How a Former Professor Grappled With Depression, Found Clarity in the Mountains, and Launched a Thriving Hiking Apparel Company
PROVO, Utah, May 24, 2023 - Timpanogos Hiking Co. will officially launch its first brick-and-mortar store in Downtown Provo this Thursday, May 25, 2023, just a short drive from its namesake, Mount Timpanogos. Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi is expected to attend the ribbon cutting at 3 p.m.
A Utah native, Timpanogos Hiking Co. founder and owner Joseph Vogel started the business as a side project while still living in Massachusetts, where he was a professor. "It was a way for me to kind of reconnect with home," Vogel explains. "I'd been away for 15 years, first for grad school in Rochester, New York, then for my career."
Around the time of the pandemic, Vogel was grappling with serious depression following what he describes as a series of "tough, life-changing blows."
He began returning to Utah more often in part to help with his mother, who suffered a major brain injury in 2020. During those trips, he also began hiking in the canyons and mountains he grew up in. "It was nice," he says. "I liked the movement. I liked just sweating and not looking at my phone and being surrounded by all that beauty."
Prior to starting the business, Vogel had reached the pinnacle of his profession in higher education, earning tenure as a professor of American literature and film, and publishing bestselling books on pop icons Michael Jackson and Prince. He also participated in two documentaries by legendary filmmaker Spike Lee. But "success," Vogel says, "isn't everything."
The idea for Timpanogos Hiking Co. came one sleepless night in Massachusetts. "I saw the name and logo in my mind, and the tagline: escape the noise."
A few months later, he launched an online store on the Shopify platform. "It was exciting," Vogel says. "I had no idea what I was doing, but it was fun and challenging and I could see the potential." Rather than focusing on hiking gear, Vogel decided to highlight unique hiking-inspired designs — specifically for T-shirts and hoodies. "It was great," Vogel says, "because you could tell very quickly what was working and what wasn't." In the beginning, Vogel used print-on-demand services to keep inventory costs low and offer as many designs as possible.
In just over six months, the business made over six figures in revenue.
In February 2023, he decided to take a leap and sign the lease for Timpanogos's first physical store. The buildout and inventory required dipping into his retirement account. For the past few months, he says, he has been "bouncing back and forth" between Massachusetts and Utah while his kids finish the school year, but he has no regrets.
"For me, it's about something bigger. Something personal, obviously, but something others can relate to." Vogel says he has taken inspiration from other purpose-driven businesses, including fellow outdoor apparel brand Cotopaxi. "Obviously, you want your business to be successful. But you also want to 'do good,' as Cotopaxi puts it, and I thought one thing we could do in addition to making cool designs is bring awareness to mental health and how good hiking can be for people struggling with mental health."
Timpanogos Hiking Co. has customers in all 50 states and has quickly become one of the hottest outdoor apparel brands in the Mountain West.