We are thrilled to speak to our next guest on our Wild Ingenuity™ series. We caught up with Matt Rose of one of our absolutely favorite headwear brands: Utopian Projects. Yes, this is the go-to head covering of our founder David Gensler, especially when he’s out on the river hoping for a tight line. We’re stoked on Matt’s inspirational answers to our questions about Nature/Culture/Future.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your company, and how nature is woven into your product strategy…
So grateful to be asked to participate in this series with so many other amazing creatives and brands. After two decades of working corporate creative posts and moving on into the working unknown, Utopian Projects was originally created as a cover for my consultancy work with other brands. About a year ago I realized that though the consultancy work was great, I was creatively unsatisfied. I needed an outlet for my own passions for product that wasn’t tethered to anyone else’s business metrics, line plans or dated product history.
After staring at my own collection of vintage and new outdoor product I decided to just make three hats that I really wanted. To my absolute surprise, my “passion project”, seemed to really hit emotionally with a lot of folks. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a hat junky and love the fact that this one simple item can mean so many things to so many different people once its colored or patterned differently. Having met my wife working for Patagonia in Ventura, CA years ago, a big thread in our life has been our shared interest in outside activities and certainly our love for good looking gear.
I believe that most anything I’d attach to Utopian Projects as a brand would always be rooted with outdoor undertones. It’s been absolutely amazing and fulfilling receiving photos from customers using my hats out in their chosen “wild” regardless if its been city streets, standing in streams or on trailheads. I just want folks to be outside rain or shine.
Where do you go for inspiration and what out there in current culture is creating the best or most interesting vibes to motivate you?
I remember feeling a bit lost a season ago when I started getting all jacked up over what I thought other people might want. It didn’t feel good to me and feeling good was the whole point of evening starting this project. Because of my working history with both outdoor, general “streetwear” (I hate that word), and my own collection of wears, I use my old Patagonia catalog and product books in tandem with other current brands I admire to inform many of my creative decisions.
The style chapter we seem to find ourselves in is just so inspiring because of the openness to mix influences. We are operating in a world where we all ask more of our product purchases and that has created a wider lens to view outdoor product much differently. It seems a bit comical to me that over the years the outdoor industry stalled out a bit realizing that it had created an official “outdoor costume” you had to wear if you wanted to really live the open trails. These days I love seeing and find it oddly inspiring to see people doing their thing in the outdoors wearing such a wide range of general multipurpose product. Last time I checked, it is totally possible to enjoy outside activities wearing non-outdoor-related brands and items!
What does the future look like for Utopian Projects and what’s on your mind as you look forward?
This question spikes my anxiety. I’ll share this and hope anyone reading this knows this is a work in progress. Myself included, people want to buy and use products that services a wider life activity range that don’t make them feel like they are committing to being typecast a certain way. It’s a big part of why you see so many people on trails wearing either yoga tights or tech chino shorts as examples.
Another movement that’s been accelerated due to our global pandemic is the desire to shop smaller independent brands. Social media, though a blessing and a curse, is the great visual equalizer of big and small brands. When smaller brands like Utopian Projects start getting noticed, it doesn’t matter if you are REI, The North Face, or Utopian Projects… we all get 3 squares across our grid on Instagram.
My biggest challenge moving Utopian Projects into the future is trying to find the honest balance of operating up. I started this small project with all these outside pressures to be this glossy brand that has all the angles dialed in. Most of my operating decisions right now are attempts at maintaining a deep personal connectivity to the product and the wide range of customers that send awesome vibes back. I don’t want that to get diluted by my same desires to scale at light speed and end up sitting in a trade booth somewhere too soon. I’m a mess, but hopefully this project is a good looking one!