform, and built to last, much like the Kulkea brand itself.
Next up: The evolution of Kulkea continues