Poler Thaw

How Poler Came Back from Bankruptcy Death

Shuttered in November 2018, the #campvibes brand is back in action.

By Eden Dawn February 25, 2020 Published in the March 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Insta-friendly camping gear at Poler’s downtown flagship

Ten days before Black Friday, among the year’s biggest shopping days, Poler published a simple Instagram post: “Hello world, we’re back.” Three weeks after that, the midpriced lifestyle brand known for fun wearable sleeping bags and cool orange beanies pulled the brown paper off the windows at its former flagship store in downtown Portland and flicked the lights back on.

It was an unexpected return for a brand left for dead exactly a year earlier. From the outside, Poler had it made as a social media superstar with more than 2 million Instagram posts using to its #campvibes hashtag.

The company had distinguished itself from Portland’s hard-core outerwear pack by luring in the casual nature adventurers with content feauring hip jackets and anorak pullovers in photo-worthy spots.

When the store unexpectedly shuttered back in November 2018, fans freaked, and an entire subreddit popped up devoted to speculation: The investors lost faith! Backers refused to pay for more inventory! The failed Laguna Beach store had bled them dry!

Employees are tightlipped about the details, but Poler’s leaders filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy six weeks after the store closed, leaving the Portland flagship store and the brand’s winter ’18 collection in limbo. The business went up for auction last July.

Then, in yet another twist, Pacific & Everest Lifestyle Co, a division of Philippines-based Primer Group, bought Poler out of bankruptcy for just over $6 million. Why is that unusual? Because Primer, a global retail and distribution company, was Poler’s primary investor and distributor of its product in Southeast Asia at the time the company went under. Clearly, higher-ups there decided the brand had more to offer.

And with that, the company was unfrozen. The creditors were paid, the paper came down from the windows, and the winter 2018 collection was released—in 2019.

Now Poler is humming along again, with returning employees making up about half of its 11-person staff. One notable change: the former face of the brand, Benji Wagner, is no longer with the company. “I want to let everyone know that I have nothing to do with Poler,” he said via a statement released on LinkedIn. “They are relaunching the brand without my involvement.”

Instead, Primer hired veteran business leader Cape Capener, who has big-name credits like Adidas and Supra, to come on the team and handle Poler’s goal of opening new stores while also expanding its wholesale market and switching brand focus to sustainable materials. Primer also tapped original cofounder Kharma Vella, who helped create some of Poler’s key early pieces, to return.

“It’s been funny. People come in and have no clue that it was gone for a year. We squeaked in and reopened before the holidays, so we had shoppers coming in going, ‘Oh yeah, we were here last year,’” Vella says. “We don’t say anything.”

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