Wylie Robinson of Rumpl on creating a new category of blankets, prioritizing sustainability, and collaborating with artists
It was 2013, and a friend and I were on a surf and ski road trip through California.
One morning was particularly cold, and it got me thinking about how grateful I was for the warmth of my sleeping bag.
Eventually, I realized that there was no blanket equivalent to a sleeping bag. The materials of the sleeping bag performed better than the blankets on my bed at home.
And so, the initial idea for Rumpl was formed.
My journey to founding Rumpl
As a San Francisco native, I had a unique metropolitan childhood. I was exposed to art from an early age, and the love I had for it led me down a design-inspired academic track.
For college, I found myself at the University of Colorado studying environmental design, focusing on architecture. However, after interning at a large corporate architecture design firm called Gensler during my senior year, I realized the technical aspect of a career in architecture might not be for me.
I still wanted to use my design skills professionally to create something. When I graduated, I got a job at an agency called Communication Arts in Boulder, Colorado as an architectural illustrator. I worked on rendering images of unfinished developments in their final stage, complete with mature trees, color, energy, and people walking around. These renderings were used to build excitement within the community and attract tenants to the project.
Storytelling through branding and art
It was at Communication Arts that my interest in branding was sparked. The storytelling in those renderings I made taught me how to create images and narrations in peoples’ minds using creativity and art. I wanted to do more of that.
I decided to move back to my native San Francisco and landed a job at a major branding agency called Landor. During my time at Landor, I got a comprehensive education in branding–I was exposed to everything from strategy to content to graphic design to logo to identity.
After four-and-a-half years at Landor, I left to found Rumpl, a company that would merge my love for the outdoors with my creative design and branding background.
Product development: pioneering a new category
Pioneering a new category with our technical blanket has been no easy feat.
The bread and butter of our operation at Rumpl is what we call the Everywhere Blanket. While we have several variations of this blanket with different fills and outer shells, the Everywhere Blanket is our foundation. This is a blanket we’ve created just as much for those outdoor enthusiasts to bring on camping trips as we have for those who like to curl up on the couch or hang out on the patio.
The thing about Rumpl I’m most proud of, apart from our B-corp status and our top-notch team, is the fact that we have truly created a new category of product from the ground up. Since Rumpl’s inception, I’ve noticed more competition in the technical blanket space because bigger companies have realized that this is something consumers want.
A sustainability focus
Sustainability has been a big focus for Rumpl, and we are proud that the vast majority of our products are made with 100% post-consumer recycled materials. Products that require natural insulation, such as our down-filled Puffy Blanket, use the most ethically sourced feathers. Even our proprietary NanoLoft fill that feels and behaves exactly like down is made from recycled materials.
Artist collaborations and brand partnerships
Art, because of my background in design, has always been a central part of Rumpl. Our blankets are, in essence, a literal canvas for art, so collaborating with artists and brands and releasing limited designs and skews has been an exciting part of evolving our brand.
Our collaboration strategies fall into two different camps depending on whether they are with brands or artists. I’ll dive into the ones we do with brands first.
Working with brands: who Rumpl is looking to collaborate with
- Outdoor core or heritage brands
These collaborations validate Rumpl as a legitimate outdoor brand that can deliver products that withstand the harshest environments. We’ve partnered with Mountain Hardwear in the past and found it helpful to solidify us into that core outdoor space.
- Lifestyle or more mainstream brands
Lifestyle brands introduce Rumpl’s products to consumers who either aren’t hardcore outdoors people or simply haven’t encountered Rumpl products in their day-to-day lives before. Our partnership with Chubbies shorts is an example of how we use brand collaborations to generate awareness with a more mainstream lifestyle audience.
- Brands that will help us with market or category expansion
This kind of collaboration assists Rumpl in entering a new space or becoming familiar with a new set of consumers, like our Hygge&West partnership, launching this Fall.
RAD program: what Rumpl looks for in artist collaborations
Our approach to working with artists comes through in the form of the Rumpl Artist Division, aka the RAD program, and is structured a little differently than our brand partnerships.
