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elliottwill

Open source alpinism

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I'm curious to hear others thoughts on the socioeconomic relationships into which we're inducted as users of climbing and outdoor gear. This comes to mind principally on account of the us outdoor industry's corporate maturation (MH, TNF), but also by BD's forthcoming outerwear line, which they described to investors as a recognition, basically, that if you make good gear that's built to last, you aren't going to make very much money. We see a movement away from outdoor gear as tools, in other words, for people to meet technical needs, toward outdoor gear as stimulus to multiply people's needs: a movement away from doing to having, and needing to have more. Just the way we talk about people as consumers, as if people weren't defined by what they produce or accomplish, but by what they consume, comes to mind as well. We could say much about what might have precipitated this shift, but I'm more interested here in what it would look like to swing things back around. In other words, by what business practices or brand identities could gearmakers shift focus from hawking a consumerist surrogate for meaningful accomplishments (a surrogacy evident not least in the bland appeals to vanity made by jackets with 'serious,' 'technical' sounding names) to empowering people to go out and have transformative outdoor experiences? I don't know. But I'm curious who you think is living up to this ideal, who isn't, what economic realities constrain their freedom one way or the other, and what influence people outside the industry-- 'normal' users --can exert. If climbing is about doing more with less, if its supposed to be the opposite of going to the mall, these seem like significant questions. What do you think?

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The truth is most mountain gear is sold to middle class posers who wear it to cross the street from Macy's to JC Penny. Remember to thank them for creating an economy of scale that allows you to purchase cheap gear.

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The truth is most mountain gear is sold to middle class posers who wear it to cross the street from Macy's to JC Penny. Remember to thank them for creating an economy of scale that allows you to purchase cheap gear.

 

This is mostly true. I worked selling gear in the 70s when Chouinard realized hardware lasted too long (not enough business) and well there was the lawsuit creating BD. Hell, I still have one of the original #4 Friends. Not a good business model, which is of course a major driver.

 

On the other hand, folks still need technical gear that is well made and used for what it is designed for. But I want to puke every time I see a poser wearing Patagucci or North Face on the street when you are pretty sure it hasen't been out of town.

Edited by matt_warfield

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How is this any different than its always been? El Cap can be climbed with pitons, Denali with bunny boots. New tools make it easier and generate industry - and while pitons and bunny boots work just fine and last forever everyone has the latest greatest gear. Furthermore the notion of doing more with less is an ideal that doesn't exist when you consider the fact that climbing is primarily a middle/upper white pursuit and that climbing bums are generally from well to do families & have a (fully paid for) liberal arts degree.

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Consumerism is not an ideal engine for developing quality.

 

:tup: I agree completely. Quality does not fuel obsolescence which fuels money. What a bunch of crap that we have to make things that will be obsolete or wear out soon to fill the coffers.

 

Kind of a thread drift but kind of not.

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How is this any different than its always been? El Cap can be climbed with pitons, Denali with bunny boots. New tools make it easier and generate industry - and while pitons and bunny boots work just fine and last forever everyone has the latest greatest gear. Furthermore the notion of doing more with less is an ideal that doesn't exist when you consider the fact that climbing is primarily a middle/upper white pursuit and that climbing bums are generally from well to do families & have a (fully paid for) liberal arts degree.

 

Good one, but I will still say that soft goods drive industry while hardware lasts forever. My niece got married last year and an El Cap first ascender gave her a wind chime made out of bongs and big pins that are no longer relevant. Soft goods wear out much more quickly and make a lot more money.

 

And I can assure you that many climbers are scientific and engineering and not liberal arts, no offense.

Edited by matt_warfield

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Good one, but I will still say that soft goods drive industry while hardware lasts forever. My niece got married last year and an El Cap first ascender gave her a wind chime made out of bongs and big pins that are no longer relevant. Soft goods wear out much more quickly and make a lot more money.

 

And I can assure you that many climbers are scientific and engineering and not liberal arts, no offense.

Obsolete gear drives industry as well. Do you still climb in your EBs and with straight shaft ice tools? And ski with 404s?

And I said bums... The bums all have English & philosophy degrees. The engineers have jobs.

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I started with hiking boots, then RRs, then EBs, then Fires, then Ron Kauks, then Mythos, then Miuras. But I also like slippers and have more pairs of shoes (8) than a well dressed woman.

 

But I am just a rock and alpine climber. If I lived in AK and did snow and ice I am sure I could add to the damage.

Edited by matt_warfield

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Hi all,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts; Finley & Bsatch, I understand where you're coming from. For the sake of argument:

 

-it isn't the case that I have an economy of scale to thank for getting me into the mountains. Where did that economy scale up from, after all?

