Bringing the Fun of a Slumber Party to Camping

By Courtney Holden

Camping has gotten a bad rap in recent years with outdoor brands driving home the message that sleeping in a tent has to involve some suffering, or at least mild discomfort, to really count. Today’s consumer, however, isn’t looking to “endure” a night away from home. They want to spend time with friends bonding over bourbon and telling stories around a campfire. And those are just the type of memories and experiences that Tae Kim and his company, Alite Designs, are helping to cultivate. The brand’s high-performing tents and camping accessories make the outdoors less intimidating for those new to sleeping on the ground.

What Inspired Your Love For The Outdoors? Growing up in Alaska, I thought I was living in a very small town and I was in a hurry to leave. Then I ended up in the middle of nowhere in the Midwest and realized how important, unique, interesting and outdoorsy growing up in Alaska had been.

How Has Your Alaskan Upbringing Influenced Your Work As A Designer? When I got hired as a designer with The North Face, they were having a hard time finding designers with that outdoor experience. They hired me to get back to their heritage roots. They needed a designer who used tents and backpacks and knew how being in the elements affects the design. All of that came from my childhood, the products I used and activities I participated in. Outdoor gear design is the career that fits my personality and interests.

Alite Is Known For Tents That Are Beautiful As Well As Functional. Why Aim For That Balance? This generation is having a little bit of disconnect from the outdoors. In the past, camping has been marketed with a very aggressive and suffering mentality. We’re designing camping gear for people who don’t want to go camping, people who are afraid to go camping. Since we’re not designing with Everest in mind, our key aspect is how can we make it emotionally interesting for people. Let’s make it simple, easy, long-lasting. People really do need to connect with nature … and once we lead them there in a comfortable, fun way, Mother Nature takes over and we have an outdoors person for life.

Alite Has Been Very Successful, But Did You Run Into Any Snags Along The
Way? Our first tent looked like a Volkswagen bus and the whole philosophy was to make a space-efficient, square, light tent that looked like a van. You could use it outdoors or indoors when you had friends visiting — they could stay in the tent instead of in the corner of the apartment. It was a little too expensive and harder to put together than our customers wanted. Our second generation of tents was a simple, two-pole tent so that was more affordable. But people did not know how to set it up. Someone who grew up in the outdoors could put it up, but someone who had never gone camping couldn’t. This last year we launched the pop-up tent that sets up by itself. It doesn’t have tent poles, and you could connect 20 to 40 tents together if you wanted. It’s opened up conversations about what camping is.

How So? People are having a big slumber party. They don’t know that in the traditional outdoor realm you find a place for your own tent far away from the campfire — and far from everyone else. Our core user group is 25- to 35-year-olds who are newer to the outdoors. [They want] to hang out with friends at a car camping area or a lake, sleep in a tent, take a leisurely hike. There hasn’t been a brand that’s been thinking about stuff in that way, so we’re really interested in pushing that.

Alite’s Ranger Station Allows People To Borrow Camping Or Backpacking Kits For Up To A Week Free Of Charge. What’s The Goal With This Program? Simply put, our mission is to get people outside, especially young people. A kit from our Ranger Station makes that as easy as possible.

How Is The Idea Of “Going Camping” Changing? The trend has been that it’s for a shorter number of days. There are a lot of hurdles that keep people from getting outdoors. Campsites are far away, and usually the popular campsites are taken. People are looking at van life —parking and exploring — and we see people moving more toward unconventional campsites like treehouses and Bureau of Land Management land. As far as the gear, with Poler, ToPo Designs and Alite … you have younger companies that are coming in from different angles and designing original stuff. We’re just getting started. You’re going to see more progressive designs coming out.

Lead photo courtesy Monica Semergi