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Own Less, Do More: An Interview with Zack Helminiak of Nomadix

Zack Peterson

We spoke with Nomadix Co-Founder Zack Helminiak to discuss products that blend well with a functional lifestyle, being active, and how one eco-friendly towel can do it all.


How did you get started creating?

Zack: In the winter of 2008-2009 we were all working for Vail Resorts in the Rocky Mountains. Chace was a snowboard instructor, Hunter was on-mountain guest services, and I worked in a rental shop. We had many adventures that year, including a springtime trip to Canyonlands in Utah. That first night was sat around a campfire overlooking the Canyon, sipping cheap brandy (Hunter’s camping M.O.), and hatched the idea for a company that makes eco-friendly, multi-purpose travel products. Shortly after landing in California, we began designing a towel that fit the California lifestyle of weekend camping, weekday surfing and yoga, and really anything you can throw at it.


Who taught you to start your own brand, or were you self-taught?

Z: For the most part I would describe us as self-taught, although I wouldn't want to take away from anyone that has given us advice along the way. We’ve received advice from family, friends, and other business owners in Southern California that was definitely formative. Small businesses also lean on each other to promote, throw events, and give advice, and we have benefitted from that community. But if you look at the day-to-day of running a business; we wanted to build a brand that is a voice for environmentalism, and in that we are carving our own path, not taking shortcuts, and much of that is self-taught.


Did you know you would start your own brand, if not what spurred it?

Z: All of us have had a creative, entrepreneurial spirit, since we were young. I don't want to say that I knew the future, but none of us took much convincing once the idea for Nomadix formed.


How do you get new ideas for products and photo shoots?

Z: Ideas for our products, both in function and design, come from travel. Our products are designed to perform in every activity you encounter, they have travel inspired prints, and we test them thoroughly on the road. Our photos are typically not from a photo shoot. They are almost always documented photos of our travels, and we always bring a towel.

That goes for customer submissions as well. Our customers, whom we love, have sent in photos of themselves with a Nomadix towel on all seven continents. Even our best photos are much more candid than they might appear.


What are you inspired by?

Z: We are inspired by adventure travel and environmental activism. Companies like Patagonia, leaders like Doug Tompkins and Elon Musk, the photography of Chris Burkard, our friends at Changing Tides Foundation, and the folks that run Fashion Revolution. There are a lot of voices, large and small, that speak up for the environment and respect the outdoors. We believe that the most important players in combating climate change are consumers, and you see a similar mentality in the campaigns run by some of our role models.


How do your hobbies influence what you make?

Z: Our hobbies are very directly responsible for the creation of Nomadix. We are all very active, whether it’s surfing, yoga, traveling, camping, or rock climbing. We also spend a good deal of time traveling internationally, and are very passionate about the environment.

A few years ago there was a specific towel for yoga, a different towel for camping, and another towel for the beach and surfing. It seemed both expensive and wasteful to buy three/four towels when one would do, so we created a towel that performed in every activity. We decided to make it 100% recycled according to Global Recycle Standard to keep plastic out of the ocean, and the Nomadix towel was born.


What has been your biggest challenge?

Z: Our biggest challenge is that we want to make a big impact, but as a small business you have to start slow. But starting slow is also our strength. We have built the business in a very “grassroots” way, starting with crowd funding, then going door to door at yoga studios and surf shops in Southern California. It was a slow process, but it makes all the difference to meet your customers face to face. If we started with a bigger advantage (money, connections, etc.), we might not know our customers, and our business, as well as we do.


What's been your best advice you've been given?

Z: The best advice I’ve been given was on a 10-day camping trip when I was a kid. Our camp counselor told us the number one rule is “leave no trace.” This is something that we struggle with today. Consumers rarely think of the product life cycle when they buy a product. Where does the packaging go, how long will I use it, can it be recycled?

We believe that every product should have a carefully thought out plan for the end of product life, which is why our towels are 100% recycled and recyclable. Our next phase of the company will be to create a recycling system so people can turn their towels back in when they are done with them. Our towels are durable and we’ve only been around for two years, so this situation has not come up yet.


What's your favorite thing about sharing your art with others?

Z: The best thing about sharing our art with others is the photos we get from travelers. We’ve gotten photos from every continent now, including Antarctica, so there are tons of customer stories.

One that stands out in my mind; A recent customer, Lexi, did a 14-day bike packing trip in Tanzania with The Foundation for Tomorrow, from Mt Kilimanjaro to the coast. The organization does amazing work in education, and they usually bring a few students on the trip. The Tanzanian student that joined them on the bike trip had never seen the ocean before, so it's was very inspirational. During the trip, Lexi thought to snap a photo of her Nomadix towel and send it to us. It’s so special to be included in moments like that.


For more on the Nomadix brand, visit