A Victorian couple who fell in love over their passion for the outdoors have now turned it into a business that’s making millions.
When Cam Greenwood first met his wife Elise, they bonded over a shared love of nature – and their whirlwind romance saw them engaged just five months later.
Yet at the time, Cam was going through one of the most “challenging” times of his life.
It was 2017 and the surf brand he had created at age 19 as a hobby had taken off over the five years since it had launched.
But a Californian company was not happy and had put up a legal fight.
“I ended up dropping out of uni to chase the business full-time and it grew to a strong brand called Monsta Surf and I had customers from 40 countries,” he told news.com.au.
“Then I had a green energy drink come after us.”
The stressful period led the now 29-year-old – who didn’t even surf – to the realization that the company he actually wanted to run was about being outdoors, rather than surfing.
Elise was working as a woman’s designer at Rip Curl at the time and together they decided to create a new outdoor brand called Zorali.
It saw the couple take camping trips, having fun with friends and enjoying nature as part of their business research.
“We really experienced a lot of the other brands in the industry and we felt like it was almost performance oriented, even in the marketing it was about reaching the summit or featured the athlete hanging off the side of the cliff with one arm,” he said.
“It didn’t really resonate with how we saw the outdoors. A lot of Australians simply love getting outdoors and we really wanted to be a guide to taking the first steps outdoors.
“The outdoors can be hard to get into and people don’t know the technical jargon and gear. We wanted to create a brand that was approachable and welcoming and guide people deeper into the outdoors.”
The Victorian couple launched an equity crowdfund campaign in 2019 raising $300,000 from 550 investors to get their idea off the ground.
For the first 12 months, they worked on Zorali from their home and launched just in time for the pandemic to hit Australia, selling everything from tents to camp chairs, drink and cookwares, wood burner stoves, backpacks and men and women’s clothing.
“So it was kind of a crazy time. When Covid first hit, we were running an outdoor brand at a time when people were physically encouraged not to venture out with all the lockdowns,” Cam said.
“It just felt like things could have gone down a pretty challenging path for us.
But surprisingly it worked in their favor as people keenly felt the burden of the restrictions, Cam said.
“I think when something gets taken away from you – the freedom to just go outdoors and go explore places close or far from home – it really makes you appreciate it a whole lot more,” he said.
“A lot of our friends and a lot of people in our community and our customers post-lockdown have just shown a much stronger appreciation for the simple joys of going on a road tip or going camping with your friends and those simple pleasures we all took for granted prior to the pandemic.”
He admits however it was slow going and “really hard work” for the first year as they made $175,000 in sales. But that grew by 600 per cent in the second year.
Last year, Zorali’s revenue topped a whopping $2 million.
Bestsellers for the brand include their camp chairs which range in price from $119 to $199, and four different backpacks, which sell for $169.95.
There’s also a camp out set for $675, which Cam said makes heading outdoors less “overwhelming” – it includes a tent, sleeping mat and camp pillow to set someone up for a trip away.
Elise, who heads up a design team of six, is focused on using recycled or organic materials but also making clothing that is visually appealing.
“Traditionally a lot of outdoor clothing can be not super nice in terms of design,” Cam said.
“A strong area of interest is making outdoor gear that not only works really well and looks super nice but you can equally wear it on a hike or in the city on your day to day.”
Currently, 90 per cent of their revenue comes from within Australia but now the couple, whose favorite outdoor destination is Otway in southern Victoria, are gaining interest from the US.
In July, they will launch a collaboration with the US lifestyle brand Huckberry, popular for its outdoor gear.
Cam said Zorali has also evolved with the pandemic, with the duo seeing it more as a sustainable wellness brand that connects people to nature rather than an outdoor essentials company.
The couple recently enjoyed some time on Mount Feathertop, the second highest mountain in Victoria, and that’s part of their grand plan too – taking their online presence offline, with a calendar of events due to be released later this year.
“It’s something we are really excited to grow – the experience side of Zorali – we don’t see just us as an online outdoor retailer and want to create these really meaningful experiences that sit alongside the brand,” Cam said.