CHARACTERS: Nancy Hoo

Words: D’arcy McLeish

Photos: Jordan Manley & Julian Kenchenten

“It may sound a bit strange, but I listen for noise in my products.” Nancy Hoo is a design manager at Arc’teryx, and is one of the minds behind the Endorphin Line, which is focused on running. At first, I’m puzzled by this comment. Noise, I wonder. What does outdoor clothing have to do with noise? But if I think about it a little more, I see her point. “When I’m out for a run, especially in the mountains, I don’t want to hear a zipper flapping or material rubbing together. One of the things I love most about running are the sounds of the world. My feet hitting the loam or the wind in the trees. Noise from your gear takes away from that.”

That may not sound like something worth obsessing over, but when I think about it, it seems absolutely critical. One of the main tenets of design at Arc’teryx is function and simplicity, which only enhances a user’s experience. “When gear makes noise or is overly complex, it infringes on the adventure of being outside.” Nancy’s right. Gear has to work, but in that working, be it on a run or in a storm at 3500m in the Alps, it must remain unnoticed.

Nancy is a distance runner and she’s no amateur. At just over 50 years of age, she continues to push the bounds of what’s possible out there and has cut her teeth in some big races. The New York Marathon, for instance. She runs both on and off road and has been running most of her life. “I started in track and then went into road running and finally into trail running. I love both pavement and running in the mountains, but the mountains are special. There’s nothing so freeing as running in the forest.”

Quiet and understated, as most hard core endurance athletes seem to be, Nancy has been working in the apparel industry for many years. “When we look at designing something, there is always an intent and a purpose.” But sometimes, those intents and purposes are things the average consumer would never think of, like designing a Gore-Tex jacket to run in or trying to make sure something stays quiet.

Nancy is a master with materials. She has to be. Everything in the Endorphin Collection is about being lightweight, stowable and packable. Experimenting with materials to adhere to these three priciples, while not hindering the experience of being outside, plays an integral part of how she goes about her passion as a maker. But more than that, Nancy is one of those users herself and spends a lot of her time testing what she makes. “I can sew something together over a morning and be in the woods that afternoon, immersing myself in how that material performs in the best workshop in the world.”

There’s huge value to having that quick turn around. Coupled with Arc One, the Arc’teryx production facility in Vancouver that can make production ready prototypes and even limited run end products, the flexibility and speed of being on the doorstep of the Coast Mountains is ideal. “We have the ability to turn out prototypes very fast, and so we can explore ideas and materials and have them in the field, being tested, very quickly.”

What makes Nancy happiest, though, is making apparel that allows people to explore the world around them. The ethos of design at Arc’teryx is all about letting people roam. “When I head out for a run, I want to hear the sounds of my environment. As the miles pass, the exploration begins. Being able to design gear and apparel that lets people truly explore the outdoors with minimal distraction is what makes me happy.”

It has made a lot of other people happy as well. Nancy was behind the award winning Norvan Jacket, which was a game changer in the running world. Specifically designed for the needs of female athletes, the Norvan is an ultra lightweight, waterproof and breathable jacket designed for high output activities in inclement weather, something once thought impossible to make.

While part of the Norvan came from Nancy’s design talent, she is quick to point out another part came from the collaboration at Arc’teryx. “We all work together here. Athletes, design teams…everyone spends as much time as they can outside, and we’re constantly giving each other feedback. And we’re ok to fail here. Better it fails with us than with the consumer. So nothing goes to market until it’s absolutely ready and we’ve spent a lot of time obsessing over the details.”

Those details, like making sure a pocket stays closed or a seam doesn’t wear, are what make the difference. Nancy designs things to last and they are as understated and hard core as she is. Because when she’s into a long run and the rain starts to fall or the wind begins to blow, she needs stuff to work as much as you need stuff to work. Not just to stay dry or warm, but to play and explore and feel the world around you.

Learn more about Arc’teryx’s Design Team at www.arcteryx.com/whoweare.