At Arc’teryx, our most innovative ideas and designs are born when we explore wild spaces. We gain inspiration from being out in the field, as well as from new technologies in fabrics and manufacturing, to develop innovative gear. We want to go farther, push harder and we want to do it faster. Apparel Design Director Carl Moriarty is one of the people tasked with the difficult job of deciding what will provide the most value to the “end user”. Where does the idea go once it passes the test?
Step 1) Explore materials and concepts
Every new design at Arc’teryx is the result of an ongoing brainstorm of how new materials and concepts can be combined to make the best gear possible.
The idea for the Airah started brewing when our team was looking at different ways of layering while ski touring. We had already been playing around with layering systems in our men’s Whiteline with the release of the Stikine jacket, which combines insulation and a shell to reduce the number of layers you need to carry and to streamline layering transitions.
Additionally, we had been exploring the idea of air permeability in layering with items like the Acto and Proton Jacket, which allows air movement through the garment to better regulate the body’s temperature throughout the day. The next step was figuring out how to combine the benefits of these concepts to create an air permeable, insulated jacket for backcountry skiing.
Step 2) Gather insights and ideas from people
Although the idea of one insulated piece for the top of the mountain worked for those who tend to overheat while on the ascent, it was brought up by one of our female staff members, Kasie Stroshin, that for someone who is always running cold, it would be nice to have more insulation for the ascent but still avoid carrying an extra warm jacket (e.g a belay parka) in your touring bag for the top of the mountain. The combination of these two ideas is what led to the final concept of the Airah Jacket; a lightweight and compressible, insulated ski touring jacket for women that, depending on the weather, would work for both ascending and descending.
Step 3) Build prototypes to bring the idea to life
Once the concept is finalized, the team gets to work building prototypes to work out what combination of fabrics will help us achieve the end goal. For the Airah, we wanted to use a fabric that was soft and light to give the jacket an invisible to wear feel, as well as compressible for carrying around in your ski pack.
In the first prototypes we look at various combinations of all different elements in the jacket. These include: face fabric, lining fabric, type and amount of insulation and volume (i.e how much needs to fit under and/or over the jacket).
Step 4) Test the prototype and make adjustments. Test again, and again and again
The team tests all of our prototypes in the field to determine the functionality of the piece and where things can be improved. In this case, we were taking two or three different combinations of jacket features and materials into the mountains at a time with our designers, athletes, PLM’s (product line managers) and other Arc’teryx staff to get as much feedback as possible on what they liked and didn’t like about the jacket.
Step 5) Refine. Once you get the basic form right, refine the feature set
Once we have enough tests and feedback to get the basic form of the jacket right, we then take that prototype and begin to refine it’s feature set. This includes, but isn’t limited to, considering the placement and number of pockets, the hood configuration and any internal features. All of these components must be balanced to achieve the desired weight and compressibility of the piece. Keeping the Airah lightweight and compressible were key focuses for us.
Step 6) Colour & counter sampling
Once the feature set of the jacket is finalized the jacket gets added into the product line assortment and gets sent to the Arc’teryx colour team, who works with the seasonal colour palette and draws adjacencies of what other garments the jacket needs to work with.
Simultaneously, the Whiteline product team creates the final size medium sample to send to the factory for counter sampling, meaning the factory attempts to replicate the exact form of the jacket. The factory then send three copies back to the Arc’teryx Design Centre along with the original sample so the team can go through every step to make sure it was put together to their exact specifications.
The design team then works to makes notes on the second sample highlighting any discrepancies and sends the feedback to the factory. This process gets repeated with another two jackets until everything is built exactly to their specifications. This counter-sampling process takes about 6-8 weeks before the jacket goes into full production and hits the stores and the mountains in the upcoming season.
As we head deeper into wild spaces every year, the evolution of our products’ development continues. Once the snow melts, it’s back to the drawing board to bring these ideas to life with new materials, new techniques and new observations.