What was the motivation for establishing Brisbane Outdoor Gear?

During my studies at QUT (Industrial Design) I never really had any idea of what I wanted to do. It wasn't until my final two years that it dawned on me that I could combine my two passions of being outdoors and designing. After graduating, my fiancee and I headed to Canada with the sole intention of living life, while also searching for a design job for me. I really wanted to work in the hard goods department (designing tents, backpacks,& footwear, etc) of a leading outdoor gear company called Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). Unfortunately I never made it into the design department but did end up working for MEC in their retail store front.

Working for MEC really opened my eyes to a combination of issues that I believe catalysed my yearn for something better. MEC is a company that actively encourages their employees to get outdoors; heck they have a room full of gear that employees can borrow at any point, free of charge. They also are a company that actively try to protect the environment, by joining 1% for the planet, as well as starting thebigwild.org. As they are a not-for-profit they also donate huge chunks of their revenue to environmental and community causes. Working for this company made me realise that in Australia, not too many businesses do this, or if they do, are not very successful at it.

While I was in Canada I met two fantastic guys, Grant Wyllychuk and Jeff Hunt. They co-owned a business called ODI Gallery, while Grant also owned Ornamentum Furniture. These guys were down to earth, yet were very instrumental in encouraging me to start my own business. Their encouragements were from two opposite ends of the spectrum; Grant helped form more of my business orientations, while Jeff was more of an outdoors person, and helped prod, poke and question me on current outdoor products available, and whether they really were ground breaking.

My time in Canada came to an end, so we headed back to Australia, this time knowing that I had to get work experience. Somehow I managed to snare myself a job at Mountain Designs, under the wing of Luke Reynolds. Luke previously worked for Crumpler and managed to launch the brand and multiple shops over in Germany on a shoestring budget of $50,000. It is now a recognisable brand on the streets of Germany, which made me realise that big ideas can grow into big things with little budget.

And so, there was no real one set motivation for starting Brisbane Outdoor Gear, but rather a culmination of events that helped shape me, my ideals, and what I wanted to achieve.

Having designed hard goods for others in the past, how does working for your own brand compare?

Working on my own brand brings excessive amounts of freedom; there are no bosses or people breathing down your neck. Instead there are self imposed deadlines, and all the highs and lows that come with launching a product. Working on your own brand brings a whole plethora of emotions due to being in control of every aspect. Working for a company on the other hand you are in your own little bubble if you will. If a product fails at launch, it doesn't matter too much to you. What colour should that component be; red, blue... meh... how about black? You are protected in your bubble, knowing that you will still be getting a pay cheque and that if anything goes wrong most of the blame will be laid upon your superior. Stating it like this really makes me sound like I don't care when working for someone else, when in actual fact I do, but this is probably the best and clearest way for me to describe it.

Working on your own brand however brings a whole new level of seriousness and emotions. f a product fails at launch, what went wrong and why? Only you are to blame. There are no superiors, no marketing team, no one at all to back you up. Could you have done anything different? Colours and other little features that are seemingly unimportant take on a whole new realm of seriousness. You mull over all the little details while also staying in control of the big picture. And because of this you experience an emotional roller coaster. A product has launched and everyone loves it, you are on cloud 9. A test piece is returned with bad reviews, you are unbelievably down. Being like this I think is due to the fact that you know what you have done, and what you can achieve as you have already experienced cloud 9. You are in control, and you know that you could have done better. But it is all a learning curve, and you move on.

The hours are long, the stress is high, and the lows are gut wrenching. But I wouldn't change it; cloud 9, when it rolls in makes everything worthwhile.

Your brand values the use of reclaimed materials in its designs, do you feel that cyclists are empathic to your values?

As a generalisation, yes, I do feel that cyclists are empathic to BO Gear's values. That being said, the fixed gear movement in particular does have a few "hipsters" who are only interested in the latest fashions and trends, and probably wouldn't care about recycled or reclaimed materials. The trick here as a brand is to both educate and provide a product that is highly functional and long lasting, so that reclaimed and recycled almost becomes a non-issue.

