The crowd-funding website Kickstarter is known for getting projects -- both practical and noble -- off the ground.
There's that watch that syncs itself with a smartphone, that program dedicated to training citizen journalists to document the revolution in Tunisia, and then there are those guys who raised a bunch of money to make grizzly bear coats.
The case for the last one being practical (or noble) is thin, but somehow Hans and Karl Reichstetter, the brains behind the "Griz Coat," have proven there is at least some demand for a calf-length, faux-fur number with a toothy head and claws. The brothers, 30-year-old twins, have raised nearly $14,000 to make the coat available to the masses. Kickstarter's official blog even rated the project a favorite of the week.
Hans Reichstetter, a graduate of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, argued that the coat's successful run can be attributed in part to a promotional video. Set to a catchy soundtrack, Reichstetter wears the coat around like a Snuggie of the wild: He naps on the couch in the Griz Coat, rides his bike in it and wears it for a day out in Manhattan.
As for how and why this idea was ever conceived in the first place, Reichstetter said he noticed a hole in the bear-coat market while shopping for a life-like grizzly Halloween costume last fall. He was inspired by a photo of a pioneer wearing one that he saw on the Discovery Channel ... or in a movie; he's not sure which.
"This guy was wearing an actual real bear with the bear's head on top of his head and I was like, really? Somebody actually wore something like this?" Reichstetter said. He promptly began shopping around online for something similar but came up empty-handed.
"All I could find was mascots and stuff that didn’t look real at all," said Reichstetter. "I did find a guy selling real bear coats for like $2,000 or something, and I was like wow, that’s expensive, and I can't believe I can't find a replica made out of fake fur."
Not a fan of hunting or wearing a real grizzly, Reichstetter enlisted the help of his brother Karl, who lives in San Francisco. The two had a costume designer create faux-fur versions of the coats, which they both wore on Halloween.
"A lot of people saw them and people were like, 'Oh dude, I totally want one of those. Where did you buy it?' We were like, 'We didn’t, we made it'," Reichstetter said.
The interest in the coat prompted the brothers to test demand for the product further by creating a Griz Coat website -- but not promoting it -- to see how many people would stumble upon it.
"If you had seen how buried my page was in Google-search results, you'd be shocked that we had one random person bump into it," Reichstetter said. "When we launched it, the only way I was able to find the page was by typing 'Griz Coat.' No one had heard of it, we had not done not a lick of anything, it was posted nowhere and people were still hitting it."
A few prototypes later, and the brothers are ready to make a batch of Griz Coats for anyone who wants one badly enough to put up $200.
On Kickstarter, the project developers set their own deadlines and funding goals; if they don't meet the goal they set, they don't get money to develop their products. But the brothers quickly surpassed their $2,500 goal on the website and still have until April 24 to get more backers.
As for why anyone would want one, the promotional materials on the Griz Coat Kickstarter page suggest that it's a versatile addition to any closet:
"Please note that the Griz Coat is highly appropriate for: Halloween, Bay to Breakers, Monday morning meetings, most weddings, Tuesday morning meetings, high school reunions, and first dates."
The page also states that the coat is a comfortable fit for anyone from 5 feet 6 inches to 6 feet 3 inches.
The coat's appeal, according to Reichstetter, is multi-faceted. "We've had people write and say, 'I want one of these for this baseball team or this college,' or 'I want the same thing, but for a toddler.' We had someone suggest a woolly mammoth."
For his part, Reichstetter already has worn his Griz Coat for a night out in Brooklyn and he plans to ski in it in the winter. As early as this summer, he'll be trying it out for a more formal occasion, his friend's wedding.
"I won't wear it at the wedding, I don’t think," he said. "But out afterwards, and there are a lot of other wedding related events."