Cuipo, a rare and endangered tree found deep in the rainforests of South and Central America, is a fitting name for the business concept behind Southern California natives Gus Hurst and Tom Murray’s company.
The friends were operating private real estate funds in Panama in 2008, when they witnessed the impact of deforestation firsthand during a helicopter flight. They noticed what appeared at first to be massive golf courses in the middle of lush rainforest land.
“Once we realized these swaths of empty land were not resort golf courses but the aftermath of deforestation, we knew we had to act,” says Murray.
With their experience in real estate, the business partners decided that the only way to ensure the safety of the rainforest that remained was to purchase the land, and set it aside for permanent preservation. With that, Cuipo was born. The company has made its mission about giving back through the purchase of products in exchange for saving a meter of land at a time. In 2010, Cuipo brought on John Oswald, a co-founder of the brand Paul Frank, as a co-owner, after learning he shared the brand’s goal. Oswald also brought his licensing knowledge to the table, helping the brand create some of its own custom products, alongside some key partnerships with INT softboards, Sprout biodegradable watches, SIGG reusable bottles, Panda bamboo bicycles, and their custom branded “Sloth Crew” skate deck.
Since it’s inception more than five years ago, the company now owns more than 80 million square meters of land in Panama and Brazil. Cuipo is currently in the process of reaching out to skateboard companies to get them on board with the program, by donating a square meter of rainforest for every board they sell in order to make that purchase carbon neutral. We caught up with the three co-owners to learn more about their plan, partnerships, and how they hope to continue growing their program and increasing awareness worldwide.
Can you briefly explain how the concept behind Cuipo’s One Meter At A Time works?
Through green education, brand activation, and product licensing we raise awareness about the rainforest and deforestation. We strive to make rainforest preservation fun, effective, and easy. Our preservation efforts are centered on the belief that the best way to stop rainforest deforestation is to buy the land and preserve it. With revenue from our product lines and partnerships, we purchase large parcels of land for transfer to our non-profit foundation, One Meter at a Time, for permanent preservation.
Why did Cuipo decide to focus in on saving the rainforest out of all the “cause campaigns” out there today?
Seeing the devastation first hand really had an everlasting effect on us. In the beginning it was sad to see all of the land that had been destroyed but then that inspired us to protect it.
How long has Cuipo been doing its own branded product?
In 2010, John Oswald became Cuipo's third co-founder. With his expertise in the apparel and licensing industries, John expanded the company's vision to include a Cuipo product line and licensee program. The licensee program gives like-minded companies the opportunity to participate in Cuipo's cause and add a purpose to their products.
Tell me more about the skate deck you recently created – what retailers are carrying it, how much rainforest do you save with each board purchase, etc.?
We have had interest from the local skateboarding community so we decided on making a limited edition run of 50 "Sloth Crew" skate decks. The decks will be available for purchase in August at Cuipo.org for $44.99. Every skate deck sold will save five square meters of rainforest, which will neutralize the carbon footprint of the skateboard deck manufacturing.
Which retailers are you partnering with in the action sports space, or looking to partner with down the road?
We think we can build great partnerships with Zumiez, PacSun, and Tilly’s.
What is the benefit to brands partnering with Cuipo, and how do you measure ROI with these type of projects?
Besides saving a minimum of one square meter of rainforest with every purchase of every product we sell, our partners are showing record sell through because of the quality and originality of our cause. Consumers now days have a vested interest in purchasing products, which help save the planet they are a part of.
What sort of growth have you seen with the brand since launching it?
Our licensed partnerships began in early 2013 and as a result we have seen an exponential growth rate of 800% rolling into the 3rd quarter.
What ways and in which markets do you hope to grow Cuipo, as far as sales, reach, distribution, brand awareness, et cetera?
Our goal is to have Cuipo licensed products in hundreds of product categories and every time anyone, anywhere buys a Cuipo product they will have the opportunity to save a meter of rainforest.
In terms of reach, our products will be sold throughout the USA, Europe, and Brazil in 2014. We are already selling in Europe with Sigg and are currently in talks with partners in Japan and South Korea.
The primary brand awareness will come through the vast outreach of our licensees who will put Cuipo in thousands of stores across the USA, Europe and Brazil and who will be using traditional forms of media, both print and digital, to push exposure to the individual products. From an internal brand standpoint, we have various collaborations in the works with both celebrities and other well known brands that will help build brand recognition and customer loyalty.
What is the future of this brand model and how do you hope to see Cuipo evolve over the next few years?
Our goal is to protect and preserve as much of the global rainforest as possible. With over two million square miles of rainforest around the world Cuipo is taking every step possible to protect our endangered rainforest.
The Cuipo model is so unique that we received a patent from the US Patent office, including the online aspect of saving meters and attaching meters to products. Our goal is to create a higher value for the rainforest. We want the land to be more valuable in its natural state than it would be if clear-cut and destroyed. Someone needs to protect the earth's lungs.