Despite cyclists being empathic to the use of reclaimed materials, if a reclaimed bag were only to last one year they would soon go off and buy a virgin bag. So the trick is to balance many plates; how can you increase the use of reclaimed materials, while also making as durable and long lasting a product as possible.

What else do you feels draws people to your brand?

I think the tongue in cheek and silly nature of BOgear encourages people to just love life. We have named our products ridiculously stupid names; how about Elephantitus for the biggest bag, or Babycandy for the smallest baby of the bag series. We want to have fun with what we are doing, and try to instill this into our products, our brand, and our ethos.

We also take the time to listen to people. We are not big, and so if you send us an email or give us a call, the person on the other end is both designing and manufacturing your product. Suggestions and alterations are not taken lightly. People use our products and know that we are both listening and learning, keen to always do better.

What steps do you take in designing a new piece of apparel?

Our process is a bit mish-mashed, as we are always working on equipment, regardless of whether it is on the market or not. We are always trying to improve the equipment, providing features and benefits needed, while also finding ways to increase our reclaimed material content. That being said, in designing a new piece we generally take the following approach (not necessarily in this order):

1. Research.
What is on the market and why? Who uses it, and what do they think about it? What features do they like, and dislike? What can we do to improve? What are the options open to us to provide an alternative that is both more functional and uses reclaimed material?

2. Ideas.
Sketch, sketch, sketch. All of the BOcrew carry a sketch book in which we write down ideas as they occur. It may not even be to do with a design at that moment, but can be used at a later date. The way a leaf touches the ground may inspire a tent idea, which in turn may inspire the way a bag should sit on a back.

3. Rough mock up.
Create a rough example of the product. Use 100% reclaimed materials for this one. Use old newspaper for patterns and off cuts for bag panels. Lets see the form.

4. So the form is feasible?
Create a proper prototype. Use as much reclaimed material as possible.

5. Test and dirtify.
Give to someone to kick around for five weeks. Alternatively give it to a courier; those boys dirtify their gear daily. Their bags are in use for ten hours a day seven days a week; some don't even have cars and so their bag is their boot. If you don't find any wear, then that is fantastic because six months on a courier's back is equivalent to three years on someone else.

6. Review and refine.
What broke on the prototype? How can we make this better?

7. Release product to the AbuserTeam.

The AbuserTeam is a bunch of like minded individuals from a wide variety of places. Some are couriers and use the equipment daily, others are recreational cyclists, while others deal with marketing and distribution and give feedback on the viability of the design in the current market.

8. Gather real world feedback.
Collect and collate the feedback from the AbuserTeam. Is the idea viable? If so, go forth and conquer!

9. Release to the market.

10. Repeat as necessary!

Why design for cyclists?

Simply, cycling was the easiest "in" for me to start a business. I have cycled all my life and was surrounded by bikes and cycling friends; as such it was easy to get critical feedback early and collaboratively design and develop a product and brand. Cycling also represents a growing trend given the current environmental and economic situation, and as such was viewed as a logical choice.

Being surrounded by a very supportive cycling community has allowed me to develop products that are needed, wanted and useful. I also believe that cyclists like rock climbers are very supportive of the small backyard business and have embraced BOgear with open arms. It is my plan that as we grow we stay true to our roots so that the cycling community still feels supportive of us.

Who knows what the future holds, but there are already ideas for other non-cycling products!

How do you spend your working day?

Part of BOgear's philosophy is to give back to the community. As we are small we cannot afford to give anything substantial monetary wise. Instead we have taken ownership of a Guide Dog puppy in training. She is a black Labrador, called Helen. We will look after her for a year, socialise her, give her basic obedience training and then hand her back to GDQ. After a further six to eight months training she will then be handed over to a client, giving them freedom. This is just the beginning of how we will give back to the community.

