Robert Rhett found a way to keep his camping gear high and dry, and in the process may have gotten a company off the ground.
Rhett, a Vicksburg native and resident, started Sierra Madre Research in 2010 to create what he called “a better camping hammock,” designed to provide elevated support for a camper and his gear. The idea, Rhett said, was to keep human and materials dry.
The inspiration arrived during a camping trip to Central America, whose rainforests are among the wettest places on earth.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of camping I’ve done myself. Once I decided to do this the first thing we made were these camping hammocks, and I had to make a shelter that would fit it. I’d been in several shelters prior to this and had a lot of unsatisfactory results,” Rhett said in an interview. “Got wet every time it rained and basically wasn’t what I wanted it to be.”
That’s when Rhett put his engineering background to use in designing what eventually would become the Nube’ (pronounced NEW-BAY), which allows for airborne camping. The design keeps a camper and his gear dry in a downpour, and protects the same from insects. It attaches to any hammock.
Rhett said it took about a year for Sierra Madre to fine-tune the prototype. “From there, we tested it all over the world.”
The product just completed its biggest month. Rhett started a campaign on Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding site, Aug. 7. As of Tuesday, Sierra Madre had raised just more than $83,000, with two weeks left in the campaign.
Rhett said the ideal fundraising target would be $210,00. “But realistically, based on how things have gone since we launched, I think we’ll land somewhere between $140,000 and $150,000,” he said.
What that will allow Sierra Madre to do, he said, is expand in a couple different ways. The most obvious is it will allow more of the Nube’s to be produced. Who will produce them involves another passion of Rhett’s.
Before he started Sierra Madre, Rhett helped launch a sewing ministry in Central America, with the hopes of teaching residents a skill that could offer continuous employment and provide some measure of economic stability to the region.
The Kickstarter funding will go toward paying graduates of the ministry, who are now employees of a Nicaragua-based manufacturing company Rhett started, to make the Nube’, he said.
“It’s definitely a huge blessing that we get to participate in that,” Rhett said. “When I first founded the company I had no plans to form my own manufacturing company, because most companies contract out that labor. We’ve got to make a lot of them, that’s the first strep. We’ve had a tremendous positive response from everybody I’ve talked to, distributors want it all over the world. The next step is definitely upscaling our manufacturing so we can keep up with the number we want to reach.”
To go with that, Sierra Madre has developed add-ons for the Nube’ – all designed around the original concept of keeping the camper protected from the elements and safeguarding camping gear. Options include cold-weather camping options, and setups that don’t require securing a hammock to trees, using poles instead to create a waterproof shelter.
Kickstarter money will serve another purpose, too, Rhett said.
“Doing this was an added bonus and a cool way to help people out, which is what Sierra Madre is about,” he said. “It’s about advocating change and ensuring quality and ensuring our employees are treated well. The other side is we give a portion of our profits to drilling clean water wells in Honduras. We’ve partnered with an existing organization there already.”