The History of Cactus - What's In a Name?

The History of Cactus - What's In a Name?

If Cactus were a normal company, we’d have done our branding differently. Our name, logo and imagery would all have been conjured up by latte-sipping marketeers from a high-priced agency after numerous rounds of focus-groups, persona development and concept-testing. We would have turned up to a pitch event in flash cars and wearing sharp suits.

We are so not those guys.

Our business came into being because Gwilym wanted to pay for his climbing trips and a regular job wasn’t really his jam. His mother (known to most as Granny Gee) is a textile artist and had taught all four of her boys to sew. Take a climbing-obsessed creative with a penchant for fabric and thread and the natural thing was to start making stuff for climbing.

Initially, it was Gwilym making chalkbags in his bedroom but those chalkbags needed a brand to cling to. He also had a sideline propagating Cacti to sell to a Porirua plant shop. It seemed natural for the new brand to include the word “Cactus.”

Granny Gee was also doing some screen printing of Cactus's (Cacti? Who knows?) at the time, and provenance is fought over at every Griffith-Jones family event. But that's a story for another time.

There was a constant orbit of creative types around the Wellington climbing and biking community in those days. D Best, industrial designer and aesthete, was one person in that orbit. He and Gwilym ruminated upon the fact that a bag is, at its essence, enclosed space and that, by extension, Cactus was engaged in exploring space.

Cue the full name: Cactus Climbing Equipment and Space Exploration. No, we weren’t planning on taking any interstellar journeys, rather we were a crew that was focused on exploring the spaces that our hand-crafted bags would enclose.

Fast forward 10 years or so and people were increasingly confused (yeah, we got mail intended for NASA from time to time) and the decision was made to re-brand as Cactus Equipment to recognize the fact that what we were making were tools to be trusted in the harshest work and play environments on earth.

It was our nod in the direction of growing up a little bit and not making things so completely esoteric that only a handful of people could understand them.

Of course, we were bucking the trend of our more fashionable competitors whose marketing and legal budgets were greater than our entire revenue. We believe (and, yeah, we still do) that people would be drawn to our honesty and authenticity and that our products would be the best advocates for our ethical approach towards the industry.

So while they were spending time angst-ing about just how they could make products manufactured in Bangladeshi sweatshops look NZ made (hint: write “Made of New Zealand” all over the packaging to make people think they're actually Made in New Zealand - sheesh!), we just carried on doing what we’d always been doing: making the best stuff we knew how with an awesome team of Kiwis.

The latest iteration of our name, Cactus Outdoor, reflects on the fact that what we make is intended to aid those who work and play outdoors. Simple really. No frills, no shiny marketing hype, and no change from the mission we started nearly three decades ago.

Oh and those brand managers and marketers? They would have probably told us what it took years for us to find out: that in Aussie parlance, to say something is “Cactus” is to say that it’s pretty crappy. Actually, we quite like that sort of contrary thinking - it goes with the prickly nature of the Cactus.

Ben Kepes, Founder