6.6.17 Entrepreneurial Success

50 Years of Picture-Perfect Products: How Lowepro® Built a Successful Brand by Innovating Camera Bag Durability

By: Jon McDonald

The Crunch: Much of the stunning visual content we enjoy on social media and on the internet today was made possible by storytellers who dare to venture to remote locations — and take their powerful cameras with them. Lowepro launched 50 years ago to meet the demand for lightweight gear in which adventurers could carry their equipment. The company has built its brand by addressing the needs of photographers, content creators, and a new generation of digital storytellers. With lightweight backpacks and cases designed for lasting comfort, protection, and versatility, Lowepro makes it possible for people to think less about their equipment and more about their passion for sharing stories. And by partnering with both professionals and amateurs to advance its products, Lowepro is continuing to build on its history of innovation to protect the valuable tools that capture lasting, memorable images.

Most of us have seen the stunning photographs of endangered species and remote locations displayed on the glossy pages of National Geographic or in its digital photo collections. While pictures like these often lead us to dwell on the beauty of nature and teach us about places we’d otherwise never know existed, the last thing on our minds is the story behind the picture.

How did the photographer manage to reach such a remote location, and how did they carry all their gear? Those who explore off the beaten path, especially on foot, know it’s vital to keep gear as light and compact as possible.

The questions few of us bother to ask are precisely what Lowepro is in the business of answering by designing bags and packs to carry the tools used to create content and tell stories.

Lowepro makes packs and bags that are both durable and comfortable for photographers and content creators.

“Before Lowepro invented the soft-sided, lighter-weight camera bag, the bags that were on the market were all the traditional heavy, leather or metal type of camera cases. The need was for something very portable and lightweight, yet protected,” said Tim Grimmer, Vice President of Brand and Product for DayMen, Lowepro’s holding company.

Using feedback from the experience of in-house experts and professionals in the field, Lowepro has spent the last 50 years designing the gear that allows adventurers to take storytelling tools with them, regardless of whether the conditions are remote or urban, typical or challenging.

Born Out of a Passion for Photographic Storytelling

Just as amazing photographs have a backstory, Lowepro’s mission to develop practical solutions for photographers has a context of its own.

In the 1960s, two brothers with a passion for outdoor adventure and photography came up with an innovative solution to carrying heavy equipment. Greg Lowe — an outdoorsman, inventor, content creator, and filmmaker — spent his time following and recording his brother Jeff Lowe’s famous mountain-climbing adventures, such as his ascent up the 13,000-foot Eiger Nordwand (or north face) in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland.

Looking for a better way to get valuable filming equipment into the mountains to capture his brother’s daring ascents, Greg invented an internal-frame backpack in 1967, and a soft-sided camera bag in 1972 — with further innovations to follow in the coming years.

The frame’s design allowed it to hug the body and minimized load shifting, and the foam-padded camera bag kept equipment dry and protected with little extra weight allowing the wearer to focus on the trek — not the load being carried.

“It was a garage origin story — someone who was a maker, building a solution to a problem,” Tim said. “And that’s what the brand has stood by through the years.”

The next milestone for Lowepro came in 1981 when Greg sold the company to Uwe Mummenhoff and DayMen Photo Marketing Inc., what was then a photography distribution company.

With the rise of digital photography, Lowepro began catering to more content creators by designing smaller, compact cases for point-and-shoot cameras. By widening its focus to meet the changing market, Lowepro broadened its customer base while holding to its roots in developing products for professionals.

Today, Lowepro designs bags, packs, and innovative carrying solutions for every level of adventurer and content creator, and continues to meet the needs of the ever-changing landscape of image sharing.

A Deep Understanding of Gear and Where It’s Going

With half a century of experience under its belt, Lowepro has seen many trends come and go. Its continued success as an innovator in its field is based on its grassroots understanding of emerging equipment and the needs of those who use it.

“What differentiates us from other brands — and keeps us relevant — is that we’re focused on gear,” Tim said. “We understand gear and where it’s going, and fitting hard electronic gear into a soft pack is really at our core.”

This focus on practicality leads Lowepro to constantly improve the functionality — and comfort — of its products to accommodate new technology trends.

Lowepro Constantly Innovates Products for Protection and Comfort

The padded camera case Greg Lowe invented in 1972 set the standard for Lowepro’s focus on designing gear, and the company’s latest innovations continue that trend.

“Aesthetics are important, but inside-out design is our approach,” Tim said. “We’re dealing with gear, electronics, and workflow, so our packs focus on accessibility, customization, and protection.”

