From 1975-1985 the toy company Fisher-Price sold a line of action figures called Adventure People that featured characters in different adrenaline-inducing endeavors such as kayaking, mountain climbing, and sky diving, to wilderness patrol and emergency rescue. Jamey Sproull grew up playing with these action figures and incidentally forged his own adventurous career path by founding Asana, the popular bouldering gear and custom padding company.
Custom Made in the USA
Sproull dreamed up Asana in his garage in 1999. Unexpectedly, he didn’t start with a passion for climbing. He was interested in sewing soft goods, and was considering starting a business making yoga clothing when a friend introduced him to bouldering. As often happens with climbing, he was hooked. Quickly his primary focus became bouldering, and at a time when the sport was still in its infancy, Sproull employed his sewing skills to begin making bouldering gear: pads, packs, and chalkbags.
Today Asana still sells personal bouldering gear such as clothes and crash pads, but also specializes in custom padded flooring for gyms. This was a natural progression for the company, which was growing at the same rate as the sport of bouldering. As the sport transitioned into a popular indoor activity, Sproull took advantage and applied the knowledge of building padded surfaces to interior spaces. He started small with a few jobs installing flooring at Universities, and eventually expanded to gyms. At the beginning stages Sproull focused on developing a commercially viable product. As he built custom landing systems he continually asked himself “how does the product look? How does the product perform on day one? And how does the product perform on year four?” Using feedback from his first customers, he was able to improve his designs and find the very best foam for Asana’s products.
“I literally put a sewing machine in the back of my Subaru and drove over there [to Central Washington University] and worked on their systems for two days. The R. and D. had to be done on site because we didn’t have the capability of, you know, having someone jump on a pad four hundred times.”
Once he identified the ideal raw materials for gym floor padding, he applied those materials and manufacturing techniques to personal-use pads, which Sproull believes creates the best product you can get. “You’re not getting nearly the amount of uses and falls on a personal-use bouldering pad as you do with something that’s being tested with fifty, sixty, 100, 200 people a day.”
As Asana has grown, the company has maintained its attention to detail and has kept all of its production right here in the U.S., where every employee is skilled in building each of Asana’s products from the ground up. Since Asana primarily works on custom orders, the work is kept in house instead of sent off to big sew houses so that the turn-around time can be short and the product can be made specific to the customers’ needs.
Additionally, as the company grew it became more conscious of its waste. Through partnerships with other local companies, Asana has been able to achieve near zero waste with its foam. One company, Rudder Craft, uses Asana’s leftover closed-cell foam in its packaging of sailboat rudders, and another, Lotus Tree, a therapy practice that treats children with autism, encourages its patients to go to Asana and use leftover foam to make their own therapy bags. “We don’t sell it,” Sproull said, “we just give it away and it is great to know that the foam is being used again and for its entire life.”
Wonderland of Fun Things
On the surface, a climbing gym seems like a natural offshoot to a gym flooring business, but Sproull says it was anything but. “Opening a gym was the most unnatural business decision that I’ve ever made,” he said. “It’s a completely different style of business, one is a product based company and the other one’s a service based company.”
But Sproull saw a need for a gym in Boise when he realized that local climbers had no idea that all of Asana’s manufacturing happened right in town. “We really wanted to connect with our local friends and customers and community, and so having the gym was a good way to do that.” In 2013 Asana acquired the Front Climbing Club in Boise, renamed it the Asana Climbing Gym, and ran it for two years until it became clear that the gym was outgrowing its space. Around the same time Asana’s manufacturing department was bursting at the seams, so Sproull found a new home for both sides of his company in downtown Boise: a 28,000 square foot building that is split with 18,000 square feet for the gym and 10,000 for the manufacturing, doubling the size each was before. The new space opened for customers in January 2017.
This new gym offers much more than just climbing. While it is mostly a bouldering facility with a small rope climbing section, it also offers massage, slacklining, yoga and aerial silk classes, and features a ninja obstacle course.
“We are just a wonderland of fun things. You are guaranteed to find something fun to do here,” Sproull said.
The gym provides opportunities that encourage more people to enjoy climbing. There are reduced rate Ladies’ Nights and Student Nights, when the price is only $7 after 5 pm for people fitting those demographics. A new pass that the Asana Climbing Gym now offers is the Family Weekend Pass. Designed to create an affordable opportunity for families looking for a fun way to spend time together, the Family Weekend Pass costs only $35 and includes admission and rentals for a family of four. Additional family members can be added for $5 each. Sproull noted that after the introduction of this pass he began to see many more groups consisting of a mom, dad, and kids coming in, and that the gym is serving as a catalyst to bring families together. “It is so cool to see families play together. I don’t think there are many other options for people to be able to do that affordably.”
Along with the gym’s ability to unite families through climbing and to provide a hub for the local community of climbers, Asana puts people first through its business practices. Since all the manufacturing happens in Boise, all of the employees are Boise locals, many of them climbers supporting their own adventurous pursuits. Five years ago the manufacturing side of Asana made a commitment to hire refugees for part of its labor force. Connecting with advocacy groups such as Idaho Office For Refugees, Artisans For Hope, and the International Rescue Committee, the company is able to provide stable jobs to refugees living in Boise. Currently four full-time employees are former refugees from the countries of Congo, Eritrea, and Columbia.
“One thing that probably is being missed is that they’re people as well with the same basic desires for safety, security, and for a loving community. And we really are psyched to be a part of their life.” Sproull said.
Rita Thara, one of Asana’s sewers, is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She came to the US with her mother and brother and was introduced to Asana through her caseworker. Now she has been a member of the team for four years.
“I love to sew. I love it. I love my job [at Asana] because it is my work. I learned how to sew when I was six years old with my mother.”
Rita has since taken skills that she has learned from working at Asana and used them to start a business with her mother, Thara Fashions, making hand bags and clothes from imported African fabrics. She credits Asana with giving her the experience needed to take this step. “People here are nice and they know how to welcome people and help people,” she says, “here I can see my dreams come true.”
Employees, gym patrons, and customers who purchase Asana products can all share in the American-made, adventurous ethos of Asana. This is a company that is comprised of adventure people, for adventure people.