Curated Wants to Change How We Shop for Gear
The online gear-finding service offers all the expertise of a brick-and-mortar store without any of the awkwardness or humiliation
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I hate shopping at outdoor gear stores. This seems odd, considering that I’m an outdoorsy person who loves gear and reviews it for a living. But from the moment I walk in, I’m conscious of how I appear at face value: a diminutive middle-aged mom searching through my fanny pack for the reading glasses that are already on top of my head. I might as well carry a sign that says “Sell me lame gear in the value category” or “Please explain how ski bindings work.”
Take my recent mountain bike shopping experience. As I stumbled through what felt like an interview about my legitimacy, I admitted to the shop-floor dude that I did not know how much travel I wanted in the front or back shock or what kind of componentry I wanted. (I am an avid rider, but I have always bought friends’ hand-me-downs, which means the only thing I know about bikes is that I love to ride them.) “Have you thought about buying a gravel bike?” he said, perceptibly flexing his tattoos.
“I’ve been mountain biking for longer than you’ve been alive!” I wanted to yell in my own lame defense at his flat-brimmed hat. But I didn’t, because that would be embarrassing, and the hot tears that would likely start running down my face would warrant a call to my therapist. (And I work really hard to make her think I don’t have any issues.)
So, after some satisfyingly snarky inner dialogue—“You don’t even think your mustache is ironic, which is so ironic!”—I retreated to the safety of my living room with my tail tucked into my chamois to search for help. That’s how I found Curated. It’s a new online gear-finding service that connects you with an expert in whatever sport you’re into. They guide you through the process and give you a few recommendations, most of which are discounted. If you buy from their list, the expert gets a commission on the sale.
Curated quietly launched in 2017 after Eduardo Vivas went on a snowboarding trip to Vail and discovered that all the high-end gear he bought was wrong for a beginner. Vivas and his cofounders—LinkedIn and Facebook veterans—thought that by focusing on connections with real experts rather than on the shiny new toys, they could better serve consumers (though selling the gear is certainly still the goal). Because the program prioritizes matching you to experts in your area, there’s a lot of common ground to spark conversation. “Our experts will even go skiing or golfing with our customers,” says Matt Jay, Curated’s head of business development.
According to Jay, in the past year Curated has doubled the number of winter gear experts, from roughly 500 to 1,000, to accommodate growing demand. Another indicator of success: the company’s return rate is less than 2 percent. Clearly, Curated’s model is working. Half of the experts’ salaries come from tips—a huge motivator for them to get it right the first time. “The experts are beholden to the consumer,” Jay says.
I was skeptical of the model, so before I used Curated to help me choose a bike, I wanted to test the service by searching for gear I actually know something about to see how Curated’s recommendations stack up. I’ve been a ski writer and tester for roughly 20 years, so I clicked “browse skis.”
I was paired with Jake, a 20-some-year-old freestyle ski coach in Aspen. From the very first words that popped into my chat window, I could feel his stoke for the sport. He asked me how long I’ve been skiing and then proceeded to assess my abilities in a nonjudgmental way. And because of the relative anonymity of the platform, I could be honest without feeling like a fraud—a phenomenon born from insidious girl code that causes women to consistently downplay our abilities.
“I’m a high-expert,” I said frankly.
“Hell, yeah!” Jake responded.
Suddenly, even though I had just spent my Saturday folding soccer clothes and vacuuming smashed Goldfish from the floor mats of my Subaru, I felt like I was being taken seriously.
Jake had the answers to all my questions (it was a test—I already knew the answers myself): which models have metal in them, which skis are female-specific below the topsheet, what the turn radius is in each size. He also gave me an educated evaluation of what the longer and shorter lengths will feel like in Colorado’s terrain. When he recommended one particular women’s model, I commented that the name is better suited for a feminine hygiene product. He laughed.
At the end of our chat, Jake sent over his final recommendations. I clicked on the link to find the two exact models I currently have in my basement. Coincidence? I think not. If only dating apps were so successful.
Now it was time to move on to the harder stuff: mountain bikes. Griffin was my guy in this department. He was an 18-year-old racer and mechanic who was taking a year off college to ride and hang out in Maui. I told him that all I know about mountain bikes is that I like to ride them, that I wanted something that can handle both long distances and chunky tech, and that I was curious about upgrading to a 29er but unsure about how one would perform for someone who bears a strong resemblance to a Keebler elf.
Thanks again to that online anonymity, I also felt comfortable spilling my guts about my last bike shop experience. (And unfortunately for him, comfortable enough to dole out unwanted advice that he should go back to college someday.) When Griffin responded, I wanted to give him my $30 therapy copay: “It’s the worst to be underestimated and stupidly mansplained by shop dudes,” he said. Yes, dearest Griffin, it sure is.
Then we got into the local bike scene in Colorado. We had a good laugh about all the bros in Pit Vipers here (“If you buy a Yeti, I’m sure you would make plenty of friends on the trails hahaha”). Ultimately, Griffin suggested two solid choices: a 27.5 that rides like a 29er, and a 29er that’s maneuverable for elves. He was respectful, honest, and didn’t mansplain a damn thing. Thanks, Griffin.
Next, to fully see what Curated was capable of, I devised one final test: seeking equipment for a sport I’m a total newb at. I chose golf, which I am not convinced is actually a sport at all. (I made a mental note not to ask that question, because that’s just rude.) I was matched with Ryan, who first informed me that he was a real human. In the era of help chats populated by bots that funnel you into maddeningly unhelpful FAQs, this was reassuring indeed.
I immediately confessed that I had zero idea what I was doing and that I couldn’t fake my way past the drink cart if I tried. Ryan suggested a full set of clubs rather than piecemealing them like real golfers do. He was honest about which ones were the best deals and which ones seemed like a good deal but that I’d soon outgrow. He came up with two options for me. Afterward, my own internet research revealed that the clubs he picked were not the typical “newbie” clubs painted pink for women. Rather, they were thoughtfully selected with quality and learning curve in mind.
And Ryan assured me there was plenty of room in the bag for beer, which is, of course, the real reason I would ever venture onto a green. He also gave me a few tips (“Don’t swing hard! It’s all about ball contact!”) and indulged my cringey questions (“What is a hybrid club?” “Do the shoes really matter?”). He then followed up a couple hours later with a deal that included free balls and a discount code he found somewhere. “I’m not 100 percent sure the code works, but try it and see! Just trying to get you the best deal.” So nice!
So, dear gear-shop bros, I am happy to say I will never subject myself to your withering gaze ever again. Unless it’s to politely ask you to fix the gear that I’ve broken doing things some middle-aged moms who can no longer read their phones do (with their readers safely stowed in their packs, of course).
And to all the Curated people who helped me, thank you. I’m sorry I haven’t actually purchased anything yet. Don’t worry—I’ll be back.