Some of you may know of the Archaeopteryx Lithographica, the first reptile to develop the feather for flight and many of you will be aware of the Canadian Outdoor company that has become synonymous with the highest-quality clothing and outdoor equipment that outdoor guides and professionals have used since it was founded in 1991.

Arc’teryx’s humble beginnings started with climbing harness’s that traded traditional stitching for state-of-the-art thermolamination technology, a technology that later set its second product, the Bora backpack, apart from all other packs of the era.

In 1998 Arc’teryx introduced a line of outerwear that set the standard for technical jackets and pants. Since its inception, Arc’teryx has used quality and design to differentiate itself again and again.

Arc’teryx prides itself on two main elements, their Design Ethos and Quality Control.

Dave at Paddy Pallin was lucky enough to recently have a chat with Tanya who has the extremely enviable role as Arc’teryx’s Apparel Design Manger.

Paddy Pallin: Hi Tanya, can you tell us a little about yourself, and Arc’teryx?

Tanya: With growing up in the Greater Vancouver Area (BC, Canada), my family was always a bit outdoorsy, we did a lot of car camping and hiking when I was growing up; I learned to down hill ski when I was 12, I loved the thrill of ripping down the mountain (even though I crashed a lot). Arc’teryx is like a family; I work with some very talented and amazing people. It’s very satisfying to be surrounded by so many like-mined individuals. Arc’teryx encourages people to get outside as much as possible – being surrounded by the Canadian Coast mountain wilderness, we are always enticed to play outside.

Climb 2

What was your journey, how you found yourself at Arc’teryx and your role?

While I was attending university for a diploma in fashion design, I started sport climbing and mountain biking – a total game changer. I enjoyed the thrill and mental focus required to climb and bike. I enjoyed going on road trips for climbing or biking, getting to explore new places. A career in the outdoor industry was a logical choice.  Where else will an employer embrace and encourage playing outside as much as possible? I was able to practicum at Arc’teryx through my diploma course, and then later was offered an entry-level position. I was mentored in my role, which allowed me to grow and progress my career over time.

Do you remember your first outdoor experience?

My second overnight hiking trip was in winter, snowshoeing 13km/8miles to a backcountry hut with friends. When we were about 3km/2miles from the hut, some people ski touring went zipping by us. I thought, “hey, that looks a lot like fun!”, I need to get some skis!

Where is your favourite hiking/skiing/travelling/climbing etc spot?

Tough question. For hiking, my backyard is pretty amazing, with mountains in: North Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler. For skiing, BC has some amazing powder in the interior. For travelling, I tend chose activity based destinations (climbing/mountain biking/skiing/hiking areas). For sport climbing, Skaha Bluffs (BC), Maple Canyon (Utah), Kalymnos (Greece).

Tell us, where is your dream hiking/skiing/travelling/climbing etc location is?

It would be amazing to do some hiking in New Zealand or South America. BC is very big and has vast ski opportunities that I’ve yet to explore. I’d love to go back to Kalymnos, Greece – the tufa climbing was amazing, the food was great and getting around on scooters was fun.

Why do you love hiking/skiing/travelling/climbing etc so much?

I like to be outside in nature. I enjoy the thrill and mental focus required to do outdoor sports. I love how everything else falls away and my full attention is on what I’m doing – it’s a mental escape.

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What is the current relevance of Arc’teryx for Australian hikers, skiers & travellers?

We are relevant to the Australian hikers, skiers and travellers in that we focus on creating equipment to match the environmental conditions and we offer a broad range of products that cover everything from hot/humid, hot/dry, cool/wet, cool/dry, cold/wet and cold/dry. We develop system of apparel and gear to accommodate most environments found all around the world. Australians are frequent travellers and need versatile gear that can perform in many different environments which aligns well with our design philosophies. Secondarily we build our gear to last as long as possible. This means they are less likely to need a repair or the frequency is low. Being that few brands have local repair facilities or even regional ones, Arc’teryx desire to build lasting product reduces the hassles for the owner.

How much does the Arc’teryx ‘brand’ enter your design decisions? How different would your designs be if you were designing for yourself rather than for Arc’teryx?

Arc’teryx brand enters 100% of my design decisions. Arc’teryx designs strive to be timeless, functional, minimal and human centric. We emphasize function and simplicity, drawing on our own experiences and knowledge to create products that are intuitive, simple and easy to use. We create functional, durable, timeless designs to deliver products with: longevity, sustainability and genuine value. I believe in our design principles: innovative, relevant, authentic, resolved, beautiful and consistent. Therefore, when designing for myself, I tend to apply the same approach.

How does Arc’teryx continue to resist the pull towards almost every other generic outdoor brand?