To keep gear protected from the elements or accidental immersion, Lowepro makes DryZone bags that are both waterproof and watertight, while AW (All-Weather) Covers on product lines like Trekker function as an additional layer of protection for equipment. Building on the concept of the internal frame backpack, FormShell technology, featured on the Dashpoint line, is a composite shell material that protects gear from damaging impacts without adding weight.

The ProTactic series, which has four easy access points, was designed with the urban photographer in mind.

Backpacks are a great way to carry gear but can become uncomfortable if worn for extended periods of time, especially on long hikes. Lowepro harnesses, straps, and waist belts are designed to help mobile photographers carry their gear longer with maximum comfort. ActivLift harnesses accommodate the natural support structure of the back, with airflow channels for greater breathability; meanwhile, ActivZone technology on products like ProTactic provides support for the shoulder blades, lower back, and waist.

Lowepro also has product lines to help photographers organize their gear better to improve the creative work process.

“If we can design a pack that provides a very efficient workflow, that means that our customer can focus on a story or content, not their bag. In some ways, we want our pack to disappear because it’s like an assistant helping along the way,” Tim told us. “Function comes first, and form follows function. That approach is at our essence.”

Adapting to New Technologies Like Smartphones & Drones

Lowepro has modified its gear to meet the expansion of both the professional and amateur photographer’s toolkit. While content creators of the past might have only carried a camera body, lens, and film, today’s digital storytellers also carry smartphones, tablets, video accessories, and even drones. With such varied gear, it’s important for packs to be versatile and customized.

“At the end of the day, gear is getting smaller, and software is getting more powerful,” said Tim. “The consumer values these new, more compact devices. What that means for us is we need to help them be as nimble and as small as possible.”

Lowepro accommodates this expansion with bags designed to hold multiple pieces of gear, as well as pouches intended for compact devices like point-and-shoot cameras, tablets, smartphones, and action cam systems like GoPro.

One of the more exciting storytelling developments Lowepro has seen is the increasing use of drones for capturing photo and video footage, as well as in drone-racing.

“Drones are an enormous market covering a lot of different segments of users from consumers to commercial users, and one of the earliest uses has been in photography and videography,” Tim said. “Three years ago, we saw it was coming, and even our in-house designers got into racing drones.”

Customizable models of Lowepro DroneGuard and QuadGuard backpacks and cases provide protection for drones and quadcopters as well as storage for all their accessories.

Lowepro maintains Greg Lowe’s focus on a market that needs to take gear to extremes, providing portable solutions that enable a transition from the urban landscape to the outdoors.

“In a way, all of these products are true to the heritage of what Greg Lowe was doing,” Tim told us. “And that’s exactly what we’ve done through the years.”

Loweprofessionals and Storytellers Test Products Rigorously

To ensure its products meet the needs of the end user, Lowepro has expanded testing and participation beyond in-house designers to an invitation-only team of experts and advocates from various fields — known as Loweprofessionals — who provide feedback on new products, gear, and next steps.

The company also engages a group of talented professionals, known as the Lowepro storytellers, who actively work in the art and business of photography and videography while using Lowepro bags to protect, organize, and carry their gear on a daily basis.

Loweprofessionals are storytellers and content creators who help Lowepro test its products in many different fields.

“We immerse ourselves in the end user and the gear and develop a solution for real users,” said Tim. “It’s a combination of our own testing and experience and leveraging our relationships to products — the Loweprofessionals, the storytellers, and our general community.”

By partnering with professional photographers and keeping in touch with trends on how media tools are used by the amateur content creator, Lowepro receives the valuable feedback that helps the company continue to improve its products.

An Authentic Brand that Grows with Consumer Demand

The stories and photographs we enjoy wouldn’t be possible without people who take technology into challenging places and conditions — and by extension, the gear that enables them to carry those tools.

Tim Grimmer is the Vice President of Brand and Product at DayMen, Lowepro’s holding company.

Fifty years ago, Lowepro was born to meet the needs of a mountain-climbing photographer. The company continues to focus on helping people pursue their passion for capturing and sharing beautiful stories.

“Today, what we see with mobile photography is an expansion of users who will appreciate Lowepro,” Tim said. “With the internet and smartphones, more people have access to sharing stories and creating content.”

Even with its history as an innovative leader in gear protection, Lowepro feels as if it were just getting started — especially with the continuing growth of new technologies like drones, virtual reality (VR) systems, and gaming.

“As VR and new tools come into play to help our customers tell their stories, we’re inspired to support that with our pack and case design,” Tim said. “In some ways, it feels like we’re coming into our prime.”

About The Author

Jon McDonald is a contributing editor for DealCrunch with over 15 years of experience editing, writing, and designing at numerous publications. His passions include digging into emerging trends and seeking out the companies making an impact on the retail industry.

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