 

-But more important, I don't think it's accurate to say either that everyone has the latest and greatest gear, or that a minimalist ideal doesn't exist if it's pursued by privileged people. (I sympathize on that last point— I hate to hear about how an iPad is so 'minimalist' —but I think we need to put pressure on it, below.)

 

On the subject of latest and greatest gear: My dad homesteaded in Alaska in the '60s. People are still running their traplines today with the same 'technology' they were wearing back then: wool shirts, wooden snowshoes. Likewise, I see climbing guides in leather hardware store gloves and raggedy old backpacks, NOLS students in patchwork rental gear seamgripped and K-taped together. My question, basically, is whether you can encourage that phenomenon and stay in business. It's a phenomenon worth encouraging because it's empowering— gear becomes a tool to create an experience, but neither the price of admission to nor a readymade reification of that experience. And it's also more environmentally sustainable. That's something I feel like we have to pursue despite our first world hypocrisy. We're the ones who have to change, after all.

 

On the subject of ideals and hypocrisy: yes and no. It seems pretty clear that on the one hand, there is no moral high ground here from which to point fingers at 'naive consumers.' I'm in as deep as anyone else. On the other hand, it's equally clear that our days are or at least should be numbered as a society that can import lots of cheap, fragile stuff, throw it away, and export the garbage. So how does one stay in business making outdoor gear specifically — not merely on the margins, but actually be significant —while shifting away from this model? I don't know what that would look like. But we know, from how recent a phenomenon consumerism really is, that what we've got now isn't the only option.

 

 

 

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I find myself thinking about these issues a lot. I am continually frustrated every time I realize that most things we can consume are not built to last. I have a lap top that is 4 years old, and crapping out on me. A flip phone of similar age with problems as well. This idea that after a few years, our shit breaks or becomes obsolete and we expect and even look forward to buying a new one and throwing the old one in the trash is weird.

 

How disconnected from reality did we have to get to normalize this? Somehow the concept of finite resources escapes affluent society. But then again it makes total sense. I just wonder at what point easy access to cheap consumer products will cease and what that will look like for society. The party can't go on forever.

 

As far as how could a business survive with a model that values longevity of their goods, I'm curious. I think this is still a priority for some outdoor companies, but it is fading fast. I'm not an economist, but I'm assuming a company that builds to last might also add a clothing line to make up for lost profits with their durable goods?

 

I guess not all companies would fit this mold though. I'd be interested to have a chat with the head honchos of Feathered Friends, SMC, or other companies that still make good stuff and see what their philosophy is.

Edited by Nater

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Outdoor gear costs too much to actually wear it climbing or skiing where it gets ruined. I wear it around town for good looks and wear cheap shit out doing stuff.

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Outdoor gear costs too much to actually wear it climbing or skiing where it gets ruined. I wear it around town for good looks and wear cheap shit out doing stuff.

 

I agree, my approach:

 

1) Check your ego and wear Goodwill downtown; nobody will try to take your wallet and nobody will ask you for anything and what are you expecting anyway downtown with NF on your back or Patagucci on the front? Getting laid? :cry: Getting respect? :cry: Stroking your ego? :tup:

2) Wear cheap outdoor gear when on a "reasonable" climb.

3) Wear good quality gear when the chips are down.

4) Recognize that most gear manufacuters make money not from elitists but from um... others.

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I think you're driving at: 'Is consumerism interfering with the stoke? Including getting newbies the stoke too?'

 

Yes.

Some of it's marketing bollocks which interferes with your normally sane mind. So if you do read the mags, ignore the ads.

Try to buy from companies who don't have shareholders, then they don't need to make so much profit (and thus upgrade-shit)

Share gear. I won't lend ropes, but you can pretty much borrow anything else I've got (including my wife). There are very good reasons for this. The less gear that is made, the less environmental damage is caused. It lowers the barriers to entry into a sport, and it makes me feel less like a stupid American consumer when I look at my pile of tents/ sleeping bags etc. And I don't really like my wife anyway.

Recycle gear by buying used & selling the stuff you don't use

Be proud of your old stuff, discipline yourself not to shop if you can afford to.

 

Companies who are small that I like are Cilo & Spark R&D. MSR cos they're local & Second Ascent since they sell used gear (I got a complete BC ski setup for $500, hated it and sold it on Craigslist for $500 a year later - that is a low barrier to entry.

 

White middle class. Architecture degree. Sugar Mamma

Edited by Woodcutter

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If ice climbers now had to wear mid-70's clothing there'd be a whole lot fewer ice climbers today - that shit sucked.

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Send many to do Supercrack at Indian Creek with hexes like Wiggins and many pants will have to be cleaned.

 

Or do Everest in wool.

