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Gear 

Good Ugly

Is there beauty in the practical but ugly?

17 April 2021

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If you begin to sew your own kit, one thing you’ll soon discover - unless you’re a professional pattern maker - is due to your basic skills, space and machinery, you’ll be forced to make very simple products. This translates into very functional kit that is created in the simplest, most practical way you can (a skill in itself), so no fancy cut, no fancy tech construction (welded or bonded seams), just boxy and function.

Another factor is time, and you’ll find, if you want to recreate a factory-like product, make by skilled workers on $3.50 an hour, you’ll end up with a finished product that cost ten times the price of something you could buy in a shop. When making your gear you’ll discover that a lot of modern designs feature an incredible amount of complexity that serves no practical purpose, but is simply there to create a sexy product, to make something appear beautiful when you see it on a screen, or hanging on a hanger. Basically, the most practical kit looks ugly!

The combination of the need for robustness, quality, function but at the lowest cost possible, is one reason why I find the study of military clothing useful. No soldier walks through the stores with the quartermaster by their side, saying “Oh, I like that”, or “does that come in another colour?”. No, you produce an equipment solution that must work (and fit), potentially millions of men and women, from 16 stone SEALS to 6 stone admin staff, at the cheapest price possible. For an example of this, compare the US ECWCS level 7 jacket to the Arcteryx Dually belay parka. One costs $750, the other $150, one is very sexy, the other is not, yet in the field, as an insulating piece of functional clothing, would you really see a big difference? Really, the aim when making a functional piece of clothing is about doing the most with the least; the least number of seams, the least amount of fabric, and in the least amount of time and cost.

If you’re not doing this, and instead of aiming to make something as complex as possible, as expensive as possible, using the highest tech solutions you can find, then what you create may not be about giving power to the end-user, but about the power of the designer.

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