After working in corporate America as a marketing executive for Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Goods Co. for 18 years, Tom Gruger decided he was ready for a complete 180 when he joined Vaprwear, a startup right outside Denver, which makes and sells wearable vapor-integrated garments and backpacks.
He had always dreamed of moving to Colorado, where he could spend more time outdoors hiking and trail running. So when Vaprwear needed a CEO, Gruger, 54, jumped at the chance.
People can smoke anything that can be vaporized out of a Vaprwear garment through a tube installed in it that is disguised as a drawstring, making it easy to conceal whatever substance you’re vaping. Gruger said most people vape tobacco and marijuana products out of the garments, which are designed for people who want the convenience of having their vape attached to them while they’re walking, hiking or cycling.
“What we’re looking to do is just transform vapor delivery,” Gruger said. “Just think about what CamelBak did for hydration. We want to do the same thing for vapor.”
Vaprwear hoodies start at $135 and backpacks at $109.99. All hoodies are equipped with a vape tube disguised as a drawstring, and backpacks are equipped with a pipe that is similar to a CamelBak tube. All Vaprwear products are manufactured in Indonesia or China.
Since Gruger joined Vaprwear in January, the company has rebranded, launched a new website and now has five full-time employees.
“Business is great,” Gruger said, adding that word-of-mouth has been one of their most effective marketing strategies. Vaprwear is now focusing their efforts on getting dispensary chains in states where marijuana is legal to sell Vaprwear products. Gruger wouldn’t disclose sales or revenue metrics, but said that they’ve sold thousands of hoodies and backpacks, and are hitting their internal sales goals.
“We’re starting to see our products in stores and we think that’s going to be a big piece of the puzzle for us,” Gruger said.
But because Vaprwear is associated with smoking and marijuana, digital advertising has been tougher to crack. For example, Facebook won’t allow the company to boost their posts because of their association to recreational drugs. That’s why launching Vaprwear in Colorado, where marijuana use is legal, made sense for the startup.
“In the state of Colorado right now, [marijuana] is treated like craft beer more than this thing that either has a stigma or is sensationalized like it might be in a non-legal state,” Gruger said. “It’s just another thing, and it’s not like anybody is getting blasted all the time.”
Gruger says he mainly wears Vaprwear’s backpack to vape cannabidiol, a non-high inducing form of cannabis, mainly used for therapeutic purposes. While at Lollapalooza this summer, he wore Vaprwear’s short sleeve hoodie, which he said was a hit with fellow festival goers also interested in vaping at concerts.
“It was a great venue to show off the technology,” Gruger said. “It was amazing to see the response I got from the locals.”