The Cottages Interviews 2018 Series continues with the brothers Maj and Kajo, who together run GramXpert from Slovenia!
I first became aware of GramXpert as their Gear popped up in the German Ultraleicht Trekking Forum. Since then their backpacks and quilts are also sold at the trekking-lite-store.com, and their kit is light and looks good, with some unique solutions. Reason enough to get in touch with the two brothers and hear their story!
Maj and Kajo, please briefly introduce yourself and tell us who you are. Since when are you backpacking, and how did you start?
We are two brothers with a passion for anything active and outdoorsy. Hiking is almost folklore in Slovenia so we’ve been at it from a very young age. The biggest influence was our father. He regularly took us on multi-day hiking and biking trips when we were kids, and those adventures sparked our interest. We still have fond memories of our first bike tour at the age of 8. It was a 4 day, 120km tour and we rode fully loaded 20” bikes with only 6 gears :) Similar adventures on bike & foot were on the menu every summer vacation since. As we got older we started planning our own trips. They became longer and more challenging and with that came better and more elaborate gear.
Kajo: I am interested in many outdoor activities, I am not taking anything as a competitive sport but rather as an adventure. I was into rock climbing for a long time, but lately caving and paragliding got my attention. I am responsible for designing new gear and coordinating custom orders, also the main craftsman and tester. I am also finishing my degree in geotechnical engineering so at the moment I can only work part-time.
Maj: My approach when it comes to life is holistic. I’m a trained chef and passionate about nutrition. I’m currently also an assistant coach, a Tuina masseur, and a TCM student. I am also an advocate for animal rights and a promoter of sustainable lifestyle. I’m the one that takes care of the bureaucratic side of the business, but I enjoy customer service, various daily tasks and of course sewing.
How often are you outdoors nowadays?
As often as we can be. We are very busy these days, but we always make sure to take some time off and go outside in order to recharge our batteries. We take every opportunity we can to go out, test our prototypes and work out the kinks.
Are you two more of “weekend warriors” or do you have some long distance trips under your belt?
We regularly go on two or three day hikes and one or two week-long trips per year. Too busy for anything longer at the moment. We want to experience thru hikes also, we just weren’t able to do it so far. Hopefully sometime in the near future.
Hiking in Finland Readers & me, we are gear-nerds! What is your typical baseweight?
Kajo: It depends, but generally about 3-3.5kg for a 3 season setup. While I am very selective about each individual piece of gear, I never really weigh the total pack or bother with the LW/UL/SUL tags. I also still have quite a bit of room to optimize the setup.
Maj: I have similar base weight as Kajo, but I usually carry heavier food (fresh if possible). Thankfully it counts as a consumable :)
Please tell us where the name “GramXpert” came from, and what it stands for.
As you might expect Gram comes from grams. As for the Xpert, we would never claim to know everything and are always happy to learn more, but we felt like our experience and almost obsessive research of design and materials justified the Xpert part :)
What makes GramXpert different from other cottages?
We really try to keep up with our short lead times, keeping the products at high quality levels and most importantly providing good customer service. Our products are also highly customizable. Each person has different needs and wants and we are always willing to adjust and adapt to every individual’s wishes.
Is GramXpert your full-time job or “just a hobby”?
Maj: A little bit of both. At the moment we are also busy doing a bunch of other things as we mentioned before, so we are not sure if this will be a full time job for both of us. I would like to keep working halftime at GramXpert so I can simultaneously work on other projects, but Kajo will put more effort into it in the future, after he graduates. European market for UL gear is quite small and most people (at least here in Slovenia) are day hikers and tend to sleep in huts. Despite that the business is on a positive trajectory and steadily growing. Our mantra is: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
GramXpert makes lightweight and stylish quilts, accessories and a backpack. Can you tell us how the idea to start the company emerged and how you see its future?**
It started with us trying to tweak the gear we bought so it would fit our needs. Then we made the first quilts for ourselves and our friends. The key moment was when Kajo’s plan to thru-hike the PCT fell apart due to bureaucratic obstacles. He realized he wouldn’t get the necessary visa in time, so he invested his savings in the company instead.
We’re very enthusiastic and full of ideas and plans for the future. We spend most of our free time thinking about our craft, our mission, and our vision. We’re aware of the areas in which we are lacking, but we always strive to improve. We never want to sacrifice quality in order to get a few extra sales, so while we definitely want to grow and flourish, we plan on doing it strategically.
