innov_ex 2010

I wrote the stuff below while I was at the conference. I sat with the page open and jotted down what struck me most, or what I though was an important point and pressed “update”.
It wasn’t as easy as I thought, and I don’t have any notes to go with it, so I’ve resisted changing the text from memory as more accurate information will be available from the innov_ex site anyway and it wouldn’t be as honest.
So, if it looks like song lyrics or a list of exclamations, that’s just how it came out as I typed.
I’ll be more prepared to blog it live next year next year.
I’ve got some further thoughts about the conference added on at the bottom as well.

The Conference

Phil Reeves

Talks about the impact of the supply chain/product lifecycle.

Every process, or materilas movement is a link in the chain, the lowest number they’ve they’ve found is four (a man making wooden sheds next to a forest!). Most are much greater, outdoor kit could be dozens of links.

Design changes that might make a lighter product will make more emissions as the changes are from raw materials up to delivery/recycling. The impact goes beyond raw materials, manufacturing process and weight for shipping, all of which are environmentally friendly.
Simplicity is good, from product to process.

The embodied energy (and therefore environmental impact) in a kilo of usable material, from being buried in the ground to being a finished item can be calculated. The information is there, but not necessarily available. One supplier (the worlds biggest) will not tell their customer (the worlds biggest), making it impossible for the company to calculate or act.

There is a limit to some of this, but the finishing process can be changed in various ways.
Old-school foundries are actually the most efficient processes, but it’s coupled with energy supply. If you’re burning fossil, then you have to add this on. Plus the national grid just bleeds power, making any gains marginal.

So why build a powerline from Beauly to Denny then?

One manufactured part is only 13% of its source material when machined, after the material been flown from Japan. Not all the surplus is re-used.
That’s just crazy.

Look beyond your own business to see the real impact, up and down the supply chain. That seem to be the way, companies talking to each other, isolation gets nothing done.

Mike Berners-Lee

Looking in depth at the carbon footprint of the industry.

There are guides there, the information is available. It goes beyond product as well.
Carbon generated from tourism, us going to the hills, the food we take and the fuel we burn, it’s all calculable.

I have to say that it makes the task look huge, too huge. I got this impression last year. Baby steps do nothing.


Toray live from Japan

UNIQLO (fashion brand, nice kit, google them) moved from fashion to outdoor and joined with Toray (Pertex’s arch enemy).

From a business model to #1 position and huge profits in ten years. Direction is different to competitors, value, less “fashion” dependant, usable designs. They sold 35 million fleeces in Japan one year. They used technical design and worked it into the gap between mass market and tech.

They constantly do a development “dance” between what’s needed and what’s possible. They can react quickly, this is important, it’s what we used to have when manufacturing was in the UK. Talking to Peter from Alpkit this morning they reckon they’re reaction time is super fast now.
UNIQLO have joint R&D with Toray, then dedicated production lines by Toray. This was “vertical integration”, but not financial arrangement, the two companies stayed separate but worked very closely. There’s alesson in that.
There are some information gaps in there though, but customer feedback does feedback to design, and again the reaction time brings updates into the market while they’re still relevant.

Where do they get the finances to innovate? Enough cash flow has to be available to make it happen, to take it from nothing to 35 million fleeces. But “lean manufacturing” is a factor, no pissing about, design, manufacture well with good components and sell.
Actual demand versus estimated demand too, get the numbers right and you’re a winner.
This concept could see an end to end of season sales, and some brands are like that now.

UNIQLO receipts have a recycle stamp, you can take them back to the shop for reuse (shipped to areas of global hardship) or recycle. Now moving further into recycling within Japan.
The return scheme in Japan doesn’t need commercial incentives, they do it because it’s “right”. We’d need a money of voucher here I think.

Clothing to create a body micro climate rather than using air-con and heating? That’s a Toray concept. Interesting.

Japanese retailers are clued up, different arrangement to the UK, they pick and chose, not such much we stock “A, B, and C”.

UNIQLO manufacturing is contracted out to Chinese factories, this might be a weak link as it’s passing on the responsibility, a little hands-off?

Jackie Seddon

From an eco innovation programme in NW England.

Turning economics and environmental issues into an opportunity. The next generation of business owners and customers have different views and needs.
The infrastructure is there, and change cold be grown, the old ways could be marginalized. But again, there will always be folk who will happily step in to keep the wheels of existing industry turning.
It’s possible, but it’s a battle.

