Full Interview With Nomadix Co-Founder Zack Helminiak On Seventh Anniversary

Full Interview With Nomadix Co-Founder Zack Helminiak On Seventh Anniversary


Catching up with the co-founder about the Kickstarter launch, the importance of post-consumer recycled materials, & his self-reflective road trip

Q: Why was creating the towel from post-consumer goods important to you? 

Helminiak: The decision was simple for us. We care about the places we visit and plan to visit, and want to run a company that stands for solving environmental problems, not contributing to them.

In our lifetimes, and we are in our 30s, plastic pollution and textile pollution have visibly worsened, so we wanted to divert as much of that waste as possible away from our waterways, oceans and beaches. It's the moral imperative of a modern company, and I think our customers agree.

Q: When did you realize that you had something viable that you could launch on Kickstarter?

Helminiak: When we launched on Kickstarter, there were no other lifestyle towel brands. We knew from extensive travel and backpacking that there were not really any great towels out there, and definitely no brands that we could really describe, let alone identify with.

So we looked at Kickstarter as an experiment to get feedback from potential customers and some pre-sales, not as a launching pad for the company. 

Q: What was it like launching the Kickstarter? 

Helminiak: We launched the Kickstarter at a crazy time in our lives. We all had full-time jobs. I had just moved to California from Washington, DC to help out at night with the project. I remember rushing to finish the video and pressing submit on Kickstarter late the night before I was leaving for a scheduled trip to Europe.

I checked the campaign from Berlin, Budapest, Ljubljana, and I believe we hit our goal when I was in Kraków, and I remember thinking there was a new world waiting on the other end of my return flight. 


Q: Can you briefly describe the process from realizing you needed to have less stuff to do more to designing a product?

Helminiak: On that road trip, and subsequently living in Asia for a year, the need for the equipment I carry to be multi-use and minimal is important to having a good time. To us, owning less meant owning fewer possessions, usually that were meticulously curated and high performing. On that road trip, we dreamt of the perfectly curated kit.

We specifically all wanted a cost-prohibitive $50 double wall titanium mug, which we assumed was lightweight, long-lasting and actually kept your drink the right temperature (I still don't have one). The towel was another coveted piece of gear that was part of our dream minimalist kit, but didn't exist.

Q: How do you think about sustainability in your day-to-day life? 

Helminiak: Our household has sustainability in mind for many decisions that we make daily. Figuring out how to properly recycle and compost items, how to buy food at the grocery store with minimal packaging, eating a diet with a lower environmental footprint (my wife is vegan), and the list goes on.

I think the key is to make it easy to make those decisions by having the right processes in place. Grocery bags stay in the car, etc. And when you do slip up, or someone hands you a drink with a straw, don't worry about it too much because you don't have to be perfect to make a difference. 

Q: Any surprising milestones that the Nomadix team has passed over the last seven years?

Helminiak: There are so many interesting moments, from shipping our first REI order or attending Outdoor Retailer for the first time, to unloading our first container (up a flight of stairs, one box at a time). But my favorite milestones are things we are able to do for our employees. Providing a health care option and starting a 401k plan were big deals for us as owners. 

Reminiscing About The Road Trip That Started It All

Q: What was the best place that the car broke down if it broke down? 

Helminiak: The Bu, as it's affectionately called, doesn't ever "break down.” It did, however, have smoke billowing from under its hood after a particularly steep hill on the coast of Oregon. It was a beautiful overlook and a fine place to wait for the situation to resolve.

Q: What was the go-to snack of the trip?

Helminiak: We became gas station creatures. I remember needing to put an unnatural amount of Tabasco on everything I ate. 

Q: What was one thing you learned about yourself from the trip?

Helminiak: We were spending time on the fringe of society, without places to be, without checking phones and computers, without jobs, and without taking showers. It's rare in life to enjoy that kind of freedom. I remember feeling very empowered and uninhibited, and wondering constantly about where I would end up, as if it were not really in my control.

That feeling is something I have recreated several times since then and I am very thankful that I know what it is.