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June 30, 2019

The Swanndri shirt is a bit of a cult clothing item. You don’t see it being worn by climbers or hikers, but by people who work in the outdoors in all weathers, and fans of @raymears_woodlore, an article of clothing designed to last for years of tough and abusive love. I bought one nearly 30 years ago, when I worked for Survival Aids in London and liked it because it was kind of hardcore, and when you saw a Kiwi walking down Tottenham court road they’d give you a nod. When I worked for Survival Aids we were all obsessed with another NZ brand, Macpac, which for some reason you could only buy in the downstairs of a suitcase shop on Oxford Street. Like Swanndri, Macpac sacks seemed like they came from a different world, a tough and wet world where lesser kit, and lesser men, would just disintegrate. It’s sad then to see how these two great NZ brands have been gobbled up and Starbuckified, what made them unique, cultish, replaced by safe, bland conformity. Now, these two great Kiwi companies are no longer hardcore, but lifestyle brands, stuff designed not for the hardcore but the urban, your Swanndri pyjamas being labelled “Final construction in China to Swanndri NZ standards”, Macpac shops staffed by people who’ll tell you where the mirror is, but not the Iliac crest. I guess this is the commercial reality, that these brands got so big they had to move offshore, sell up, or go bust. Hardcore has a limited market, perhaps possibly served by a single person on a sewing machine (like Cactus, Buffalo, PHD or Aguille Alpine where you can hear the sewing machines zipping along). But in these days of consumption consciousness, I think it’s worth thinking a little more about the distance a product travels, how long it will last, the support of tiny companies whose hardcore qualities are real, not branding, the ones who keep local skills and talent from extinction. Yes, there is a place for Starbucks, no local companies can make hi-tech gear anymore, and all that junk we’ve bought has created a mind-boggling transfer of wealth and skills from West to East, but when it comes to hardcore gear it has to be small, local and exciting.

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