In 2010, Peter Dering found himself doing what many young 20-somethings do, taking a four-month-long backpacking trip around Asia. He practiced his love of photography by capturing the exotic sights he encountered in each country, but he found his DSLR camera cumbersome to carry around while waiting for a great shot and equally annoying to continually stow and retrieve from his backpack.
It was this frustrating situation that prompted him to quit his job when he got back from traveling and create the Capture Clip — a one-of-a-kind camera clip that attaches to any strap, meaning your DSLR camera can be both securely stowed and easily accessible when you need it.
In a serendipitous coincidence, Dering came up with the design right around the time a fledgling crowdfunding platform was launched. You may have heard of it: Kickstarter.
The two companies seemed a match made in heaven, a ballsy break-the-mold way to fund projects and a unique product tailor-made for adventurers. Shortly, Peak Design, as Dering’s company came to be known, had the most successful Kickstarter campaign in its time. In the seven years since, Peak Design has launched dozens of new products, each one crowdsourced and crowdfunded. All told, they’ve raised more than $14 million.
Taking Pictures, Making a Difference
As if all of that doesn’t keep them busy enough, Peak Design just launched a unique content-sharing site that brings together photographers who capture the natural world with nonprofit organizations working to save it.
“The idea came about because we worked with a lot of nonprofits that talked about how they just don’t have the imagery or the videos to tell their story properly,” says Annie Nyborg, director of corporate responsibility and community. “I’d also been meeting with countless photographers who — especially now, given the current administration — really felt this need to do something to help the environment.”
Thus, Give a Shot was born. Nonprofit environmental organizations can submit requests for any photo or video imagery they need and photographers can volunteer to fulfill that request. Photographers are able to donate existing images from their portfolios as well.
As primarily a photography-gear company, Peak Design felt that using their already-supportive network of photographers to allow them to do good was their best option for making an impact. Nyborg also stresses that it was important for Peak Design to ensure that the images were only being used by reputable organizations.
“Give a Shot is also great in that we’re currently only allowing nonprofits that are affiliated with 1% for the Planet or The Conservation Alliance to ask for content,” she says. “We did that because those nonprofit organizations go through a vetting process to make sure they’re legit, that they’re doing the work they need to be doing. So [as a photographer,] you know your work is going to an organization that is actually doing good work.”
Nyborg says that the content requests come predominantly from organizations that simply would have had to do without the images otherwise, but Peak Design is still cognizant of not taking paying work away from photographers who need it. To this end, they’re launching a grants program to pay photographers for projects. Nonprofits get the content and the photographer gets paid — everybody wins.
Taking a Closer Look
This could be the end of the story, but Peak Design keeps going when others would simply rest on their laurels. So they did something completely unconventional — they decided to take a closer look at the condition of their factories.
“We’d started doubling down on our environmental and social-responsibility efforts over the course of the last year and a half,” Nyborg explains. “But one thing that we’d never done before was formally audit our factories.”
She’s blunt when she discusses what they found. “We audited our Vietnam factories that manufacture our bags and, to be perfectly honest, it was terrible,” she says.
Conditions in the factories that Peak Design was using to manufacture their products were, unfortunately, no different than they are for any other company outsourcing manufacturing jobs overseas. Employees were overworked and underpaid, some making even less than the Vietnamese minimum wage. But unlike other companies, Peak Design chose to educate themselves and then, having made the decision to open their eyes to the issue, Nyborg and Peak Design knew something had to be done.
At first, the solution seemed simple. “I actually ended up requesting all of the time sheets,” says Nyborg. “I went back and identified every single worker that had not been making minimum wage.” Peak Design immediately made up the missing wages, and while the ultimate goal — a living wage for workers — proved more challenging to put in place, Peak Design has paid each factory employee a 10 percent bonus on their salaries in the interim.
According to Nyborg, the company continues to work in earnest to improve conditions. “Moving forward, we’re working with a consulting group to help us get all of our factories up to the environmental and social standards that we feel good about,” she says.
Challenging the Status Quo
It’s a bold move, admitting that your company isn’t doing as well as it could be, but Nyborg says that it was important for Peak Design to be honest and transparent about the ways they could do better — to hold themselves accountable and inspire other companies their size to do so as well.
It’s that kind of philosophy that made Nyborg want to work there in the first place, even though she describes herself as “anti-consumerism.”
“I actually almost didn’t take the job because I struggled with the idea of working for a consumer product company,” she admits. “But we really try to approach product design as not creating a problem but solving a problem, creating utility in simplicity and something that will last forever.”
Peak Design’s concepts sound so simple when you spell them out: Make products people actually need, treat the people who make those products fairly, do good in the world and value the environment that sustains us.
Yet it’s the fact that they’re actually doing it that makes their approach so utterly unconventional, and so incredibly necessary, too. It truly is peak business.
Feature photo courtesy of Give a Shot