Ronnie makes it better
The last few years has seen our range of clothing explode wide openfrom the stalwartFilo down jacket that saw us good throughthe early years to modern day Alpkit. Kept company byafew T's and some dabbles into various down products, it's now blossomedinto whatcovers trousers, softshells, wetsuits, waterproofs, baselayers, down and synthetic insulation... gosh the list just seems to keep going.
Ronnie has driven this at an incredible pace, arguably the most prolific in the outdoor industry in number as well as the breadth.Working hard with her talented small team she has been at the fore-front offabric, environmental and other key developments (finding herself a slot on the Microfibres consortium for starters). We pulled her away from her beloved fabrics for a quick chat about life at Alpkit and the constant quest to make better gear that we can all love for longer.
We know, but we'll let you tell people how long you've been making a big impact here at Alpkit!
It will be 4 years in August. Originally I studiedSports Science at Uni followed by a Masters in Clothing Product Development. After 5 years building my professional experience at another brand I jumped at the chance to join Alpkit.
What’s the general vibe like in your job compared to other companies you've worked for?
We definitely do things differently here. Being a smaller company full of enthusiasts means everyone is much more involved in different areas of the business than at a larger company, where everyone sticks to their small area of responsibility. You get a greater sense of ownership and pride in what we do. The office is freezing in winter and boiling in summer, but at least you can test clothing just sat at your desk!
I’m the Design Manager (ed. we actually like super-designer, but Ronnie's having none of it.), with a specific focus on clothing design. I’m a fabric geek so I’ll get involved wherever fabric comes into play, whether that’s in packs, sleeping bags or tents.
How big is thedesign team you work with?
Smaller than you’d think! Apart from Nick (founder and head product guy) and me, there’s Gabe who works on clothing, Rowan on equipment and Neil on Sonder bikes. We collaborate with other designers with specific expertise if we don’t have it in-house.
How long is the design process?
Once we’ve decided on the product brief, it takes about a year to prototype, test and manufacture. Some things are quicker, like UK made products, and some take a lot longer, like the Gravitas where it took 4 months just to develop the fabric. But compared to the rest of the industry, this is almost half the time it takes them to go from concept to launch. We spend the same time on development, but don’t have to make samples to show retailers and wait for them to order before we go into production. We can get gear into our customers hands faster.
Roughly, can you take us through the design process, from idea to being available in store?
The idea for a new product can come from a customer, or be sparked by innovation in materials or manufacturing techniques that mean we can make something our customers don’t even know they are missing. Either way, we always have a clear end- purpose in mind. We start by searching for the right materials and best factory to make it, alongside building a specification with dimensions, fabrics and components all detailed. The chosen factory then make us a prototype to start testing. With clothing we spend a lot of time fitting to build in freedom of movement for the specific activity the product is going to be used for. After two or three rounds of prototypes we confirm the final spec, costing, decide on colour and place the order.
What’s the basis for all your work?
We want to make great gear that costs less and works harder, so that having decent kit isn’t a barrier to getting out and enjoying the outdoors. And building it to last - we want people that buy our gear to use and use it for years to come.
Favecombo of Nice Place + Good Thing?
I'm a climber through and through, so mountains are my happy place. It’s hard to beat the Alps for sheer variety of routes on rock, ice and snow. What piece of gear don’t you leave the house without? My Morphosis jacket – it works as an insulated jacket in summer, or a super breathable but protective mid to outer layer in cooler conditions. I even managed to wear it as my outer layer for a day’s ice climbing when I forgot my waterproof!
Which product are you most proud of?
Either the Morphosis or Katabatic, both are examples of how the right fabric selection can extend the useable range of a garment way beyond your expectations. They have become old friends that accompany me on every trip to the mountains.
Anything exciting/top secret in the Alpkit pipeline?
Always, but that would be telling.