The Right Kind of Cool

Cooalla, the first high-end cooler made by and for women, launched by local outdoors writer Ann Taylor in April.

 

After many summers spent struggling with bulky, leaky ice chests and coolers, Ann Taylor — outdoor sports accessories designer, outdoor enthusiast, writer, mom and entrepreneur — had a light bulb moment. Why not design a cooler that would be lightweight, well-made, stylish and designed specifically to fit a woman’s body?  

Together with a team of designers, Taylor just launched Cooalla, the first high-end cooler made by and for women, this past April.  

Nationally, sales of camping equipment is on the rise, with sales of coolers specifically rising from $283 million in 2007 to more than $488 million in 2017.

Cooalla is looking to tap into those numbers, banking on female consumers’ strong sales showing in the market — women account for 63 percent of spending on activewear according to an April 2017 Outside Magazine report. That same report cites sales of outdoor gear by women at $50 billion annually.

Taylor’s idea, which was two years in the making, came together through personal experiences she had with coolers.

“We have a camp in Grand Isle, and I’d buy coolers to have on hand for myself and the kids,” she said. “They didn’t keep ice cold or they would start to leak by the end of the day. There really was a gap in the market. You had the dollar store inexpensive soft coolers that leak or don’t stay cold because they are too thin. Then you have the really high-end coolers that are very expensive, but still weren’t exactly what we were looking for.”

An avid sportswoman, Taylor knows firsthand about the special needs and rigors outdoors equipment must go through in South Louisiana, and beyond. She has served at-large for the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, as a member of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association and International Women’s Fishing Association, and is managing editor of Louisiana Sportsman magazine.

Through her work writing about the booming outdoor sports business, Taylor said she has also seen an uptick in the number of women looking to participate in outdoor activities, along with a demand for specially designed equipment for women, in look, feel and performance.

“We fish a lot. We do see a huge upsurge in women becoming interested in sports and fishing especially,” she said. “Traditionally, we saw manufacturers slapping pink on something and saying it’s for women. Now we are starting to see products designed more for women. We wanted to address those issues we see when we are out there. Just because we are on a boat fishing, we still want to look good and feel good. [We wanted] to create a comfortable-to-carry insulated tote that performs like a high-quality cooler but looks and feels like your favorite shoulder bag.

And of course, we really wanted to keep our beer and wine cold.”

Taylor and her team were looking for a bag that could carry perishables, but also ice and beverages, way beyond the capacity of a picnic tote. Comparable ice totes are available from outdoors specialty brands such as YETI and Filson, and typically sell for around $300. But while those high-end brands worked to keep things cool, Taylor found the fit was either uncomfortable or unwieldy for her and her friends. She said products that advertise being designed for women, such as picnic totes and baskets from companies like Columbia, were inexpensive but never met up to Taylor and her team’s standards.

“Unlike other soft coolers, we wanted to pay attention to the weight of the product. I had three of my friends receive high-end, high-quality soft coolers for Christmas one year, and they all hated them. They couldn’t carry it even without drinks in it. I thought there has to be a better way,” she said. Cooalla weighs in at 3.2 lbs, as opposed to many other heavier soft coolers, such as the YETI Hopper, which weighs 5.5 lbs.

“We really talked about the weight of it. I took it every single place I went, carrying it to test the weight,” said Cooalla’s social media director and resident cooler-tester Jocelyn Boudreaux. “It really feels right. It’s about the way it fits on the hip, especially with the strap in front and in back. It doesn’t feel awkward.”

Taylor’s team is composed of experienced outdoors product designers, connections she made through working at Louisiana Sportsman magazine and its catalog of branded hats, UV protection gear, shirts and more. Together the team tested prototype after prototype to zero in on the best bag for the buck.

The end result is a high-quality, lightweight, insulated bag that sells for $179.

“We were lucky enough to meet some women designers who had years of experience with Patagonia,” Taylor said. “They helped us pull the whole bag together and were very inspirational. It was not an easy task. The Cooalla is not like other bags. The sewing has to be perfect. The seams have to fit just right to be waterproof.”

