Why does history matter to innovation in outdoor products? Many people people think it doesn’t and that history is all about nostalgia and is looking backwards not forwards. I have just read an interesting article on the importance of a brand’s history in innovation by one of my Lancaster colleagues. This set me thinking afresh about my hobby horse and about Chris Townsend’s comment to us that his most popular blogs were his history ones.
The role of history in innovation in outdoor products isn’t backward looking and nostalgic, but often involves combining new skills and new challenges in sport, with old knowledge and the sharing of understanding and experience. Vibram,is just one example of an innovative company with a long history. In the 1930s lead user innovation, by Vitale Bramani, whose experience of a winter expedition in 1935, where nailed boots led to serious frostbite and fatalities, encouraged him to develop boots that were better insulated. This led to the original Vibram rubber moulded soles to be developed in the 1930s. They were poor at first as this was an example of an emerging technology and emerging skills which only eventually replaced nails after the Second World War.
The story of Vibram highlights the importance of combinations of the climber’s knowledge and needs, understanding of materials, and changing manufacturing techniques for successful innovation. Much the same is true of garments for outdoor sports. There are many outdoor brands with a long and deep history, but the environment is changing. What happens when the knowledge behind the history is lost?
Much has been written about the millennials, a new generation of consumers, without the same knowledge, experience, background and aspirations that underpinned the 1960s brands. Today 80% of people in the Western developed world are urban and live in controlled environments. There is another problem alongside this.
The baby boomers who created the innovative companies and designs of garments and understood their market, textiles and their sport are getting older. I remember when I was first researching Invisible on Everest, one of the retailers I interviewed said, ‘You have got here just at the right time, another few years and we will be all falling of our perches’. That is now happening and with it much expertise vital, not just to understanding innovation, but crucially to keeping dry and staying warm in the mountains. Outdoor Gear Coach is trying to capture as much of that information as possible, so it doesn’t become lost knowledge. See for example our innovation timeline, history of the waterproof jacket, and Pierre Allain as a climbing hardwear, footwear and garment innovator
Here is the article, by Alfredo de Massis on history and innovative brands, (Marketing Magazine) which inspired this blog.