It was a lightning visit for the Alpkit Product team to visit Performance Days - an Outdoor and Sports related fabric show in Munich. Neil (bike guru) asked if it was like a big Dunelm. Hmm, not quite…
Researching and specifying fabric can be both the most exciting and boring aspect of developing a product. Sometimes, like in the case of the Gravitas, the fabric spawns the product. Within a split-second of seeing it, you’ve taken a 3 layer, ultra-light, highly waterproof, and breathable fabric and pretty much designed - albeit in your head - a fast and light shell with the just the right amount of features on a paired back design. Other times you’re looking at the 50th lightweight nylon collection looking for a 40g 30 denier that’s 20 cents cheaper than last year with no drop in performance: equally important but a little less exciting.
After a truly alpine start, we finally arrived in the upper halls of a suburban fashion college: 200 booths filled with stuff that may not see the light of day for 2 years.
A quick chat with a former colleague highlighted the timelines that some companies work with. He was working on their 2020 range - that’s right - a range of products that won’t be used, enjoyed, or maybe even exist for another 30 months. To give you an idea of our timeline, our equivalent range is currently being designed, tested and built for delivery in May and June 2018. It’s a tight and accelerated timeline, but it is possible.
Sitting down with our friends at Amaterrace, the first question was what timeline we are on. Mentioning 2018 meant that a couple of bundles were not for our eyes in case we revealed them to customers sooner than everyone else, it’s such a shame.
What I really got out of the trip was the realisation that we are doing the right thing. There was a lot of talk of customers, but in this context ‘customers’ meant 'brands and retailers' - not the individuals who actually buy the gear. We don’t tend to think like that. Although occasionally we do design our own dream bits of gear (come on you would), most of the time our designs are for you, our customer. If we don’t make gear that you like, want, and will actually benefit from, well we’re pretty much wasting our time. An awful lot of techy, geeky stuff is poured into making your gear, but we are always careful not to get bogged down in the tech and the numbers.
To give an example, we attended a presentation on Thermo Regulation with some high-flying insulation brands. Again, it felt like the customer wasn’t in the equation, focussing more on how each brand compared to one another. None of them seem to have the confidence to base their tech on subjective opinion of their customers, choosing instead the objective numbers to measure themselves against their competitors.
If I was buying a new car, the car salesman would talk to me MPG, MPH, boot capacity or the number of cup holders, but no one would explain which car would make my drive to work more enjoyable. Surely if we are designing gear that makes your day in the hills better, then we have done our job? That realisation alone was worth going to ‘Dunelms’ for.