Issue No. 1: Autumn 2013
There is a growing desire for authenticity in the world. Handcrafted goods, artisanal foods, community gardens; people are nostalgic and businesses are returning to old world ways. We want to know where things come from, who makes them, what are the values behind a product. Unzipped tells the story of one of our inventors, a man with a great idea and the passion to see it through a long and difficult evolution into what he always knew was going to be great. Lucky for us, anything less was unacceptable.
Technology has created longing by catapulting us into a complex society where too many things are readily available. The global marketplace of culture is wonderful and yet unsettling at the same time because traditions and objects are disconnected from what brought them into being. Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky creates series of images that lead us to question our implication in this and he poses the question; "I am part of the issue. Is the world better off with or without these images?" His search involves acts of courage and conscience. He is a man of our times.
Craftsmanship is about human touch. Human touch links us to something tangible, something of personal value. In quality craftsmanship we recognize integrity of thought, the accumulation of knowledge and experience, the collective process of discovery between maker and object. The past, present and future becomes a single communication. Design Manager Carl Moriarty shares a bit of insight into how a commercially produced product becomes something we count on.
Wherever we find meaning – in a handcrafted pair of skis, beautiful tools, or in the company of a good book – it is worth noting that quiet moment of recognition. Many have gone before us and many more will follow. The footsteps of Ines Papert have led her to inadvertently follow American explorers Lewis and Clark to Bozeman, Montana, not for the same reasons but with a similar spirit.
We are part of something worthy.
"People will tell you an idea is bad, even when it’s a good idea."
Research and Development
"Few things combine simplicity and complexity so thoroughly as a zipper." ZIPPER: An Exploration in Novelty, is a book by Robert Friedel which explores the amazing 100 year history of the zipper, that most ordinary of novel technologies with which we interact daily. It’s compelling reading believe it or not and reveals much about the culture and values of twentieth century America. Where ZIPPER ends off however, is where we begin – with the invention of the WaterTight™ zipper.
"People will tell you an idea is bad, even when it’s a good idea." Fortunately, Mike Blenkarn isn’t one to give up on his convictions. A longtime member of the Research and Development team at Arc’teryx, Mike first began working on the creation of a watertight zipper in 1988.
Twenty-five years ago, waterproof/breathable apparel construction was bulky. It was based on flat two-dimensional shapes; it had flaps and stiff, wide seam tape to protect against leakage. Zippers were stitched in, not glued. Volume was what provided the body room to move, adding excess weight.
Distressed by the unacceptable limitations of all this, Mike was convinced that there was a better way to build things. A (mad) scientist at heart, he is very much a hands-on guy when it comes to method. Taking it upon himself to solve the challenge, Mike went about the world, working at MEC, a Canadian outdoor retailer based in Vancouver, skiing, biking, sewing and keeping his ears and eyes open at all times for solutions.
The idea kept percolating. The zipper had to be coated he thought, to eliminate the need for flaps, tabs and snaps. Mike tried a "reverse coil" – sewing a regular zipper backwards into a jacket so that the coated inner surface was exposed. The problem was the slider; stuck on the inside, there was no way to open and close the jacket. So Mike removed a two-way slider from a tent and ground it down to just what he needed. Inspiration was taking shape.
He continued with the reverse coil idea until 1992, when it was talked down as too impractical, with too many logistics to overcome. Zipper companies weren’t happy, the sliders were a problem, and the exposed teeth were susceptible to wear and tear. Regardless, Mike kept working around the current limitations toward what he believed would eventually be possible.
An avid outdoorsman, he was constantly in the company of people who knew what they needed and how their equipment was failing them. No one was really comfortable. Mike cut off some more tent sliders, sewed more jackets and continued to explore coatings on zippers. Many, many glues and substances were applied, and many failed. Six years had passed since he first accepted the zipper challenge. It was now 1994, and people continued to tell him that his idea was never going to work. It was a waste of time.
But Mike didn’t quit.
1995: About to move from MEC over to Arc’teryx, he attended a trade show of industrial fabrics where he met Stuart Press, working at his booth for Uretek. "Yeah, I can laminate urethane onto that zipper for you." A significant connection was formed and Mike, with all of his previous knowledge, made the move over to the newly formed Arc’teryx.
The factory at Arc’teryx was a human think tank, a chaotic mix of equipment improvisations, strong personalities and big ideas. Production machinery was made on the fly and techniques steadily improved. The process of perfecting the Vapor™ harness had taught Arc’teryx more about thermoformed construction, lamination as a building tool and how to navigate from basement operation to commercial production.
