Arc’teryx: Designing Outdoor Gear for Women

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Editor’s note: This article is a part of the Joy of Resilience content series, sponsored by Arc’teryx. 


Edita Hadravska, the design director at Arc’teryx, is firmly against the idea that women’s gear needs to be anything other than functional and well made. She’s out to remind everyone that women are an essential part of the outdoor industry, including her team at Arc’teryx. Listen to her story on the Wild Ideas Worth Living podcast and learn more about designing at Arc’teryx from two other female designers, Karen Willis and Brylee Geddis. 

Transcript

To better understand how things work at Arc’teryx, we spoke to Brylee Geddis, a ski apparel designer who has been working at Arc’teryx for the last seven years and Karen Willis, a senior designer focusing on lifestyle apparel. For Edita and her team, it’s important to have women behind the scenes to ensure that what is being made is made with women in mind. 

What do you love about being a designer at Arc’teryx?

Brylee: The creating and the testing! Knowing the backstory on the pieces that come to fruition. I am stoked that I get to try prototypes out in the field first hand. Whether that’s in our backyard (the North Shore mountains of British Columbia), a remote hut in the backcountry, or in bottomless powder in Japan. I love my job!

Karen: I love making things that bring joy and value to people’s lives. I also love the creative and collaborative aspect of it. Everything we make is a huge team effort, and it’s also really hands-on. You don’t really find that in a lot of other companies anymore, and I really believe that makes a huge difference in the experience of the product. It’s quite exhilarating to start with a cool idea, watch it come to fruition, and then see it go on to be a beloved companion in someone’s life. That gives me a lot of satisfaction.    

Historically, a lot of outdoor gear has been designed with men in mind. When do you think that started to change?

Karen: I think women’s needs still have a long way before being fully considered and addressed. But we are definitely in a better place than twenty years ago. I do believe that a groups’ needs are met more fully when you have a participant from that group informing decisions. The same can be said for any group of people who have felt some form of invisibility in a space. I think that more women designers in the industry helped, but this is not what is making the ultimate difference. I have found that women’s needs are more fully addressed when women are placed center stage for decision making, or have been imparted the trust that her needs are valid and even exist!

We owe a lot to the amazing trailblazers like Lynn Hill, Ines Papert, Shelma Jun and Pasang Lhamu Sherpa to name a few, who really go against the norms and subsequently bring attention to women in our sport. However, an even greater impact can be extended to all the quiet heroes – parents and community leaders who encourage girls to participate fearlessly in the outdoors. I think the combination of these two factors have really shifted the mind-set of the industry over the years.  

Edita spoke to the concept of “shrink it and pink it” — can you explain what that term means to you?

Brylee: I think historically, product design has been led by designing male products first, solving problems for male needs, and then grading it down, adding pink trim and calling it Women’s. The problem is I don’t necessarily want a pink jacket, I want a jacket that was designed for me as a woman being taken seriously in the mountains.

Karen: To me, this phenomenon is mainly due to the lack of women at the center of decision making for women’s products. Not only is it offensive to women, but also impacts women by reducing the number of choices that we need to fully express ourselves and participate effectively in our sport. I think we are at a pivotal moment where women know how powerful their voice is, and can create avenues in the marketplace that speak directly to women’s needs. When women-centric brands like Nikita first turned up in the 90’s, I remember thinking, “What? You can do that?” But now, I just consider it a basic principle of narrative, which was badly missed in past decades. I feel honoured to listen to women’s frustrated feedback, and try to make that better.

Why do you think it’s important to see more women in design, particularly in the outdoor industry?

Karen: The more we can add to the women’s narrative in areas where women are under-represented, the better. More women in design can help with this, as this can be an opportunity to craft solutions to problems which are unique to us. I would also add that women of diverse backgrounds enrich the design experience, and offering. The outdoor industry benefits from more women in design because it is a space which carries the historical baggage of male-centricity, which no longer matches the huge amount of women and girls who are crushing it in the outdoor space today. Old-fashioned standards need to catch up to this exciting new reality. The good news is that women are not waiting.    

Brylee: It’s authentic. How do we expect to be represented and considered if there isn’t first-hand experience, emotion, and knowledge? It’s important to have both genders represented and working together.

Let’s talk about some examples of how this has come to life at Arc’teryx.

Brylee: We are using it! We are using it together with our female and male coworkers and athletes. We are asking each other questions and working out solutions.

Karen: I think that shifting a mind-set is a huge job and can’t happen overnight. Sometimes it feels impossible and overwhelming. But at Arc’teryx I have definitely watched the shift begin, and it makes me feel hopeful. For many years, Arc’teryx has had an amazing force of women at almost every stage of the process: design, materials, patternmaking, developing, and crafting products. I’ve seen amazing things like harnesses and packs designed for women’s anatomy, a badass women’s-only snow offering, and yes, bulletproof leggings for climbing. We even formed a Women’s Business Squad to self-reflect, and delve into how we could reach more women in a more meaningful way. Today, we have a Women’s Design Director, I am excited about what steps we can take next.

Arc’teryx is committed to elevating women’s voices, opinions and designs to ensure they’re creating products that meet the needs of female athletes and outdoors-woman who are looking for the best gear to get them outside.