2023 marks the 50th anniversary of my starting to work in the outdoor industry by landing a Saturday sales assistant job at L D Mountain Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne. Although a student, it wasn’t the draw of the £4.50 daily wage but the eventual 33% staff discount that made the job so attractive.
The year previous, I’d enjoyed, and endured, a backpacking trip through Iceland. That’s when I discovered the importance of performance, reliability and weight rather price when it came to picking outdoor gear. Within a couple of years, I was travelling the world with Berghaus founders Peter Lockey and Gordon Davison. From Canada to South Korea in a variety of roles plus working on Gore-Tex and Cyclops, it was an exciting time.
Through the decades, many people have expressed envy that I had been so lucky to have been involved in such a dynamic time for the outdoor industries. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard comments such as, “There are no characters left”, “The industry’s run by accountants” and “The industry is not what it was.” Of course, it isn’t!
Whilst I regret the passing of brands such as Point Five, Daimor, Ultimate Equipment and Phoenix Mountaineering, the process of regeneration and innovation is integral to a healthy industry. Performance now has so many more criteria with many allied closely to brand values and company culture.
I loved those heady days but what is happening now is far more exciting – and demanding. At that time, the concepts of transparency, sustainability and CSR were so fringe as to be invisible. An accelerating evolution of the importance of consumer awareness and interactions are both driver and moderator of brands’ transparency.
The performance of fabrics, and thus products, was king. ‘Conquering’ the outdoor environment and beating competitor brands were the priorities for product developers and marketeers. Fortunately, we’ve grown up since those rather selfish, short-term thinking days. Alongside focus and process is the evolution of business models, especially crowdfunding and EOTs.
The spirit of cooperation fostered by national trade associations and the European Outdoor Group is both a reflection of trends and demands as well as the essential maturity of the outdoor industries. No longer fringe, we, as a whole, are leading the way in developing research and processes that help tackle climate change. Sharing info and insight is now regarded as a strength rather than being commercially foolish.
In reality, there’s never been a more exciting time to be involved in the outdoor industries. I’ve loved working with outdoor brands and a wide variety of media over the decades and, being an optimist, am looking forward to the decades to come – so much yet to learn. Crack on!
Header pic – Testing a prototype Berghaus Gore-Tex jacket in the Cairngorms during winter 1976.