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IFTD Commentary: Gear Shows and Finding “the Core”

July 16, 2015 By: Marshall Cutchin

Yesterday at the ICAST/IFTD show in Orlando we had a fascinating conversation with Bart Bonime, director of fishing at Patagonia, about how the company spent 18 months setting and meeting a target for getting defects in the company’s waders as close to zero as possible.  It was a lesson in what a company can do when it pursues a goal relentlessly and with attention to the tiniest details (millimeters of fabric).  Working in multiple countries and only in factories that fit their broader standards for “green” and human labor standards adds a level of complexity not found in US-based manufacturing.  But Patagonia got it done.

We’ll cover the changes in Patagonia’s 2016 product line (including a slimmer fit and more generous articulation in the knees and other stress points) in more detail later, but as we wander the aisles of the show we wanted to comment on how important “stories” are in the way companies consider product changes. Most gear changes are incremental, as we all know. Sea changes in technology and inspirational design moments happen only every five or ten years. In between a fly fishing brand can either focus on what makes their brand distinctive and improve on the performance of current designs, or they can re-package, re-color, and re-market last year’s ideas. The temptation has to be pretty great.

To us the most interesting brands and products are the ones who are always going to their “core” for inspiration. Not their core of users, necessarily, but their core of ideals. It can a Ross reels talking about how “Rossy” a proposed real design is (which they are doing), it can be an ARC Fishing (started by two young guys who’ve known each other since middle school) managing to stay friends while coming up with a line that satisifies “99 percent” of fly fishers, it can be a Maven Fly saying “shrink it and pink it” is not the answer to designing fly fishing clothes for women, or it can be a hugely successful company like Patagonia saying “hold on, we can do better.” It can even be a group like AFFTA saying “Hey, you know, fly fishing really is part of the larger world of fishing and outdoor sports, and we should welcome the company.

The fly fishing industry sports a slimmer waistline each year. But as exhibitor numbers thin, the mood improves. We can’t say exactly why that is true, but we suspect it has something to do with the companies that are doing well feeling “closer to their core.” Conversations around products are more genuine. There’s less telling and more listening going on.

All of which promises better things in fly fishing gear.