So what does this have to do with the question? Well, Helen happens to be the official BOgear time keeper. She decides when work starts, and decides when it is time for food, pee, lick or play breaks. Jokes aside, my work day starts at 7am, and can run through to 11pm or 12am. They are long hours, but it is what needs to be done to get everything done when there is a four legged alarm clock constantly changing your plans every 2 hours.

During this workday, considerable time is spent replying to enquiries, answering emails, and planning for the future. I usually spend three to four hours sewing to keep stock supplies up, and on top of that spend another three hours or more completing orders. It is getting increasingly hard to work on new ideas while also filling current orders, so we are working on ways get things rolling smoother.

In reality there is no set "working day", but rather a pile of tasks that get completed around our furry friend's moods.

How would those closest to you describe your work?

Most of my close friends are also mad keen outdoors nuts, and so they describe my work as something along the lines of "an endless supply of tester gear!"

What is your favourite activity outside of work?

Physical work for me is designing and sewing cycling related products. As such work also encompasses riding my bike as well as meeting fellow cycling buddies for regular rides and polo games. Outside the cycling genre my favourite activity would be rock climbing or hiking or camping. In reality, I have been bitten by the outdoor bug and as such anything outdoors tickles my fancy!

Tell me about your history with track bikes.

My history with track bikes is next to none, but my history with street inspired fixed gear bikes is longer. During my year in Canada I saw many a courier riding around and having serious amounts of fun on such a steed. Coming from a mountain bike background I was always against road bikes, yet here were a bunch of dudes having loads of fun on narrow wheels!

Coming back to Australia I managed to convince my brother to build up a ride (mainly because I was broke!) and stole his bike regularly. I found I was soon bitten by the fixed bug and have not looked back since. It is amazing to see this is the same with a lot of people as the fixed gear community is regularly expanding!

How would those closest to you describe your passion for cycling?

Something along the lines of "Give him a polo mallet and he will be fine". Yeah, I like bike polo.

Tell me about your bike.

My bike is a mash together of leftover components. It is a 27 inch frame with 700c wheels. It looks like arse yet is a lot of fun to ride. The wide wheel base gives no toe overlap and plenty of room to chuck a mallet and ball underneath. It is the perfect polo steed, yet I use it for everything. It is scratched and dinged. The brakes rub, and the wheels aren't true. The seat rails are bent and the grips are tattered. But it has character and life, and it also fills me with lots of happiness. Me and my bike should get a room.

How do you use your bike?

I used to use the bike daily as my commuter. Having Helen in my life however means I no longer can ride as much as I would like. So it is now my polo bike. It gets thrown around, dropped, kicked, hit, and run in to by other bikes. It really gets used and isn't handled with kid gloves.

Your biggest thrill?

My biggest thrill would have to have been a back country alpine hike in Canada with ;a close Kiwi mate, Mike, and two other Canadians. It was to be my last hike before heading back to Australia, and as such the boys agreed to go on an adventure that I had been planning for a long time. To cut a long story short, it involved hiking in early January snow along a valley, and then bagging a series of peaks visible from downtown Vancouver.

Our map was way inaccurate and saw us self-arresting down 50 degree slopes (that apparently didn't exist), and racing up inclines before snow softened too much to cause avalanches. The sound of our ice axes plunging through ever softening snow, then reaching a bubble of air, and then back to hard pack will never leave me - It is the sound of snow that will soon soften enough to be in an avalanche. I'm telling the story, so we obviously made it back - It really was epic.

Your biggest spill?

During grade eleven at a mountain bike race. Four of us on a BMX track; came out of a berm way ahead of the competition. Hit the tabletop with serious amounts of speed. Incorrectly judged the jump and landing. Planned to land on the down slope but ended up over shooting it. Somehow I managed to land on my front wheel in a parody of an endo. Arse over tit and I was knocked out cold. I still have a scar on my right elbow from that crash! Still scared shitless of dirt jumps!

Brakes, or no brakes?

Brakes all the way. Be a Boy Scout and be prepared.

Fin.

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