Episode 124: Ibex GM Bonie Shupe on Reviving a brand
After our summer hiatus, we're back with a new episode of Outside By Design! To kick off the episode, Lisa and Iris discuss a brand-new program offering at WHEELIE: the Rebrand Program. In 12 weeks, this live, digital rebrand program will leave you with a fully-custom, updated brand with a plan.
And our guest for this episode is no stranger to rebranding and revamping an existing outdoor brand. Bonie Shupe is the GM and Director of Product at Ibex, a brand that once went out of business but was brought back from the ashes. Bonie discusses navigating a brand's identity as both an old and a new company, rebuilding trust through authenticity, and reframing Ibex's mission and values into the future.
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Rebrand program: wheeliecreative.com/rebrand
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Lisa: Hi, welcome back to Outside By Design. It has been a hot minute. Hasn't it, Iris?
Iris: It has been a hot minute. Welcome back, podcast listeners. And welcome back to you, Lisa. It's been a while. We are so busy in the summertime that usually we take a little pause on the podcast.
Lisa: It's true. And so for those who are new, this podcast, Outside By Design, is sponsored by WHEELIE. WHEELIE is a women-led creative studio and production company for brands that care about craft, connection, and change. And we're headquartered in Whitefish, Montana, but we work with companies all over the nation and even all over the world lately.
Iris: Yeah. And we have some new things happening at WHEELIE these days. Lisa, do you want to talk about that before we hop into the episode?
Lisa: Yeah, it's really exciting. So, a little background, my name is Lisa Slagle and I started WHEELIE 13 years ago. It was just me with a laptop at first, and now we're a whole team of hardcore thinkers and makers and creators, and we work best with outdoor, action sports, and lifestyle brands.
But our big thing is we truly believe that creative work can change the world. Because it can! Even if you think about lockdown and everything, the thing that kept us connected was creatively communicating. So it's more evident than ever that creative work can change the world, which is super sick.
But we've been paying attention to the kinds of conversations that all our clients have been having this year and the types of projects and questions that keep coming up. As well as balancing those conversations with, like, the cultural and economic shifts in the world during the past few years. So I think that we came up with something that we can offer brands and marketing teams, kind of what they've been wanting this whole time. You want to know what it is, Iris?
Iris: I do want to know what it is. Please tell me.
Lisa: So after 13 years of owning an agency, the things that bother potential clients quite a bit are not knowing what they're getting with creative services, when they're getting it, how they're getting it, and how much they're paying for it.
And so we decided, you know what, let's make this easier on everyone and do something innovative and kind of shift the way that brands and agencies work together. So we invented the WHEELIE Rebrand Program.
Iris: The WHEELIE what?
Lisa: [laughs] The WHEELIE Rebrand Program is a 12-week live digital program. You could call it an academy for values-driven brands who are ready to evolve with the changing world to stay relevant, stay profitable and thrive while using their platforms for positive intent.
And so this is sort of based on our belief that 2022 is the year of the rebrand. Shipping is unpredictable. Inventory is unpredictable. Trade shows are different. Marketing calendars are like just hanging on for dear life. And even our big social media platforms are going through huge transitions. So they're forcing brands to adapt to keep up.
And so as an industry and as humans, we can't do things the way we used to. And amidst all that chaos is me and my team, confident that this is actually like the perfect golden opportunity to rebrand. But we get it, right, like, rebranding a business as a super huge deal. And it requires clarity, vision, perspective, and a Dropbox folder bursting with clearly labeled innovative deliverables and a strategy to release that brand into the world.
And it's cool because the launch strategy is both internal and external. So we even involve your HR director in this program to really help manage the process of releasing the brand to your entire team so that there's less turnover and more buy-in and more immediate ready-to-rock-it and make some money. So, we provide elevated strategy and solid, solid creative direction.
And... I guess some of the details - I am kind of just talking about the why behind it, but - it's 12 weeks, super intense. We're only taking three brands. It's a three-month program and we bring you a beautiful blend of our creative expertise with four collaborative workshops, featuring creative curriculum from some of our industry's brightest minds, as well as weekly creative one-on-ones with your team and the WHEELIE team so that everything we make for you and with you from concept to launch is custom just for your brand's unique needs and goals.
We've already helped and built and rebuilt hundreds of awesome brands over the years. And we'd be honored to work with you too. Over the years at WHEELIE, we've already managed the creative process for tons of rebrands, and we've seen companies go from stagnant to flourishing because they fully embodied the idea of refreshing their visuals and brands from the inside and out.
