リズ・トーマスのハイキング・アズ・ア・ウーマン＃22 / ULブランド創業者３人のミニマリズムの思想(前編) Gossamer Gear
The Past and Future of Minimalism: Insights from Three Ultralight Founders from the Minimalist Party at Outdoor Retailer
This year, we saw the re-emergence of the Minimalist Party at Outdoor Retailer—an annual gathering that hasn’t happened formally for about five years. While the OR event is designed to service large brands, the Minimalist Party is a space to celebrate the achievements of the ultralight community on the outdoor industry as a whole. It is also a space where cottage industries can discuss issues that are relevant to their customers, manufacturing, and sales for a company of their size. I interviewed three major founders of ultralight companies to understand the past and future of ultralight gear. This story will share my interviews with Ron Bell of Mountain Laurel Designs, Ron Moak of Six Moon Designs, and Glen van Peski of Gossamer Gear.
What has made the ultralight community thrive is a flexibility, nimbleness, and comradery that is seen nowhere else in the industry.
They’ve always been willing to introduce other small companies to how Outdoor Retailer works or to welcome minimalist athletes to walk the OR floor with them. Minimalist companies realize that those who value a “less is more” mentality have a connection. It doesn’t matter which label is on your backpack. That philosophy and value system is stronger than brand allegiance.
When the rest of the outdoor industry stayed rooted in its old ways, the companies dared to create lighter, more minimalist gear design. The three founders I interviewed started by making gear for themselves and their friends—not believing that it could become a full-time business. They made this gear out of need because the major outdoor brands weren’t creating what they wanted. But each founder discovered that their dream and vision appealed to more people than they could have imagined.
Glen Van Peski, Founder of Gossamer Gear, Austin, Texas
In 1976, Glen Van Peski graduated from high school and rode his bike 4,200 mile across the U.S. To keep his kit as light as possible, he drilled holes in his toothbrush, used a hammock with a tarp, and ate everything with bamboo chopsticks. He sketched designs for lightweight panniers. Even at that young age, he said, “I could do better than what’s available.”
Ultralight gear found its way back into his life. He got a job, went to college, got married, had kids. But when the first of his kids joined Boy Scouts, the scoutmaster was Reed Miller, a man who had read Ray Jardine.
After a scout trip in the Sierra where his pack weighed 70 pounds (his backpack alone was 7 pounds), Van Peski knew that he was handy enough to take Ray Jardine’s words to heart: “I knew how to sew because my mom made sure we could all cook, bake, and sew before we left the house.”
The first pack Van Peski sewed was the G1. He kept improving his backpack but it wasn’t until he reached the G4 that he put the pattern on the internet for other people to sew themselves at home. At the time, Van Peski got his fabric through Quest Outfitters in Florida. He sent them the pattern so they could sell it on their website and Quest returned with the news that it was the most requested pattern in their store.
But Van Peski had a career as a full-time engineer. He thought, “If I could just get 25 [backpacks] done, everyone who wanted one would get one.” But when demand proved to be higher than that, Quest told Van Peski about a guy in Seattle who has a sew shop. The shop’s minimum order was 50 backpacks. Van Peski put in his first order for 86 backpacks. “I figured they’d stay in my garage,” he chuckled. They were $70 and available in one size and four colors. “I thought I’d sell 25 backpacks and that’d be the end of the line.”
Clearly, that isn’t what happened. Gossamer Gear is now a major brand found at ultralight gear gatherings and on long distance trails with four full-time employees.
When asked about the relationship between major outdoor brands and minimalist brands, Van Peski says, “The early cottage guys were ignored for a while, but has driven mainstream to lighten up. They have more resources for research.”
Now, there are many brands doing ultralight and lightweight gear. But people still want to be able to call the designer and get custom work done.
While big companies may place their value as merchant vendors, Van Peski sees it differently: “We place the value of products by seeing people doing what they want to do.”
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