From being driven with wanting the highest performing product possible to engage in the outdoor activities that we do, and an unwavering belief that there is always a better way. We begin by challenging design assumptions. Solving problems from a clean page gives us the freedom to think beyond current materials and construction.

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Arc’teryx seems to work pretty closely with some top suppliers and makers. Can you talk a bit about those relationships in the creative process?

We seek out and develop the highest performing materials available and use the highest standards of construction to create. Naturally we partner with vendors guided by similar principles. The relationships we’ve built and maintained with vendors and factories are essential, these long-standing industry relationships give opportunity to be involved in the research and development of very specialised textiles, plus to be able to set the standards for the quality expected by Arc’teryx.

Who sets the design briefs? And which customers guide your efforts?

Design briefs are collaboration between design and product line managers; each brings their perspectives and insights. We seek feedback from athletes and staff members who are core users, as well as designers being participants in the activities they design for, thereby using their own experiences and observations to determine what product needs to be, how it needs to evolve or change. We also read products reviews online. The customers who guide our efforts are core users with knowledge of the gear and the activities, who are able to make insightful observations. We are careful to no be lead astray by fringe users.

What is the process & how many prototypes do you go through before a product goes into production?

Designers being users is critical, as it allows us to field test designs and materials in real world conditions, giving us insight into creating the best-fitting, longest-lasting, highest performing technical products possible. It’s a relentless process of making, testing and evaluation, leading to much iteration until the right results are found. Our in-house prototyping is an advantage, Arc’teryx products are activity driven and we have categories based on the end uses. Each category has an in-house team of people working on the products, we call the teams IPT’s (Integrated Product Team).  Each IPT team consists of a group of dedicated designers, pattern makers, developers and sewers. Having these individual teams really allows for people to get to know the specific criteria, like desired fit and movement, required for the various activities. We spend quite a bit time and resources on patterning, making proto samples and fitting the samples to get the products right. Anywhere from 2-3 conceptual ideas, leading to 3-4 prototypes, all made in-house.

There is an obvious industry trend towards making lighter weight gear. How do you think this impacts durability & is it possible to satisfy both requirements?

Brands putting ‘lightest possible’ as priority one are making fairly disposable products, that may initially work really well but are not likely to stand the test of time. A better way to satisfy both requirements is being light-by-construction: by utilizing lightweight construction techniques, the weight savings can be repurposed into harder-wearing and durable materials.

How to you see in the future unfolding for outdoor equipment companies selling into Australia and the global market?

People want to push further and faster – to be able to cover more ground in a day. The evolution of Strava (and other activity tracking apps) and FKT (fastest known times) are driving this. This will lead a shift towards lighter gear and greater focus on thermal regulation. At the same time, we see more people finding peace and rejuvenation in wild spaces – the future looks bright. We are really positive about the future for the outdoor equipment industries.

Which other brands/designers do you rate?

Some of the other outdoor brands I look at are Patagonia, Peak Performance and Haglofs. I tend to look at other outdoor brands for contextual awareness, rather than design reference or inspiration. I find inspiration from the activities I do and the materials I find or develop.

Which design or product are you most proud of?

I will have to say the Atom LT as it has a great balance of function, versatility and aesthetic. The insulation provides warmth, the fleece side panels offer air permeability while providing a svelte silhouette; it functions as an outer layer or as a midlayer depending on the weather conditions.

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What’s next for you guys?

Keep making the good shit. We’ve always tried to make gear that is stronger and lighter that worked better for us. When it comes to this, we still have so many ideas to explore.

Top 3 tips for new hikers/ skiers/travellers/climbers etc.

  1. Don’t skimp on the gear that matters most.
  2. Be physically prepared.
  3. Leave room for spontaneity.

Top 3 pieces of equipment you always take with you?

  1. Atom LT or Cerium LT insulation
  2. Zeta AR Rain Jacket 
  3. Parapet W’s Pant

Paddy Pallin and their customers are very environmentally aware. Can you tell us about what Arc’teryx is doing to help the environment?

A primary goal as a designer at Arc’teryx is to build beautiful, long-lasting and timeless products that endure many years of adventuring – you share your adventures together and create memories together, as a result people form an emotional bond or connection with our product. Through extending the useful life of our products we effectively diminish the impacts associated with production by sharing them over more years.

Thanks for your time Tanya.

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About The Author

Dave Casey

Dave has worked as an International Expedition Leader and in Outdoor Education for over 15 years. He has extensive travel and guiding experience in Australia, NZ, Asia, South/North America and Europe. In his spare time Dave is a keen bushwalker, mountain biker and climber while also dabbling in some mountaineering and sea kayaking. He is currently working at Paddys as the National Account Manager, to fund all of the above.

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