And this program is 12 weeks and it's a really interesting blend of workshops where you're in a room with two other brands, so you can choose to collaborate with them during the workshops, or you can just collaborate within your internal team, whatever feels the most comfortable for you. But we do curate our three brands so that they're not in direct competition with each other. That's why you have to apply to get in. And we will be offering this again in the spring. So there will be a waitlist.
But just full transparency: this program is not for the faint of heart. It's 12 really intense weeks where you walk away with a new look and feel, a brand book, all the deliverables you need, a launch strategy, a plan for your HR director and internal leadership team. So it's, it's a big deal.
And, you know, why rebrand? I just would like to point out, think about Blockbuster and Netflix. So Netflix changed with the world and Blockbuster didn't. And how many Blockbusters exist now? Right? Like, you want to be Netflix, not Blockbuster. So, the world is changing and it's exciting. It's an opportunity. And we're just super fired up about offering this to brands that have been putting off a rebrand. This is just like a proven way that people can get through it in a really dialed, cohesive, straightforward manner.
Iris: So if our listeners are interested in learning more about this program, where do they go?
Lisa: You go to wheeliecreative.com/rebrand and fill out the application. And then you get a 20 minute meeting with me to figure out if this is the right time for you, if this is the right program for you, and what you'd really, really want to be getting out of it.
So wheeliecreative.com/rebrand - we'll put that link in the show notes - and just fill out the application and let's talk. The program starts in February and we are only taking applications until January. So you have about 60 days to kind of get it together and prepare for this and clear your schedules. And I highly recommend jumping on now, before it fills up.
Iris: And speaking of rebrands and resurgence, relaunching things, our podcast topic today is right along those lines. We have Bonie Shupe on the podcast and she is the GM and Director of Product at Ibex. And you may be thinking, wait, didn't Ibex go out of business?
Yes, they did. They went out of business in 2017, but they have come back since 2019, and Bonie has been an integral part of that. So she tells her story as being part of the resurgence of Ibex. She talks about revival, rebranding, relaunching, and how to rebuild trust with an audience that was really loyal to your brand.
She also talks about reframing the mission and values of a long-standing brand into the future. And she also talks a little bit about remote work and how a lot of the way that we work has changed over the past two years during the pandemic. So pretty much along the same lines of rebranding, revamping a brand, and preparing your brand to kick ass as we go into the future.
Lisa: I love it. This was a fun conversation.
Iris: So without further ado, let's get into it.
Lisa: Well, Bonie, thank you so much for being here.
Bonie: Thank you for having me.
Lisa: And the first question we ask every guest is to describe where you are and what you're looking at.
Bonie: So I am home in my home office and Nederland, Colorado, and I live in a passive solar house and I have situated my desk to face the south-facing windows. So I have this beautiful view of the mountains that I look at all day while working.
Lisa: That's awesome. I love Nederland. I grew up in Fort Collins and we used to go up to Nederland to get into the mountains.
Bonie: Nice. Yeah.
Lisa: Beautiful up there. Cool. So I guess for our listeners who are largely creative and also work in marketing departments, what are you doing now at Ibex and kind of what's your personal journey?
Bonie: Yeah, so Ibex... I joined Ibex this last year, just as a product design and developer. And then as I was with the company for the first little part, we really needed to get a GM in place, someone kind of to lead the company. And after thinking it through, we decided that I was going to be the GM for a while. And so I am both the GM and the Director of Product. My background is, I started actually in graphic design and was doing graphic design and marketing for a long time. And I worked in the outdoor industry and I've always been just enchanted by apparel and Merino in particular. And so I decided that I really wanted to follow my passion for that. And I have just kind of done that. I studied that, and really just when the timing was right, everything kind of fell in alignment and here I am running Ibex.
Lisa: That's amazing. I guess my gut instinct is, do you like it? Do you like being the GM?
Bonie: I like being the GM. I am not... I never really set out to lead a company and I would say that I am learning a lot and gaining a lot of leadership skills and really growing exponentially every day. Yeah. I mean, I, yeah, I like it.
Lisa: Yeah. I think something that a lot of creatives have in common when they get promoted into leadership positions is that at the end of the day, you'll always be a maker and a doer. And it sounds like if you have a creative background, I imagine that that comes up for you as well. Is that right?
Bonie: Yeah, definitely. I often feel like I start my day doing all of my GM tasks and then I try to end my day with the making and the creative part of my job, just because that's what I'm most passionate about. And so it really helps me keep the move and the groove going throughout the day.
