After more than a year of social distancing, reduced flights and hotel closures, exploring nature hasn’t topped as many vacation agendas in decades. Whether you’re a novice who just swapped beach resorts for mountain peaks this past year or you’ve been traversing national parks as long as you can remember, high-performance gear designers like the innovators at Matador can drastically improve your experience with thoughtful products built to perform in all conditions without getting in the way of your day-to-day. The Boulder-based brand dropped four new game changers this month with the latest releasing today; here, CEO Chris Clearman chats about the brand’s past, present and future, with a quick breakdown on Matador’s new must-haves for outdoor getaways in 2021.
How and why was Matador born?
Matador was launched from a product need, starting with the Pocket Blanket in 2014. To this day, the brand is product-centric and operates a lot like a design lab. We are focused on engineering high-performance travel equipment that is lightweight, weatherproof and innovative. In 2014, we identified a culture of travel that had nothing to do with traditional ideas of vacation and everything to do with experience seeking. This type of travel was underserved, requiring people to repurpose outdoor equipment for travel. We quickly found our stride developing products designed to perform in the outdoors with the look and function needed for travel.
What are historic best-sellers for Matador?
Everything that we keep in our lineup performs, but there’s been some hits that have really continued to grow. If I had to pick just one, it would be the FlatPak Soap Bar Case. Our patented Soap Bar Case has seen more organic growth than any product since the original Pocket Blanket, which we just overhauled. Another real mover for us was actually the original Camera Base Layer. Mirrorless cameras innovated the camera industry and photography-based platforms like Instagram had caught on, so the product and timing were perfect. The new Camera Base Layer out today, is perfectly timed for our 2021 objectives. In 2020, we’ve gotten back into photography and realized how much we have missed traveling with a dedicated camera. So, this year we are leaving the phone behind instead.
How has Matador weathered Covid-19’s impact on travel?
As a brand primarily focused on travel, Covid obviously had a major impact on our business. We saw most of our retail accounts close for months and many will never re-open. People also weren’t spending on travel products because they didn’t have any upcoming travel plans. At the onset of the pandemic we saw revenue decrease by as much as 70%. Fortunately for us, we also play in the outdoor space, which saw solid growth through the shutdowns. We leaned a bit harder into the outdoor messaging and ultimately recovered a lot of our losses through growth in the outdoor sector, but we finished the year down year-over-year, which is a bit unusual considering we’ve historically averaged around 100% growth each year. At the same time, just weathering the storm was never really an option for us. We kept the entire staff on board at full pay throughout the pandemic and made sure to keep our eyes on the horizon, fully focused on growth and progress. We dug deep into our brand, refined our business processes, implemented new systems and software and innovated our product pipeline like never before. We like to solve problems with the gas pedal instead of pumping the brakes and 2020 was no exception. We expect to realize significant gains in the coming years because we doubled down on innovation and preparation for growth during the shutdown. I think there’s a good chance that we look back and realize that Covid was the best thing that ever happened to our business, but only because we were hustling while so much of the competition was laying on the brakes.
Where is Matador headed now?
We fully intend to become the leading brand in the adventure travel space. I’m confident that we’re out-pacing and out-innovating anyone else in the space, so this goal is very attainable for us if we keep grinding. Matador has always been about innovating when it’s better, and the product launch schedule that we kicked off last year is aggressive. Expect a lot of launches, some really innovative products that are unlike anything seen before and a massive overhaul of some of our most high-performance products. We‘re moving fast, staying light and will be back out there exploring as soon as possible.
Now tell us about the products launched this month!
The Pocket Blanket was the product that launched Matador. The Pocket Blanket really captured what we are all about: being a little prepared so that we can be spontaneous and unplanned. The perfect level of prepared is having what you might need without being weighed down. We’ve updated the Pocket Blanket a couple times, but never quite like this. With totally new materials and coatings from the ground up, this update does everything the original did . . . but lot better.
Camera Base Layer
The Camera Base Layer is another major product overhaul on a popular product. When mirrorless cameras started replacing larger DSLR cameras, there was an immediate urge to leave the dedicated square camera bag at home. We tucked our cameras into socks, beanies or sweatshirts and stuffed them inside our backpacks. We quickly learned we were not the only ones using this travel hack. When we had our camera out to use, we wore it completely unprotected and visible. We needed an interim camera case—one that stayed on the camera to wear and removed easily while letting us pack it safely into any bag. The Camera Base Layer was our solution. This new version is strides ahead of the original, offering more protection, a seamless transition to rated water protection and a clean solution for size adjustment for different camera lenses. We made sure that the new Camera Base Layer still removes instantly, so that you never miss a shot.
Laptop Base Layer
The Laptop Base Layer is an entirely new product for Matador. 2020 was full of remote work and we found ourselves taking our laptops all kinds of places. We worked outside, snagged WiFi signal from our cars and had to upgrade our 4G hotspot to support us off the grid. We got to searching for the perfect laptop case and it just wasn’t out there. The laptop base layer instantly adjusts to fit most laptop sizes; it’s so intuitive that you don’t even notice you’re sizing it as you close it. The seam sealed drybag liner is borrowed from the Camera Base Layer and can be left unrolled for fast access or rolled a few times before closing for rated water protection. A stretchy on-board storage pocket for a charger and mouse round out the features. The Laptop Base Layer works with laptop compatible bags or can be used on its own. It’s everything we want in a laptop case when we are working really remote.
Ultralight Travel Towels
The Ultralight Towels are an additional edition of our nanofiber travel towels. Our towels are some of our best selling and most highly reviewed products and the storage case is really convenient. When trying to save weight, we heard people would leave the silicone case behind and take just the towel, which is probably the lightest on the market for its absorption level. Since we have found ourselves doing this when we went into the backcountry, we knew there was a need. We already had the lightest towel; we just needed an ultralight storage option. The UL towels are built from the same absorbent nanofiber material, but in a really stealthy black colorway. Instead of a convenient silicone case, we packed these UL Towels into an ultralight powermesh bag with a Hypalon tether point. Both towel editions are great for travel, but now we are offering a specialized version for when weight really matters.