After five seasons in [R493R, Whistler], receiving a fashion degree and landing an internship at Arc’teryx, Tara Lathan is now a full-time designer with the Canadian company and a big part of the inspiration behind the new White Line. OnTheSnow’s Krista Crabtree caught up with Latham about design, who she’d invite to dinner and for a sneak peak at Arc'teryx's White Line.
Tara Lathan plays a vital role in creating many of Arc'teryx's award-winning products. Photo Courtesy of Arc'teryx.
Krista Crabtree: The story behind Arc'teryx's beginning is really cool—it was essentially a bunch of dirtbag climbers with big ideas. Has this attitude pervaded through the years and how does it effect what you do?
Tara Latham: Most of those “dirtbag climbers” still work at Arc’teryx. It’s not unusual to see people literally hanging from the rafters as they test product. Today, the Arc’teryx founding team is our mentors, they have a rich wealth of knowledge to pass on and that helps to guide the design team.
KC: Arc'teryx seems to have a unique business culture... that is to say that getting outside and really testing products is encouraged. How does this culture effect your innovation?
TL: We live and breathe what we design, so the snow sports team often gets out ski touring before going into the office. [The] Head office is nestled just below the North Shore Mountains [in Vancouver] so there is unlimited inspiration to be found in the backyard.
Likewise concept products are passed around among staff and our athletes and we all go skiing together. I like to hand someone a product and observe how they first react to it, how they put it on and, of course, how they ski in it. We chat about what we want out of our gear, what we like and dislike about what we have on; innovation comes from there.
KC: You have a background in design but it seems most of your education comes from on-the-job training. Is this true? What do you love and hate about your job?
TL: Arc’teryx has a unique way of doing things, so although a background in hands-on design helped me jump in, I’ve pretty much learned it all on the job. Being hands on means that we don’t sit at computers all day, we make patterns and sew and then try to wreck what we’ve sewn to test durability. It keeps it real and keeps us engaged in what we’re designing.
Sometimes this can feel like the long way around, but by going through the process of sewing something up I almost always discover something unintended, good or bad. The bad may stop the show but the good might create a whole new show.
The Aphix Hoody uses 80gr of Coreloft Insulation and retails for $249. Photo Courtesy of Arc'teryx.
KC: You have sited different inspirations for design from architecture to shapes of things in nature. What are your latest muses?
TL: In 2010, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Japan. Japanese design always seems to elevate in another solar system all together. The entire package is cohesive from product to website to retail space. The Tokyo design studio Nendo is in the spotlight right now. They create products and spaces that mess with your perception—like a chair or lamp that look like they’re floating or a shoe store space where all of the shoes on display are walking up stairs. It’s the minimalist discipline mixed with a sense of ingenious wonder that draws me in.
KC: What's the timeline of creating a jacket... from idea to an actual garment?
TL: We work on a yearly calendar which allows us to spend almost half of the year working on “blue sky” concepts; ideas that we feel strongly about but are not yet in the proposed product line. If we can prove them out to prototype stage, these ideas will be tested and incorporated into the line. The other half of the year we focus on getting the elected concepts ready for production.
KC: Who is your ideal consumer and what does the brand Arc'teryx mean to you?
TL: Our ideal customer for the White Line collection is someone who is about the entire skiing experience. They won’t let anything stop them from getting the best lines; not ropes at the resort, stormy conditions or ill-tempered gear. They need the best performance out of their gear, because they’ll be in it all day cat skiing or on a backcountry hut trip. Arc’teryx is about uncompromised strength, knowing you can trust what you’ve got on no matter where you go.
KC: If you could invite three people to dinner (from past or present) who you think would help inspire you in terms of design, who would they be?
TL: Can I invite someone from the future? Now that would really be an edge, being able to chat with that 11-year-old kid who is hucking hard now, when he’s 15 years older. Okay, Okay, I’ll play by the rules…
Marcel Duchamp – French artist during the Dadaist and Surrealist movements (early 1920’s). Even though he uses human subjects, his work appears to have an engineered approach. Using an array of mixed media from glass and wire to moving parts of a clock, his early works look more like complex plumbing apparatuses than life drawing.
Dieter Rams – German industrial designer for Braun in the 1960’s. He is famous for creating a set of 10 design principals, which he strictly adhered to throughout his career. During the design process we frequently reference Dieter Rams work and many of the designers have his principals posted in their workspaces.
Josh Dueck – Canadian sit-freeskier. To come back from a life-changing injury, which put him in a wheelchair, and continue to huck and ski hard is mind-blowing. What I think is so cool about Josh’s story is that he put in the time to master his sport racing GS and then changed the game by becoming the first big mountain sit-skier. He’s totally got it right, learn your trade inside and out, and then reinvent it.
The Modon Jacket uses two weights of Gore Pro 3L (the new wicked bomber N80p-x and the N70p). It retails for $699. Photo Courtesy of Arc'teryx.
KC: Can you tell me about Gore fabrics and technology that you use in snow sports apparel?
TL: We work very closely with Gore to develop new ideas for the snow sports market. One of our most successful fabrics in the White Line collection is GORE-TEX® Soft Shell. It has a soft backer for added warmth and comfort and just feels really great on.
Something new and cool is GORE-TEX® Active Shell. This is a super lightweight fabric that is extremely breathable. I often use my Alpha FL when touring, it keeps a perfect microclimate inside and blocks wind and snow.
KC: Gore's testing standards are renown. Can you speak to some of the specific tests Arc'teryx conducts so that you reach your high standards?
TL: I can’t be too specific about our methods, however, I can say we spend a great deal of time and resources in testing. Testing occurs at every level of product development from working closely with Gore in fiber, coating and fabric development to putting sample constructions through pull tests to having early prototypes on our athletes for extensive field-testing. At all levels we are going back, analyzing test data and looking for ways to improve the product.
KC: Can you comment on how high-tech fabrics and construction technology has really progressed over the years?
TL: It’s amazing that things like laminated soft-shell and sealed seams are now commonplace and used by virtually every sporting goods company. Consumers expect unparalleled performance out of their outerwear. Fabric mills are responding with fabrics that are more durable, breathable and waterproof. In these “lean” times it seems people are really looking for those items that will last them many seasons.
KC: Can you give a sneak peak to any new innovations that you've been working on for Arc'teryx?
TL: For the White Line collection we have been focusing on warmth and are introducing a line of insulated jackets and pants. These pieces are built just like our GORE-TEX® shells, with all the key features such as WaterTight® pit zips and our renowned Storm Hood™, but with insulation built in. It’s the best of both worlds, the durability and function of shell technology paired with our Coreloft™ technology making it one sweet package. If you’re standing on the top of a stormy peak you won’t want to be wearing anything else.