Lisa: Yeah, that's cool. Kind of like the cherry on top of your day.
Bonie: Yeah, definitely.
Lisa: So let's talk Ibex because Ibex has been through a lot in the past few years and you're at the helm of that ship now. So, I guess, what's the Ibex story in your words? In terms of the, the rise from the ashes, like a Phoenix?
Bonie: Yeah. So IBEX started in 1997 and I really see them as one of the brands that was on the forefront of Merino. And I had always followed them because of their city-to-slope aesthetic, and the tagline of The Art of Wool. I really loved that their products could... like, that they were really aiming products that can move from city to slope and everywhere in between.
And so their brand story, they also had like just this really awesome loyal community and people that... just consumers that just loved them. And so they had some financial difficulties and they went out of business in 2017 and we brought them back in 2019. So... I mean, really, I think it was like 2017/2018, really - but we brought them back in 2019. And now I am basically leading the brand and celebrating the fact that they are a 25 year old brand, you know, with a really strong heritage. And we're trying to navigate, you know, also being a new brand that's reviving and coming from the ashes. So it's, it's a lot to juggle.
Lisa: Mmm. So I had emailed you, one of the things I was most excited to talk to you about is the art of the “re,” so the rebrand, the revival, rebuilding, and kind of like, what's your take on that, kind of maintaining that heritage, but also embracing what is new and kind of the new side of Ibex.
Bonie: Yeah. Well, it was interesting because when I started with Ibex, I started this Ibex Insiders Facebook group, and everyone joined and they were so excited for the relaunch of the brand. And I know that a lot of people were a little disappointed that we weren't everything that Ibex was, right. We didn't have as many styles. We were just kind of relaunching and we were really small. So it's really been a journey of being just really authentic with who I am and why I'm here and talking to the community and really reaching out to people in the outdoor industry and people from previous, you know, from Ibex, and doing a lot of research and just trying to figure out how to authentically bring the brand back and grow it.
So it's been a journey to really, like, build back the trust of every- like, of the consumers that... I feel like Ibex, I mean, they really did have a cult following and those people reach out to me all the time. And I try to answer as many emails as possible and to just talk to people so that I, you know, so that I can basically do Ibex justice, really.
Lisa: Yeah. What, what's your philosophy on rebuilding trust?
Bonie: Just be authentic.
Lisa: Mhmm. Don't, like, hide it... or, I guess, be truthful in how you answer questions and that kind of thing.
Bonie: Yeah. Everything. And just try to be, you know, just be as authentic and honest as possible with, you know, everyone that's reached out. I mean, I've had consumers reach out who, you know, were offended by my photo shoot or just really random things. And, you know, I just write them back and, you know, say, you know, “Hi, this is me, I'm running the brand now. And I totally understand, you know, your feedback and just know that, you know, I wasn't trying to offend anyone or do anything wrong. I'm just here doing what I believe is best and in alignment with, you know, with Ibex and trying to rebuild this brand.” And people are mostly responsive to that.
Lisa: Absolutely. At WHEELIE, which is my creative agency ,we say that we specialize in rebrands more than brands, more than branding, because I think rebranding is outrageously fun. Because a brand already has kind of been through it and they know what doesn't work and they know what they stand for. And they get the magic of a do-over.
Lisa: And I think that's super exciting.
Bonie: Yeah, it is. It's been, yeah, it's been really fun to work with a lot of creatives, so I'm sure... yeah, you're having the same, the same fun with other brands.
Lisa: Yeah. So what are some of the things that you have kept in the rebrand and what are some things that you've let go?
Bonie: Well, masters of materials was just something that I think Ibex has always been really good at. Their tagline was always “The Art of Wool.” And so even when I'm looking at new styles and, you know, bringing back and building the line, I'm really looking at the materials first. And I think that that's a really important part of why Ibex stood apart as a brand and stands apart as a brand now. And so that's definitely something that I've kept in the mix. And always building apparel lines upon those different materials is how we're, like, moving forward.
Letting go... would be probably too many products.
Bonie: Ibex had a lot of products. And it's sad for a lot of consumers because people will reach out and they'll be like, “please bring back this one product,” you know, and I'll look at that past sales and I'm like, “oh, well I don't know if I can truly like, afford to bring back this product.” But maybe, you know, I could create a hero product that hits all of these product buckets for these consumers. And that's really what I have been trying to do is really hone in and create better products that kind of meet the needs of, like, a broader range of customer.