True to his word, Stuart Press urethane coated some zippers for Mike, but they had to be painstakingly cut open by hand to release the teeth. However, in tests the urethane stuck to the zippers. It didn’t flake off or become gummy after spending 80+ days out in the field on the backs of Mike’s friends – highways avalanche professionals, mountain guides and people like himself, who did not accept that what currently existed in the outdoor industry necessarily defined how things had to be.
Arc’teryx signed a partnership with W.L. Gore, as the only licensed maker of GORE-TEX® apparel. Mike continued cutting open zippers and steadfastly advanced on a method to glue them into a waterproof/breathable jacket with a clean, secure, solid seal.
Ten years after the first attempts, the WaterTight™ zipper was launched in 1999, at a trade show in Salt Lake City. Bold and confident, the zipper was unlike anything else in the industry, very clean, functional and a testament to commitment, determination and hard work.
"People will tell you an idea is bad, even when it’s a good idea." Mike’s words are words to live by, for those willing to invest years, accept failures, and still maintain belief. Is he richer for it? In experience, friendships, and professional satisfaction – absolutely.
As Robert Friedel eloquently explains in his book; "It (the zipper) is a remarkable reminder of the capacity of individuals to see the world differently from the way it is and remake it into a new form."
Over one hundred and twenty years later, unassuming zipper technology lives on.
"You have to be powerful and careful at the same time, you must read the structure, the colour, the shapes."
Athlete Profile, Interview, Ice Climbing
Ines Papert, four time World Ice Climbing Champion, mixed climber and mother, shares some insights into the nature of ice climbing, how to work with it and why cold is her natural element.
What is it about ice that people don’t know: is it explosive, fragile, lethal? Sounds like popcorn, like shattering glass, like something solid?
Ice is none of that, it’s just ice. It forms differently each season. The steepness and the surface of the mountain is the basic shape of the line and wherever there is an overhanging face, ice begins as the water slows. Icicles are shaped according to what happens that particular year; this makes the challenge of ice climbing even more interesting. When you listen to the ice and you have learned how to evaluate what that tells you, you can begin to link sections together. It takes years and years and thousands of metres of trying to gain that experience.
Is there a defining moment that may explain why you ice climb – perhaps this links to geography or a contrast in ice and its surroundings?
I love alpine climbing and to reach the highest ranges you must learn how to climb on ice. My first time out it was terrifyingly cold. My fingers were numb, I had terrible clothing so I was shivering and a large chunk fell on my face leaving me with a bleeding nose, but for some reason I just kept going out! And soon it was fun. You have to be powerful and careful at the same time, you must read the structure, the colour, the shapes; I love this. When I finish a route with a good friend, sharing the challenge, we are so happy.
Describe your relationship with fear.
Being respectful of ice and of risk saves my life. Fear makes me nervous, which results in mistakes. I hold onto to my tools too much, my arms get pumped and I fall, which is never a good idea on ice. Fear slows me down. Knowing this and having trust in myself, my partner and my gear, I don’t panic. Sometimes, when I am far above my last protection and I feel myself becoming nervous, I take a couple of deep, intense breaths before I keep going. If there is no reason to be scared, fear is useless.
Anything you’d like to add?
I climb all year long. Summer has its advantages, and I love the long days that make it possible to climb long north facing rock routes in the Dolomites or Alps, Baffin Island, the Atlas mountains in Morocco. Yes, I prefer the cold.
I am looking forward to meeting new people at the festival this year in Bozeman, teaching climbers and competing.
"Happiness doubles when shared." – Ines Papert
"There is elasticity and tension in the ice, it takes different shapes each year."
Event, Ice Climbing
Lewis and Clark, famed American explorers, passed through Bozeman in the early 1800’s during their epic trek across the western United States to map and lay claim to new territories. It’s possible that they crossed paths with their Canadian counterpart, David Thompson, sent by the North West Company to accomplish precisely the same task. Regardless, neither party stopped to consider the possibilities of ice climbing in this spectacular area of Montana. Had they but known of the 225 pitches of naturally occurring ice in Hyalite Canyon, American history and maps of the area may have been entirely different.
Legends have been made here. Pat Callis, Jack Tackle, Alex Lowe, Sam Elias and Whit Magro; climbers who blazed new techniques, ground-breaking ascents, and the hardest mixed routes in the 21st century. This is one of the richest and most important climbing heritages in the world.
