Billed as "the first creative conference for the active outdoor industry," the inaugural Struktur took place in Portland last week. In case you missed it, check out our recap of Day One, then read on for more insights from the best and brightest in the game today.
Day two kicked off with another macro view of the transformative power of design, delivered by Marc Galbraith of Nau Clothing. This time the historic lens was widened to talk about even evolutionary shifts. From early tool use to the Gutenberg press to the AK-47, design is taken for granted until it fails or is used for the wrong reasons. Using Nau as an example, Galbraith talked about the need to harness both short and long-term thinking about product development, emphasizing rock solid lateral teamwork, and deep inquiry into impact and use. The slide "We have designed ourselves into this mess and we can design our way out of it" stuck with me.
Enough of the industry lifers, on to start-ups! Mike Brown, designer of the Alpine Hammock, walked us through the current crowdfunding landscape and options for first time entrepreneurs. Even if your work has little to gain from start-up tactics, the amount raised by crowdfunding continues to shoot up. Worth keeping an eye on. This panel unpacked upstarts' successes, difficulties and myths with Oru Kayak, Homeschool Snowboarding and Iva Jean clothing. Their core advice: plan long and hard but expect to miss your mark a lot in the beginning, get a great business partner or team going as early as possible, expect to hustle for it. A lot. If you love it, it's worth it.
The next panel was fun but tough. It was hosted by Makers Row, a website designed to connect designers with American manufacturers, and Spooltown, a textile manufacturer in Portland. The discussion largely focused on how to approach manufacturers for the best result. Tip: Don't slap down an NDA in the first conversation, it's rude and probably wildly unnecessary. Another tip: Don't write off US production just because of higher initial prototyping charges. Labor costs are a big hurdle, but high minimums, global shipping and gaps in communication can be just as expensive in the long run. As the local food movement has shown, transparency and investment in your own economy mean something.
Next up, Andrea Westerlind regaled us with a plucky tale of product placement success. Fjallraven, a long-running Swedish outdoor company, scored big by letting her import a shipping container of their small backpacks. By sneaking this outdoor industry outsider into boutiques for more urbane fashion consumers (and also by living in a closet in the back of the NY showroom), Westerlind was able to break the brand into a completely different market. Net result: you have Andrea to thank for those handled fox-branded backpacks we've been seeing freaking everywhere for the last few years.
In a similar vein, Outlier's Abe Burmeister spoke about discovering a missing niche between activewear and daily needs. Their tactic was to find the technical materials that work exceptionally well, and adapt them to classic shapes that fit into daily life. Rather than taking either side as a given (Thou must use Gore-Tex! The classic oxford is perfect!) they've just designed clothes that they'd want to wear. Abe is quick to point out that "technical wear" deserves better historical understanding: Levi's were patented for a reason, they used to wear 3-piece suits to climb mountains, and the Burberry Trench was developed for wartime coverage with D-rings on the belt to hold grenades. "Technical" deserves a broader definition. By only changing what they really needed to, and by taking the product direct to consumer, they've built a line of clothing that feels classic and works trés moderne.
The end cap of the event was a soothing live performance of 99% Invisible, the addictive podcast on design, architecture and the built world, hosted by Roman Mars. If you haven't already gotten hooked, you're only hurting yourself. Check them out online or find them on iTunes and you'll be glad you did.
And then, did we party on a rainy rooftop? Yes we did.
The next year is hushed, but I'm looking forward to where it goes. In the best possible way, Struktur felt like a very "Portland" event. The weather varied from the high 80s to gray and splattery, and the attendees ranged from old Nike hands to certain new tumblr-based brands. Environmentalism was woven throughout, nonlinear thinking was embraced, friendly excited conversation was the norm, group problem-solving and beer were emphasized. Not saying Struktur needs to stay at home, but I hope these roots take hold.
Real jacket talk. Because when you get a room full of drunk designers...