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Calgary’s Next Economy: Ram Canyon outdoor outfitting with a conscience

Evan Wildman’s journey to Ram Canyon started when his cherished backpack broke nearly two years ago.

At that point, he was halfway through his design degree from the University of Toronto. He needed a new backpack.

“I thought, ‘I’m not going to go buy one, I’m going to go to the material store, and I’ll make one,’ Wildman told LiveWire Calgary.

He got the materials, and without watching any YouTube videos first, he made one. Then he made another. And another.

Three backpacks later, it was time to do some research.

“I made three backpacks and still have them. I cherish them, but they are horribly bad,” he said.

Wildman started consuming as much material as possible on the construction of outdoor gear like backpacks. He connected himself with Calgary-area industry pros who championed the entire outdoor outfitting sector in North America.

He followed that process, built some backpacks, started selling them and more people started buying them. The research must have paid off.

“To this day, none of them have broken. But I offer lifetime free repairs, um, so they’re built really tough,” Wildman said.

“They’re built tougher than the things you buy on the shelf. Our customers are just as tough.”

Wildman also got the idea of using customers’ own fabric for their backpacks.

“I started reaching out to people and adopting their old fleeces and building the fleeces into backpacks. Now I make backpacks that are built on fleeces, that are maybe from 1994,” Wildman said.

“Maybe there’s a fleece that their mom bought for them when they were six that you can make a backpack out of.”

‘River baby’

Wildman was born in Calgary and raised along the Elbow River.   He calls himself a ‘river baby.’

“What a place to grow up, holy smokes! I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have access to rivers, but with the rivers and the hillsides and the ravines that I grew up in, I was never inside,” he said.

That stuck with him over time and Wildman’s still an outdoor fanatic. In that time, he’s understood that having quality products is critical.

“That demands that your products around you are more important. You need them to be meaningful; people count their grams, I’ve seen people count fractions of grams, on a scale before going on a hike to try to reduce weight,” Wildman said.

With that in mind, he’s developed a series of products along with the backpacks. There’s a camp belt – which doubles as a possible strap for the Valdez and Mosquito packs.  Ram Canyon also produces an ethically-built half-zip fleece.

Wildman said he’s put some of the products together in a modular system. The parts are interchangeable.

“I’ve been leveraging that idea of modularity and interoperability, to create these products that that people can wear,” Wildman said.

Customer first

Wildman said his biggest takeaway from the Platform Calgary Junction program is that the way you treat your customer is critical.

“You need to treat your customer as though they’re the most important thing in your life,” he said.

“That’s something I’ve been learning about.”

One of the other things he’s taken away is making sure that you’re solving a problem that needs to be solved. He wants to create value for somebody.

That’s how Wildman is continuing to move forward. He wants to create and deliver products that people value. Like fishing hats.

But a lot of what he’s doing, he said, is challenging the industry. Particularly around thinking about sustainability practices, like upcycling.

He’s facing typical start-up challenges like scaling up to meet the demand. That’s where he’s at now. Taking a day and a half to make a backpack isn’t the model for sustained success.

But, he’s excited about where it’s going.

“I think the biggest thing is, I will grow at the rate in which I can at the utmost acceleration in order to keep my values maintained,” he said.