Sam Waller interviews Christian Regester of Patagonia
Since 1973 the merry pranksters at Patagonia have been paving a pretty unique trail through the world of ‘outdoor clobber’. They’ve introduced droves of hiking types to the concept of colour, they were the first people to see the beauty of polyester fleece and they’ve become the poster-boys for environmental action. They’ve also made loads of really nice jackets.
Christian Regester is one of the people who designs these really nice jackets. He’s Patagonia’s ‘Alpine Outerwear Designer’, which basically means he’s the man responsible for those big winter jackets that you’d hope you’d be wearing if you got caught in an avalanche. I caught up with him in an icy ravine high up in the misty mountains of cyberspace, and here’s what he had to say.
What’s an average day in the life of a Patagonia designer?
It depends on the surf, but most days are spent in the Forge, our R&D centre, working with a grip of amazing tools like laser cutters, 3D printers and ultrasonic cutting machines, as well as a top-notch team of sewers and pattern makers to build products.
A lot of people look to Patagonia designs for inspiration. Where does a Patagonia designer look for inspiration?
We tend to look to the environment for inspiration. This is usually in the form of climbing or riding in our latest samples. When the gear disappears and we become hyper aware of our surroundings, that’s when real inspiration happens.
As a sportswear designer how much time is spent actually testing these things ‘in the field’? Is it part of your job to be climbing up icy crevasses and abseiling down ravines?
Patagonia, being founded and run by a world-renowned climber, is built around the understanding of user made product. Time in the field is just part of our culture and is essential to good product design.
How long does it take for an idea to get turned into a finished product? Something like the Thundercloud Down Parka for instance — that’s a pretty intense jacket — what kind of tests does this have to go through before a civilian like me can walk into a shop and buy one?
The Thundercloud Down Parka is a great example of product that is built to endure. It’s the accumulation of our fabric lab and enviro-team’s hard work. In addition to the design they help to bring a product that not only endures the elements for many years to come but also supports movement toward a more environmentally friendly supply chain.
When you’re trying to make a jacket the most functional and environmentally friendly thing possible, how important is the visual aspect?
A functional and sustainable product is only successful when it gets used. It’s our job to make product that people enjoy for a long time. Clean classic design is our goal. Luckily, that tends to go hand in hand with solutions-based design and the arbitrary decisions are kept to a minimum.
What are your thoughts on the re-appropriation of Patagonia items by people outside the outdoor realm? Is this something you consciously think about when designing?
Bring it! Part of our mission is to ‘inspire others’. When the industry gets behind an improvement, real change starts to happen! But please look under the hood and copy everything that goes into a great product.
You still sell a lot of clothes you’ve been making for years — like the Retro-X Fleeces or the Stand Up shorts. Have these changed at all over the years?
Those are examples of timeless design that have succeeded. Changes on those products are more related to things like moving to recycled fibers or encouraging our mills to get Bluesign approved.
What’s your favourite Patagonia design?
My favourite Patagonia design has to be the Foamback Cagoule from the 70s. It was years ahead of its time. It was made from an insulated waterproof fabric and came in a liberal cut suitable as a bivouac sack. If I had to pick one garment for the rest of my life it would be the original Foamback Cagoule.
You have pioneered a lot of things in the clothing industry — from technical fabrics like Synchilla fleece to the use of recycled polyester. What new developments have you got in the pipeline?
On the technical side of things, the most exciting development, as of late, is Nano-Air. Insulation with full-stretch and amazing breathability lets you connect to your surroundings like never before. To be able to stay warm while charging without getting muggy is an amazing sensation.
On the sportswear side of things, we are exploring exciting new low impact technologies for textile manufacturing and dyeing. These processes are devoted to saving resources ‘up front’ by expending less and less of the earth’s resources, rather than just recycling after the fact.
Both are revolutionary in their own way and are great examples of how we never lose sight of our mission statement... “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
There was an interview with the band Fugazi where they said that that due to the political messages in their songs, people were shocked to find out that they lived in normal houses with electricity like everybody else. Is there a similar thing with working at Patagonia? Do you have electricity? Do you ever eat at McDonalds?
No, I live in my 1977 Foamback Cagoule.
What do you get up to when you’re not working for Patagonia?
Family beach sessions and powder harvest fests.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Viva Los Funhogs!
(Editor’s note; when Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and his mates climbed Mount Fitzroy in 1968, the flag they unveiled on the summit read ‘Viva Los Funhogs’. We’ve got no idea what it means.)