There is elasticity and tension in the ice, it takes different shapes each year, but the reliable nature of its formation is the essence of ice in Bozeman. Almost 200 years after Lewis and Clark missed their opportunity, the Ice Festival was founded in 1996, dedicated to the transfer of knowledge from one generation of climbers to another.
Year round, Hyalite Canyon is the most frequently used Forest Service canyon in the entire state of Montana. Proceeds from the festival go directly toward the unique collaboration that exists between members of the public, US Forest Service and County government to fund reliable entry into the area.
Written in the sculptural language of ice, history and the future of sport meet at the Arc’teryx Bozeman Ice Festival.
Arc’teryx Bozeman Ice Festival runs December 11-15, 2013. Ines Papert will be there.
"The aim is to create something that increases the user’s enjoyment of the activity."
Product Technology and Innovation
Why down, why now and what is the Arc’teryx Difference? Design Manager Carl Moriarty on why Arc’teryx has brought down garments into its insulation program:
This is well charted ground – what was the impetus for Arc’teryx to introduce down this year?
The key here is the warmth-to-weight ratio that can only be achieved using down insulation. There was a gap to fill in our existing range that could answer the need of fast and light travelers for lighter products that offer significant, compressible warmth. Down is the only solution.
What makes these products specifically Arc’teryx?
It’s the perspective we bring to the category that distinguishes our products. Our approach focuses on design, materials and construction and how to combine these three elements into solutions that make the most out of the inherent qualities of the materials.
So for example, the design pays particular attention to how the garments fit. These are carefully shaped to reduce volume, increase thermal efficiency and allow the down products to be streamlined without restricting movement. From a construction point of view, in the assembly each seam serves multiple purposes – a pocket seam separates fabric panels so that more durable pocket bags can be used; we don’t need binding tape, which reduces weight and bulk. Then we can use premium Japanese taffetas with higher strength and still have an overall lightweight product that is highly efficient. Introducing components of synthetic fill in moisture-prone areas enables the down to be effective in a broader range of conditions.
We say that a good design enriches your life, whether it’s a chair, a fork, a car or a ski. On a design level, what should an Arc’teryx product do/bring to your life?
Arc’teryx has a philosophy that centres on any product’s intended use. The aim is to create something that increases the user’s enjoyment of the activity. By being functionally invisible, what people experience is the activity and their equipment simply does what it’s supposed to do. The performance is just there. We want people to be able to form a relationship with their gear – they’re like companions. Things you trust, that hold memories and you don’t want to leave them behind. You want them to keep going.
Why is craftsmanship important: what does it communicate to people; what are they responding to; what should they expect?
Craftsmanship is the thoughtful application of acquired knowledge. To use down as an example, this means a holistic approach to the creation of a new product; we want to eliminate weaknesses and identify elements that will achieve longevity.
Anything personal that you’d like to add?
The Cerium LT hood is something I’m pretty stoked about. The idea was to have a hood that fits like a toque and gives you the same unrestricted visibility. The team came up with a slick ball cap adjuster that fits under the ears and holds the hood exactly how you want it to fit.
"I don’t have the solution, but I happen to feel that to maintain the status quo is not an option."
Photography, Environmental Awareness
Edward Burtynsky is a Canadian photographer who creates large scale photographs of the patterns and scars that industrial processes inflict on landscapes and cities. He works in series, collecting images from places that most of us will never see, where he and his camera are not welcome and a great deal of persistence is required to find the images that will make a series complete.
He is a man of conviction. "I’m looking at the effect of humans on the landscape... Our expansion has a direct effect on nature and on the wilderness. That’s always been the core of my thinking."
There is beauty in devastation. Burtynsky’s process is what allows him to find that beauty and to express the human dilemma within it. "A lot of the heavy lifting is deciding what your concept is, getting your ideas in order and going from a general idea to a specific image. For me, that’s always been kind of a mysterious process, partly intuitive, partly from what you see and experience."
As uncomfortable as they are, his images show how landscape is being defined. And how we are all implicated, through the lives we lead.
"I am part of the issue. Is the world better off with or without these images?"
We are made aware, if nothing else. His photographs bring attention to the sources of what we live with and what those industries create. Once something is known, it cannot become unknown. Burtynsky is a man of our times, searching for the edge of our contradictions. His images are metaphors for the dilemma of modern existence.
"I don’t have the solution, but I happen to feel that to maintain the status quo is not an option."