This Brand’s Gift With Purchase: Conservation

Fishpond CEO John Land Le Coq is selling more than fly fishing accessories. He's selling environmental stewardship, and that's a value proposition his customers can't resist.

By Scott Willoughby February 9, 2016

John Land Le Coq wants the world to discover his happy place.

Like Le Coq himself, it’s a moving target—a restless ideal informed by sweeping Western landscapes, innovative outdoor product design and a culture of environmental advocacy. Yet, it serves as a steadfast foundation for Le Coq’s Fishpond, the small fly fishing and outdoor adventure gear company that is making a big impact on the nation’s conservation community through its unflagging ethos.

Fishpond USA – 2013 from Aaron Grimes on Vimeo.

The Purpose Behind the Product
Behind it all is CEO Le Coq, a visionary sportsman whose mind ebbs and flows like the twisting currents of a freestone river, gushing with surges of inspiration before settling into more placid, pensive pools of reflection. Some 17 years after creating the concept of Fishpond, the brand remains equal parts passion and purpose.

“I look at everything from a visual, creative standpoint,” Le Coq said while studying the contours of a cottonwood tree on the bank of the upper Colorado River. “I just see all this habitat as inspiration. It’s never been just about catching the fish.”

Beginning with the now-iconic Blue River Chest Pack and expanding to a top-tier line of more than 150 fishing packs, vests,

The 2016 version of the Fishpond Blue River Chest Pack

The 2016 version of the Fishpond Blue River Chest Pack

travel bags, tools and accessories, Le Coq’s enterprise knows no bounds. He continues to design every Fishpond product himself with the passion of a Renaissance artist. The only requirement is maintaining the muse.

To that end, the Denver-based company with just seven employees has infused the muse of the environment it depends upon into almost every aspect of the business. Beyond the hand-built displays from locally-sourced beetle-kill pine and a swatch palette that spans from shades of sage to canyon red rock, that means instilling a culture so deeply rooted in the conservation ethic that it could qualify as something of a corporate ecosystem.

What started with the simplest acts of environmental stewardship evolved into fishpond’s “Ripple Effect” campaign designed to engage consumers in the cause of conservation. The associated introspection eventually earned the company recognition as a Certified B Corporation in 2015, something akin to LEED Certification for green buildings or USDA Organic foods. Along with Patagonia, Kleen Kanteen, Kammok, Newton Running Company and a handful of others, Fishpond is among a relative few core outdoor industry brands to meet the nonprofit B-Lab’s rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

“It’s a pretty all-encompassing thing, most of which comes back to environmental or social practices,” said Ben Kurtz, who became a partner at Fishpond along with his brother, Will, seven years ago and spearheaded the B Corp effort. “For fishing, that’s everything. Without those practices in place, we won’t have a business for long, and certainly not 50 years down the road. We’re not perfect, but the certification forces us to examine our own standards and holds us to them. It’s a good reminder that there’s always more that you can be doing.”

“We’re not perfect, but the certification forces us to examine our own standards and holds us to them. It’s a good reminder that there’s always more that you can be doing.”—Ben Kurtz, partner, Fishpond

Fishpond’s most emblematic commitment to sustainability is demonstrated through the design and development of a fabric

The waterproof Westwater Sling Pack is made from Fishpond's Cyclopond material.

The waterproof Westwater Sling Pack is made from Fishpond’s Cyclopond material.

called Cyclepond, an industry-first recycled material made from nylon commercial fishing nets hauled out of sensitive ocean environments. Over the past five years, nearly all Fishpond products have been moved to the Cyclepond fabric, allowing consumers to join the company’s effort to turn one of the most destructive methods of fishing into something positive. More than merely products, Fishpond wants to create a movement.

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“No matter what any of us do in the outdoor recreation world, the question is: How we can inspire others to do more?” Le Coq said. “That’s the key. How do we get more people to say, ‘Yeah, this is what we need to do.’ I think consumers, by and large, they gravitate and they like companies that make a difference. But how do we get all those people to make an impact? How do we rally those people to actually do something with us? Eventually you realize that our greatest asset is the consumer. The greatest asset is the thousands of people that we can affect who actually love and live this habitat, to get them to join and say, ‘Let’s do it.’”

“The greatest asset is the thousands of people that we can affect who actually love and live this habitat, to get them to join and say, ‘Let’s do it.’”—John Land Le Coq, CEO, Fishpond

You’re Not Just Getting Them to Buy, You’re Getting Them to Buy-In
In its ongoing effort to motivate consumers, Fishpond uses hangtags to educate shoppers about issues that matter to the fly Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 1.16.10 PMfishing community, be it a shout-out to Trout Unlimited or the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. The company sponsors local environmental efforts like Save the Colorado and the Western Rivers Conservancy, donating proceeds from specially designed T-shirts and hats, and collaborates with other conscientious brands like Chaco and VOORMI on locally sourced apparel.

Walking The Talk
Meanwhile, Le Coq regularly travels to Capitol Hill and publishes op-ed pieces to lobby for public lands access, wilderness protection, clean water and more. While the bottom line of his business remains relevant, it’s just one ring in an endless series of ripples in the pond.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 1.16.04 PM“All of the sudden you realize that once you start, it just becomes infectious,” said Le Coq. “And it happens that way because you realize that it has to be so pervasive in every single part of your business, otherwise it’s not effective at all. But I can say without a doubt, that the greatest value of anything we’ve ever produced at Fishpond is that we’re starting to get people to think about conservation. That voice is the most powerful benefit that we’ve received as a brand.”

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