Lisa: Mmm. What… what's your approach there? Kind of… how are you getting that data? Is it, is it intuitive or, yeah, kind of, what's your creative process there?
Bonie: I basically pull up the old product lines to start and look through the materials that they had. Ibex, when they went out of business, a lot of people stopped making their materials. And so we've had to start from scratch on a lot of things.
But then when I look at product groups within each material, then I'm really like taking the features and the reason why those products were used and trying to combine them together to make, like, a better product. And so I really start with like a design board that has every product in that material from the past, and then look at all the technical features, kind of write them down on a board, and then try to design the ultimate product, basically. And then once I do that, I present it to our team and we discuss it and decide whether it... you know, what changes need to be made and get critical feedback and continue to elevate and update that product until we feel like it's ready to go to market.
Lisa: Is there a product in particular that you're most excited about? Just, like, personally, that this process has worked for?
Bonie: We have the Wool Aire hoodies coming back in this winter, and that was definitely a process that… you know, we looked at Wool Aire as a product line and looked at all the ways that they developed it in previous years and then really rethought this jacket and what it was made for and why people used it. And then I feel like we... I mean, we really re-thought Wool Aire and we're bringing back this jacket - we're only coming out with two jackets, a men's and a women's to start, but they’re... you know, it's like the ultimate mid-layer to outerwear piece, just depending on how you want to wear it. You know, we, as a team decided to make it more lightweight and make it stuff into a sac. And it's just overall what we believe is a better product for the end user. And we hope that our customers will feel the same.
Lisa: I like that. It seems like a mindful approach to putting out things that are necessary and just high quality.
Bonie: Yeah. And I, I think that's one of the things that... I really loved Ibex because they were trying to push, like, fashion and function and combine it to create these products to begin with, right? And so I really loved the brand for that value set. And so when I... as I've taken on being the GM and the Director of Product, that's one of the things I've really like, tried to keep moving forward with Ibex is and keep their mission alive. And as a team, we really, like, sat down and we outlined like our mission and values really taking into account Ibex’s full heritage and thinking through like, how would Ibex proceed in, into the future and into this new... this new world as we move forward as a brand. And so that's also just like kind of a fun thing to add to our, like, creative brief for every product and everything we do.
Lisa: What are some of those core values?
Bonie: Well, one is, you know, sustainability. We feel like we... I mean, definitely as mountain athletes we understand that delicate balance, you know, that all things coexist in nature. And we want to respect that and do our best to bring that forward. And so even with all of our materials, we're looking at, you know, how to make a material in a better way. And so for me, it comes down to dye processes and water usage to start. That's one. And then we're also just looking at, you know, recycled nylon, recycled polyester, blue sign certified materials, and really thinking through like, how can we make our products more sustainably, but also how can these products be a heritage product that people are going to love and they're going to pass on?
And so that also... the sustainability and stewardship was one. And then quality and integrity obviously it goes into our products as well. Another one that we have is mindset over skillset. That was something that we defined early on. We're really honing that and continuing to press forward with that value set, because we felt like Ibex has always really had core passionate people that work for them. That's why they had a... really a cult following and a community and why we continue to. So when we look to attract new people to work with us, we're really hoping to get people that are more passionate and driven by all the values that we embrace and they want to be in alignment with us. And so they move, they're excited and passionate to work with us.
Lisa: I think that's awesome. And probably comes with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, around supporting a team and helping guide when needed or not guide. And it sounds lovely.
Lisa: I noticed on the Instagram account for Ibex a lot of call-outs to wildland fire crews and some knowledge on fires that have burned. And it seems like that is an issue that is important to Ibex as well. So that seemed very direct.
Bonie: Yes, definitely. I feel like with climate change, we've seen more and more fires all over the US. I was actually just looking out the window feeling so lucky to not be in smoke today, where I think you are in Montana and it's probably smokey right now.
Lisa: Oh yeah.
Bonie: A lot of firefighters want to wear Merino wool. It's definitely an approved fiber and base layer that they can wear. And so we felt like it was something that as a brand, we should be supporting. And so, yeah, we're definitely sending care kits out to a bunch of different groups right now to kind of cheer them on as they fight fires today.
Lisa: Oh, that's so cool. I didn't know that.
Lisa: About Marino, but it makes sense.
Bonie: Right? Yeah.
Lisa: Huh. Well, what is something that I haven't asked you that you think our audience would be interested in?
Bonie: You know, in this day and age with COVID, remote working and like the possibilities there, I think, is something to address. I think everyone is addressing that, right.
Lisa: Oh yeah.