Any intentions of starting to branch out into other segments, for example offering shelters and bivys?
Yes! Eventually we would like to branch out and offer most items backpackers need. R&D takes a lot of time especially if you want to test the gear thoroughly. Bivys will be available soon. Later we will add some clothing items that are currently in the development phase. Branching out proved to be quite challenging seeing as different gear requires different sewing machine settings, or sometimes an entirely separate machine if you want to do it right. We learned a lot while we were launching our backpacks and we hope we can optimize the process and streamline the workflow in the future. Our workspace is quite limited, we’re currently cramped in a 20 square meter room and this makes some things an impossible task. We would like to produce shelters as well, but first we need to move to a bigger workshop.
No, we are not aware of any other similar cottage manufacturers nearby, but we do collaborate with a couple of independent local suppliers.
And are you in touch with other cottage manufacturers in Europe, Japan, Canada, the USA and other places?
Not at the moment, but we are open for collaboration. It might be interesting to work on some joint projects.
Your company is still young and already has been getting good reviews and praise from all across Europe. Is business going well?
We’re slowly but surely increasing the visibility and hopefully building a good reputation. We are very happy with how things are going, but it will take a while before everything will run smooth. We’re planning on expanding our product range so we can reach more people, but like we said, quality over quantity.
Can you tell us a bit how you went about the design process of eLite quilt, and where the inspiration came from?
Kajo: Our past experiences inspire all of our products. The same thing happened with eLite. I remember winter camping a few years ago. Trying to find those tiny cordlocks to completely close the footbox in the middle of the night drove me crazy. As soon as I came home I designed a new quilt with a handy closure. With eLite you can close the footbox in a breeze, even with your gloves on.
Kajo and Maj, we love to be let in on the work-in-progress stuff! What kind of new products are you working on at the moment?
There are many prototypes of different gear in the works and you can certainly expect new and exciting things in the near future. Insulated balaclava and backpack accessories will be out in the upcoming months. We’re also currently testing two bivy models along with a simple rectangular 1P tarp/ ponchotarp.
And are there any new lightweight materials that have you all excited?
Not really, but we’re looking forward to the day when super light and breathable DCF will be available :) 10g/m² or lighter shell fabric for quilts would be really awesome.
How works the R&D at GramXpert, do you have a need yourself that you try to fix, or do some of your clients inspire you for new products and ask you for solutions to their problems, which then are adopted in the GramXpert line-up?
The “base” products are mostly inspired by our own experiences. We design the prototypes, then incorporate any improvements we might feel are needed. Due to our gear being highly customizable, we can always consult each individual customer and figure out a solution for their specific needs.
Where do your customer come from, and how do they find you?
All over the world, but mostly from Europe. Some find us organically, but it seems that most of our customers discover us through word of mouth.
When and where was your last trip?
We took a two day trip two weeks ago. We hiked through Kamnik-Savinja Alps, mainly because we live nearby, so it was really convenient on top of being gorgeous. Our last week-long trip was last autumn. We did a section hike of Slovenian mountain trail.
And where is your dream backpacking trip taking you?
Kajo: My dream backpacking trip is constantly changing. Currently it’s PNT (Pacific-Northwest Trail).
Maj: I enjoy taking short trips all over the world, but if I had to choose, the ultimate backpacking experience would be exploring South America.
Any favourite piece of gear which you always carry with you?
Kajo: That would probably be my wind jacket. It’s super convenient if you are always a bit cold like I am. In the colder seasons I always bring a pair of Climashield pants with me to keep me warm and cozy.
Maj: I also never leave home without my wind jacket, but other than that, I always pack my knife so I can prepare fresh meals.
Are you planning to get out for a trip soon, and enjoy the spring in the Julian Alps?
Our trips are mostly planned a day or two before they actually happen. There is still a lot of snow in the Julian Alps, so we’re focused on other areas at the moment. Our next trip will probably be somewhere in the coastal region. What we really like about Slovenia, and in particular the area near the capital, is that a short 1 hour drive can take you to a sub-mediterranean climate at SW, alpine at NW and continental in the eastern parts of the country. So on a good winter day you can choose between snowshoeing or rock climbing in a T-shirt :)
Social Media - on which channels is GramXpert active?
Maj & Kajo, I thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions =) Is there something you would like to add?
We’re really happy that the ultralight community is growing and supportive when it comes to smaller manufacturers. Hvala Hendrik for this opportunity to showcase our work, and all the best to you and your readers!