Camping gear company sets up shop in Chattanooga

An outdoor adventure company is now based in Chattanooga. (Image: Richard Rhett)

The abundance of outdoor opportunities in our area attracted an up-and-coming camping gear company to relocate to Chattanooga.

From remote mountains and beaches - even ice climbing - Richard Rhett is passionate about outdoor adventure.

It's no surprise he was happy to be a part of a remote medical mission trip to Honduras in 2009.

But while camping there, he had a problem.

"While I was there I was sleeping in a hammock, it was a competitors hammock and it was just very unsatisfactory for me," Rhett said.

He soon had a much bigger problem he wanted to solve - remote communities without easy access to clean water.

"When you are so used to something like clean water just coming out of your facet, you forget that there are people in the world that spend eight hours a day collecting water."

A mechanical engineer at the time, Richard set out on a mission to make a comfortable, waterproof hammock, while also building water wells in Central America.

"I had an old steel 1950 sewing machine and I was just figuring it out."

He came up with his now patented line of hammocks and waterproof shelters.

"We allow the protection of a tent with the comfort of a hammock," Rhett said.

At 30 years old he officially started Sierra Madre, named for the mountain range that extends from Arizona to Honduras.

"Being able to symbolize the adventure that mountain range brings to people while there's such a difference in the cultures."

The first prototype was set up a living room, and tested back in Honduras where the idea began.

Now, the gear is manufactured around the world, but still personally tested by Richard and his wife Juli.

"I really excel in figuring out what people need and how to make that."

After a couple of years of being on the market, the company got a big break.

"We were contacted by Shark Tank and they were just super gracious and excited about our company."

Richard Branson got on board - giving them exactly what they asked for - and helping build more than just their business.

"His distributions that he's going to draw off of that investment will be going toward drilling clean water wells.

The couple moved to Chattanooga from Mississippi last year, setting up headquarters downtown at the incubator.

They picked this area for all of the outdoor adventures offered close by.

"We feel like there are so many things you can access from Chattanooga."

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