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April 16, 2016 4 min read

By: Tess Weaver Strokes
Images: Kate Holstein

This fall, Strafe Outerwear launches its brand-new Recon Pant and Jacket, marking the company’s foray into four-season apparel. The versatile kit was designed to fill a void Strafe founders John and Pete Gaston saw in the burgeoning light-and-fast market—a genre of skiing that’s grown leaps and bounds in terms of hardgoods, but still lags when it comes to apparel. “You’re stuck in these two camps,” says John. “The lycra-clad endurance camp and the freeride baggy, full Gore camp. Neither of those are what we believe you need for the type of skiing we do.”

That conundrum prompted the conceptualization of the Recon kit, which challenged Strafe to think outside the box and come up with a versatile product that can be used in a broad range of activity. Inspired by everything from surf hoodies to technical jackets, the team took a no-holds-barred approach in creating a minimal mountain apparel piece that excels in every season.

john gaston at desk

“When you take off restrictions, and you design something that’s not going to be your breadwinner, you can push yourself outside the comfort zone and design something a little riskier,” says John. That’s where the accidental designer gets the most reward. (The English major now knows more about color palettes, stitching and Adobe Illustrator than he ever imagined.)

“Those are the products that are closer to our personal passions,” says John. “Those are always going to be the most fun to work on.” But every piece starts out fun, says Strafe Merchandiser and Designer, Pia Halloran, who heads up the women’s product. “Everything starts out with an idea,” says Halloran. “It’s John and I are sitting around saying ‘oh it would be cool to do something like this…’ It’s Pete offering ideas on fit and construction. It’s a very open and collaborative process. We brainstorm, draw something up and come up with ideas. That’s the fun part, when you put pen to paper. Pretty much anything is possible.”

gaston brothers
design tools close-up

In the words of Halloran and Gaston, the design process looks something like this…

Design Brief
It’s time to define the concept. When you go to sketch out the product, you want to have a clear understanding of: target price, what activities the piece is for, materials, competitors, etc. Halloran’s fashion sense and retail buying background balance with John’s focus on functional details and field testing.

Concept Sketches
Halloran and Gaston draw a few versions of what the product might look like. The drawings are refined and presented to Strafe employees, after which one is either picked, or they start from scratch and come up with something new. You try different colorways. Once the front and back sketches are finalized, they move on to the interior sketches.

Tech Pack Development
A tech pack is an 8-10 page Illustrator file that includes all the technical details about the item. Basically, blueprints for the factory to make the garment. You’re visually and verbally calling out every detail, from the measurement points (up to 25) to the width of the Velcro on the cuff to the type of draw cord on the hood. If a picture is worth 1000 words, the tech pack is worth 100,000 words to the manufacturer. The tech pack includes the B.O.M. (bill of materials), an Excel file that calls out all the fabrics, snaps, zippers and trim details. The more info, the better the samples.

First Prototypes
It’s always fun and exciting when first protos come in because they’re truly bespoke. Pattern making is an artisanal craft, it’s time consuming and amazingly manual using paper patterns at this step and it’s generally accepted that the first round won’t be on point. They’ll use generic zippers and even generic fabric. This is the time to dial in the construction and the fit. There are usually two rounds of comments on first protos.

Second Prototypes
Bigger brands often go right from first prototypes to salesman samples. If your designs are similar to what you’ve created in the past, the second-proto step might be skipped. If the design is out-of-the-box, you anticipate a longer process. New construction techniques take more time to get right.

Salesman samples
These are the pieces you show to buyers, take to trade showers and seed to media. The goal is for these to be perfect in order to present to our customers but they seldom are. We are always making adjustments or improvements down to the last moment before production.

Pre-production Sample
These should be 99% accurate. These samples are like a contract with the factory that the quality level can’t dip below these pre-production samples. We make sure the base pattern is perfect.

Production
About a year and a half later, the product hits shelves and we all go skiing with our friends. For the STRAFE team a commercial product launch is cause for celebration, a great meal and a few too many drinks with the gang because heck we worked for it. We agonize over the details because we’re proud of the products we create and we want you to lend your trust to this process.

design graphics on computer

As for the future, John says he wants to create more pieces like the Recon. Though the heart of the brand will always be skiing, John but envisions the collection expanding into more summer activities.

“People were suspect of the Recon pant,” says John. But you can take this pant and tour for hours, come in and it’s dry in 20 minutes. I’ll be working at my desk hours later without changing—they’re that comfortable. If we can bring that to mountain biking, trail running and climbing, that would be a pretty worthwhile endeavor.”