Bonie: Since I worked as a contractor for a lot of years, I was always remote and we're still remote. So I think that is… it’s kind of funny because I've been remote since 2002 and our team is starting to move to Nederland! [laughs] And I tried to, like, give them the opportunity to move, you know, wherever they wanted as they got hired on. But one of the things that I do when they come out is make sure that people go hiking every day. So I’m a little biased, but I definitely try to get them to all the trailheads. And so I feel really fortunate and lucky that I've been able to attract talent that would want to move to the woods and just hike and camp and be part of nature. So that's really awesome.
But I also have been really open to remote workers and because I feel like when people are just happy and in alignment they can do their best work. And I hope that other brands do that as well.
Lisa: It's kind of the best. I think working from home is just the best.
Bonie: Yeah, I do, too.
Lisa: How do you deal with, like, creative collaboration? That's always our biggest hurdle.
Bonie: Yeah. A lot of meetings. There's a lot of really great software out there. So like between Envision boards and Monday.com, those are really great collaborators, they help us track all the feedback by different project too, which is really nice. And, yeah, and it just keeps all the conversations really organized. So, that's been really great.
And then definitely we have sat on a lot of Slack calls, but it's great. It's great that we actually have the ability to see each other in meetings. Right? I feel like that keeps us all connected.
Lisa: Exactly. And I think with Starlink coming out, the possibilities for how remote people want to be are expanding. So it'll be interesting to see what kind of impact that has on the earth.
Lisa: And it's also kind of exciting. I feel two ways about it, I think.
Bonie: Yeah, definitely. It's funny. My friend has Starlink and he has already tried to take it out camping, but Starlink won’t let you take it remote just yet. So they’re still working a few bugs, but I'm excited to be able t - maybe I shouldn't say this because I'm ruining my sacred space in nature, but I am kind of excited to be able to sit down at camp one day and just be able to jump on the internet and do my work for an evening.
Lisa: I know, it's pretty exciting. Like I live out in the woods in Montana and I have horrible internet and I'm just so excited to be able to like, send a text message and watch Netflix at the same time.
Lisa: It's going to be, it's going to be glorious.
Bonie: Yeah. Definitely.
Lisa: Yeah. It's pretty funny though. But yeah, I do think, I do think that's going to have a huge impact on our natural world in both good and bad ways.
Bonie: Yeah, definitely.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Bonie: Yeah, even COVID, I feel like, has gotten more people out in nature. And as like someone who's been in, you know, been playing in nature for years, I had like mixed emotions about showing up… you know, I don't often camp at campgrounds, but when I have shown up at campgrounds, just say, before I go and do like a float, I've been really surprised at the new campers. And I've had mixed emotions about that. But I’m really... it's kind of exciting to see so many people in nature.
Lisa: Yeah, it is. Yeah. Whitefish, where we live, has been greatly impacted, um, as well. And that's been interesting, but I think also in some ways, very exciting. And, I don't know. I like progression.
Bonie: Yeah. Definitely.
Lisa: But I don't know if I want progression in like my secret, little zone.
Bonie: [laughs] Yeah.
Lisa: But I think it's okay to feel... feel a few ways about it.
Bonie: Yeah, I think it's, yeah. It's good.
Lisa: Yeah. Cool. Well, do you have any advice for other creative or marketing teams who are working remotely or who are kind of thinking about working remotely?
Bonie: Pick up the phone and use Google Meet as much as possible. I think sometimes we send emails and Slack so often and we're so used... we kind of get into like a little micro zone where we haven't, you know, communicated with people all day. And I think that sometimes it's just nice to pick up the phone and talk to your team members and just check in and make sure everything's going well.
Lisa: Cool. I think that's great advice. Well, thank you so much for your time and where can people, where can people follow you?
Bonie: I... on LinkedIn, and then on Instagram, and then obviously through the Ibex Insiders group that we have on Facebook, I'm on there. And that's about it.
Lisa: Awesome. Well, we will put those links in the show notes and, again, yeah. Thank you so much for being here.
Bonie: Yeah, no, thank you. Thanks for having me.
Lisa: Thanks so much, Bonie, for your time and insight and wisdom, and I'm so excited to see where Ibex goes.
Iris: Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode, to our listeners, please, if you haven't already, hit the subscribe button wherever you're listening, and if you have a moment to leave us an iTunes review, we would really, really appreciate it. It helps us get the podcast out to more outdoor industry minded folks.
Lisa: Yep. And as always, thanks for being here.
Iris: Thanks for being here. Have a great day.