 

But then we are dating ourselves.

Edited by matt_warfield

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Hi all,

So how does one stay in business making outdoor gear specifically — not merely on the margins, but actually be significant —while shifting away from this model?

 

 

One simply states that the thing is "built-to-last', which it then does.

The consumer of today must recognise that part of buying things is the buzz, the vibe, the shopping bug, spending money, it's a fix. Keep the built-to last thing, wean yourself off the shopping buzz, be proud of your old gear.

 

If the business does not need to grow (and they only do under investor/ shareholder pressure), then it can be sized right, make the thing and pay wages. It's not complicated, just don't have to pay sharehoders/ investors/ dividends.

 

 

...and you brand yourself as a responsible company, educate your public fully about what this means (and enter into debate), and explain that your thing is full price because you don't pollute the world with bullshit blue & green jackets which will be a different colour next year so you can subsudize the price of the thing.

More clear thinking. Inpublic so it can be discussed.

Nice thread, I like this one

Edited by Woodcutter

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Great idea, Joseph: National Sport Climbing Day! Te he he.

 

I have in the past posted we ought to institute a 'National Cam-free Day'...

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Great idea, Joseph: National Sport Climbing Day! Te he he.

 

I have in the past posted we ought to institute a 'National Cam-free Day'...

 

Yes, that would likely be the result.

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Marketing and the speed at which you can gather info through the internet fuels the interests of most climbers/hikers/adventurers etc perfectly. I would wager to say that people who engage in these types of sports are hard-wired to constantly dial in their kit as best as possible, with the best materials, lightest weights etc.

 

Maybe I'm wrong.....but I know that if there is something coming to market that I can buy which which will allow me to increase my performance in the mountains I am willing to give it a try, even if it's disposable.

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Woodcutter: I like it. Now we're making some headway. It's very strange to hear people argue that we shouldn't make quality, sustainable products because then they would be too expensive to overconsume. That's not the problem, that's the point, right?

 

We're starting to have two discussions here, though. One is about what climbers should do (buy cams or not). The other is about how the industry presents itself to people who are getting into the sport: do they present mountain sports as an expensive, highstakes competition where you need to spend lots of money, each year to "increase your performance" relative to that of professional athletes— so, the very rat race to which the outdoors provide an alternative —or something else? And is that something else commercially viable not just on the margins but as a mainstream? I don't mean necessarily in terms of production. I mean more in terms of ethos.

 

I think the "increase your performance" / 'performance anxiety' mentality is at the heart of this. Let me give an example from biking and then swing back to climbing. It's gotten way worse in biking than climbing. One encounters those shameful, helpless fools on the trails who don't understand that bicycling is about being fast. Without a heart rate monitor, how will they know if their ride was strenuous? Without a GPS on the handlebars, how will they know if they rode a long way? Without a Strava account (a website where you upload all data), how will they know if they had fun, or if they should feel bad about themselves because someone else rode his bicycle faster? So there's been a backlash, recently, with brands like Salsa shifting emphasis from exacerbating customers' performance anxiety to customers' potential to go out and discover or do something fun. If you want to be competitive, get a trainer, all the rest of it, that's great, but that doesn't have to be whole ethos of the sport. Because at stake here is the possibility that riding your bike, like going into the mountains, can offer you some perspective on the world you go back home to, a world where the supremacy of competition makes everything disposable: products, people, cultures, species. The kneejerk reaction here is "you have a liberal arts degree!" or "you're talking about communism!" Not exactly. I'm just looking for a way that the industry can stay in business and keep progressing, keep improving and inventing, without losing sight of why we go into the mountains in the first place.

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I haven't yet been able to decipher the original thesis here, but...

 

Modern gear rocks. All around or out of town, goin up or goin down, in Kermit Green or Charcoal Slate, whip it good, it's not too late.

 

If the enjoyment of not being cold, injured, or dead constitutes manufactured performance anxiety, hand me a Xanax or comparably marketed medication.

Edited by tvashtarkatena

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How many non-upper-middle-class-white climbers have you met? Economies of scale are the reason we have a leisure class. The white middle upper class demographic has benefited greatly from the business models that have lead to such things as not-at-all-cheap-lightweight-use-once-jackets that last for one trip.

 

Furthermore the growth and success of the outdoor industry is why we're seeing a person like Sally Jewell nominated for secretary of the interior. A person who comes from a background representing the outdoor industry is a far cry from past appointments like Kempthorne.

 

I fully agree with a lot of what you're saying - which is why I choose gear from smaller companies like Serratus (RIP), Cilo, Western Mountaineering etc. when I can. But I also recognize that multinational outdoor companies have more sway when it comes to protecting public lands than the mom and pop shops working out of a garage.

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