Features of the bag include: neoprene insulation, puncture-resistant and food-grade liner, padded shoulder strap and carry handles, and one-handed zipper technology.

Cooalla currently has three full-time senior staff, a team of freelance designers and an overseas manufacturing base, according to Boudreaux. While the Cooalla design team is located locally (Cooalla headquarters are in Boutte), Taylor said she is still in search of ways to bring the manufacturing to the United States.

“The bag is designed in the U.S. and manufactured overseas. We tried to find someone to help us manufacture in the U.S. but we could not find someone experienced with neoprene. We would love to be able to manufacture here,” she said.

Boudreaux agreed, stressing the importance of the specific, high-quality materials used.

“After much research, the manufacturer was chosen first and foremost for being the most recognized expert in neoprene innovation. This is a key factor in the function of the Cooalla. Seeking to create a lightweight, yet very well insulated cooler, finding the most advanced ‘neoprene on steroids’ is what ultimately gives Cooalla its cutting edge,” she said.

Besides the Cooalla being an asset on fishing and hunting trips, Taylor said she sees it as an integral part of any busy woman’s life, from shopping at the farmer’s markets to picnics, tailgating, festival-going, kids’ soccer games and more.

“We wanted it to be super functional, especially for moms, outdoorswomen; it needed to be versatile. It also works as a laptop bag and for grocery shopping. I have a friend who has a daughter who is a soccer player, and she can use it to keep foods cold while waiting for soccer practice to be finished.
 

 

 

I also like to bring my own good beer when I go to events, festivals or fishing,” she noted.

Cooalla is currently available in two colors, Bondi Blue and Shark Bay Gray, with the team currently at work perfecting new designs and colors. But while sleek, stylish design was one of the top goals of creating the bags, Taylor stresses that there have been no compromises on quality.

“We also really want people to know that just because our bag is lighter [and made for women] doesn’t mean it isn’t as strong as something that was designed for a man,” she said. “We wanted to make sure the product really works.  We wanted to develop quality. I personally tested the prototype. I loaded it up with ice and drinks and left it in my car in August. Those drinks stayed cold for a full eight hours.”

Cooalla is available nationally on Amazon— currently the company’s main source of sales — through Cooalla’s website, and locally at the Basketry in Luling, with efforts to recruit more retailers underway.

Boudreaux added that Cooalla is just scratching the surface of this market, with plans already for expansion.

“We’re thinking all the time about design,” she said. “As we get feedback, we will definitely be adding color and styles. We want it to expand the line, maybe even create an entire women’s line [of additional outdoor accessory items].”

 

Currently available in two colors, the soft neoprene Cooalla was designed to fit like a women’s shoulder bag.

 

“[We wanted] to create a comfortable to carry insulated tote that performs like a high-quality cooler but looks and feels like your favorite shoulder bag.”

 


 

Percentage of Outdoors Activitity participants that are women

49% Running
48% Day hiking
45% Car-camping
44% Cross-country skiing
44% Downhill skiing
41% Road biking
38% Snowboarding
34% Backpacking
30% Fly-fishing

Source: April 2017 Outside Magazine

 


 

In addition to being useful for outdoor sports activities, such as fishing and camping, the Cooalla is made to be functional and fashionable in social settings, such as at the farmer’s market, picnics, tailgating or gathering on the porch with friends.

 


 

Outdoor Brands with Women CEOs

Gert Boyle, president of Columbia 1970-1998
Sales growth from $800,000 to $427.8 million.

Kris Tompkins, CEO of Patagonia 1979-1992
Sales growth from $2.5 million to $100 million.

Sally Jewell, CEO of REI 2005-2012
Sales growth from $1 billion to $1.92 billion.

Sally McCoy, CEO of CamelBak 2006-2015
Value growth from $256 million to $412.5 million.

 


 

Taylor designed the Cooalla to be light and easy to carry, but also to keep drinks cold in the hottest weather. The price, at $179, is a competitive alternative to other pricier soft-sided coolers.

 

“Traditionally, we saw manufacturers slapping pink on something and saying it’s for women. Now we are starting to see products designed more for women.”

 

 

 

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