Maker Series: Josh Helke, founder of Organic Climbing

The September installment of the Mappy Hour Maker Series, presented by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. we’re featuring Josh Heike, the founder and president of Organic Climbing.

Over the past 15 years, Organic’s bright and sturdy bouldering pads and chalk bags have taken over the climbing world, becoming a staple at local crags. We sat down with Josh to chat about starting and growing Organic Climbing.

Why did you choose the name Organic for the brand?

Bouldering is the most organic form of climbing, climbing condensed to its simplest form 

What’s your personal connection to climbing?

I started climbing at age 4, have established over 500 bouldering first ascents across the USA and over 200 roped routes. I have been climbing 40 years now and still climb regularly with my kiddos (8 and 10) so climbing has come full circle in my life. 

Can you tell me about your decision to move to State College?

My wife is a geology professor at Penn State. It’s one of the top Geo Science departments in the country so it’s a great place to be for her. The climbing in PA is bountiful and it really reminded us of where we had lived in Laramie Wyoming during Organics inception. State College is a cool college town surrounded by tons of public land, mountains to explore and lots of untouched rock.

Central PA has the largest amount of public land on the East Coast it’s simply amazing and a very special place to live if you are into the outdoors. It also surprisingly had a very strong history in the textile trades in Philipsburg a small town just outside State College so we put our solar powered workshop there.

How did you learn to sew? What was the biggest learning curve when you started designing and producing the pads?

I was self taught as I started the company with some help from my wife whom had sewn quite a bit in her youth. I also worked building Alien Cams while living in Laramie and learned how to bar tack slings on them which was my first exposure to industrial sewing equipment and mass production of items. The learning curve was huge in terms of going from sewing 1-2 items a day to needing to sew dozens and then hundreds.

Learning to scale up was one of the most exciting and eye opening things in starting a company.

What’s coming up next for Organic? Any new product launches that we can share?

We are stoked to be using all 100% recycled CORDURA® fabric. It has been a long transition as we needed to get it made ourselves as it was not commercially available in USA. Now have 30 colors in our shop.

We just launched a home wall pad for under home walls / training boards we are really stoked on, a really awesome magnetic closure chalk bucket and for the autumn have a really great fleece pullover climbing top available. We also have been hard at work on our sibling brand where we sell our non climbing products for our other loves like biking, skiing and hiking. And, of course, of this is made in our solar powered workshop! 

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