Our four top priorities when looking for artists to partner with are as follows:
- A good aesthetic: At Rumpl, we want to work with artists whose work is unique and that we think will translate well to a blanket.
- Artists who advance a brand priority: One of our priorities as a brand has been to uplift the voices of the BIPOC community. Working with BIPOC artists is a great way to do that work.
- Artists with reach: We love working with artists who have a fanbase who care about what they’re doing. It makes for a more exciting product launch and helps advance our brands’ awareness through their audience.
- Cool factor: And finally, the cool factor. We’re interested in working with artists who are grabbing headlines, those who are new and different and get noticed.
Rumpl’s omnichannel presence
Because our blanket category straddles an outdoor and lifestyle brand, we try to get our products introduced to as many of those spaces as possible.
And because our product is so tactile, we want customers to have the opportunity to touch our blankets before they buy, so getting our product out to retailers has been important to us. Ultimately, though, we just want to meet our customers where they shop, no matter if it’s online or in person.
As of now, you can find our products in 500 retail locations nationally, including Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, REI, and a smattering of outdoor retailers, gift shops, and patio stores. You can also find us online on our site, Amazon, and various digital retailers like Backcountry.com, Food52, FreePeople, and many more.
While expanding awareness of Rumpl is important to us, so is maintaining our leadership in this new category of the blanket we’ve created. Balancing that with our growth into the lifestyle and indoor space is a constant goal of ours.
Tips on leading a fast-growing new business
Managing a business is a lot of work, especially if it’s experiencing rocket-ship growth. Through my experience as founder and CEO of Rumpl over the years, I’ve picked up a few lessons.
I’m still learning as I go, but here are four tips for those who want some advice from someone who has had to make many big decisions for a fast-growing company over the last several years.
- Pace yourself.
If you need to change your product lineup or material makeup like we did at Rumpl when we switched our products to post-consumer recycled material, do a gradual rollout. I now know from personal experience that it can create confusion in the marketplace if you’ve got two products with similar features, but one is made from recycled content, and the other is not.
- When it comes to distribution, think about what your customers need to know about your product to understand it.
Do they need to experience it in person? Is it tactile? If so, retail might be a good bet, like it has been for Rumpl. Our decision to go omnichannel was heavily based on the fact that we wanted our customers to feel the blanket before they received it in the mail.
- Another distribution tip: if you’re creating a new product category, think of the major companies you want to be legitimized by.
For us, that’s been the outdoor space (companies like REI and Backcountry) and general lifestyle (such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdales).
- Let your past experiences inform your present decisions.
When figuring out how much product to buy for releases, particularly limited releases, start small and take notes from there.
One of our first collaborations with the artist Aaron Draplin was a learning experience for us, as it sold out within minutes. We made sure to purchase a little deeper for our next collaborations since we had a better read on the type of demand we could expect.
Looking ahead: the future of Rumpl
Since its inception, Rumpl has grown fast. Our slowest growth year ever was still 65%, and more commonly, we’re in triple-digit growth YOY. From 2019 to 2020, we grew over 100%, and we’re experiencing the same thing in 2021.
Applying a new lens to an old category
Apart from Rumpl’s phenomenal growth, when it comes to the future, I’m excited to double down on all the things we’ve seen work so well over the last few years. We have some exciting upcoming artist and brand collaborations as well as new product launches and initiatives.
The first initiative we’re stoked about is the application of a new lens to the old category of traditional home blankets, or in other words, the soon-to-be release of our very own ‘wool’ blanket. I can’t wait to get feedback from our customers on this blanket because, from my biased perspective, I think it’s the best wool blanket I’ve ever touched (think non-itchy and very soft).
And lastly, but not least, we’ll be introducing NFL and NCAA licensed products this fall. As well as representation from the full NFL, we’ll be releasing a collection of products with sixteen different schools that people can bring to games in stadiums, tailgates, or game-watching couch parties.
All in all, my experience at Rumpl has been full. We have an incredible, energetic, hardworking team and a product that speaks for itself. I’m looking forward to all the ways Rumpl will innovate products in the future, apply new technology to old categories of products, and simultaneously bring art, sustainability, and equality to the forefront.