One genius product she used is a cellulose washing sponge, no packaging at all and natural materials that break down after use. (Photie later)
A local company though it up and has made it, weighs F/A a couple of mm thick when dry. I want one to test…

European Outdoor Group

They admit that the outdoor industry is still young, unsophisticated, and not so communicative. Still a big outdoor activist element within the industry which is a huge bonus.
The image of being closer to nature leads to an expectation that being a reality (and we know not that’s not the case). They know this too.

So why is the industry not “sustainable”? The brands are all at the starting line waiting to see who moves first.
But they’re now talking, “SWG” the sustainability working group has brought brands together.
The ECO index is a scoring system, guidelines and results (they didn’t say who’s winning), but is accessible and easy to use. Get them in and then ramp up the commitment maybe?

Join us he says. Join Us…

Basically it’s a comprehensive top-to-bottom tick-list on how to get it right. In some ways it means there’s no excuse for companies to not to at least dip their toe into environmental waters. 300 companies involved at the moment. No I don’t know what ones.

 Good Q&A session right now. Too fast for me to write it up. There’s no blinkers here, the audience know there’s pie in the sky element and also that change is vital. Good stuff, catch it on the live streaming.


Ben Kellard

Works with brands, companies, bodies of all sizes and sorts, not just outdoor with Forum for the Future. They’re an independent charity which lets them say “You should do this” without fear of rocking any boats.

Again, the scale is overwhelming.

The chat at lunch was interesting. One manufacturer made a range of kit that was “sustainable” and it got buried on price. So, with fingers burned when will they do it again? When everyone else does.

Finding a balance between the minutiae and the whole thing in one go. Make sustainability manageable, and bring the customers in, it’s us that they’re making the product for, so fair enough I think.
I like the notion that getting the job done will draw on people as well as factories, talent, process, materials , they’re are all part of it.

“Define what good looks like”. If you (the brand) don’t define it for yourself, then someone else will and you’ll have to conform to their idea. Is that a call to get off your arse Mr Outdoor Industry?

We’re now doing a questionnaire on how sustainable we are. I’m doing my engineering for a contrast to the UK manufacturer in the next seat…

Fantastic discussion after the questionnaires.   

**the point above about clothes going to needy areas has an extra effect, local manufacturing is affected.
Everything has an effect.

Now live from Canada, Mountain Equipment Coop

10% of the Canadian population are members, you have to be a member to shop.
Their goals…
Get Canadians outdoors.
Then they’ll understand environmental concerns (and spend their money).
Support parks, access, participation.

They have ambition, they want the market, all of it, and are happy to say that, but they’re trying to do it ethically/sustainably.
They stuck solar panels in a new store which sells electricity to the national grid.  Genius.

He’s turned in a dalek. Satellite problems.

They “tax” themselves and spend the money on environmental issues. I get a refreshing impression of realism here, they see the environmental stuff as good and right, but also a way to profit.

They see the market as day trippers using technical kit. I wasn’t expecting that. You think Canadians are all in the wilderness at the weekend, no more it seems?

MEC’s “own brand” is doing well. Good fabrics and design at budget prices, I can see why it would. It’s not making many folk in this room very happy…

“eco” will sell, but it is overpriced, he said it.
The slight economic upturn is causing problems in China as they try to cope with the higher volume manufacturing.

“Folk want to collect stuff” Yes, thanks that what I said last year. It’s a huge factor on buying choices and habits.

“Know your customer, understand”.
I like that, don’t just give them what you think they should have. Are you listening UK?

They’ll take their biggest seller and work as many eco elements in as they can. But, he says “There is no such thing as a completely environmentally sustainable product”.

I think we’re getting the uncomfortable truth here.

The dalek bit was about packaging…

Roll up clothes up and pack them in a box rather than put them in individual poly bags. They’ve knocked out millions of poly bags from their supply chain.
In store some are displayed rolled and some are put on hangers.
I wonder what folk here would say about that in their local stores?

How do they talk to folk that shop on price and have to brand allegiance?

That was good stuff.

Answer to DavidG’s question…
“In an ideal world that would be what we’d do, it would make my life simpler”.

Innovation award incoming. It was a diverse group of ideas, but were unanimous after some discussion.

Last years winner Peter Dollman is speaking about his genius indoor ice tools which Alpkit took on board (now available).

And the winner is…

Veronica Legg for her genius womans winter climbing trousers with the She Wee compatible zip-fly.
Well done misses.

Closing remarks from Mary and Mike.


Thoughts from home, the day after

The speakers all conveyed vital information, just as they did last year, some of it presented for digestion, but this year there seemed to be more of an opportunity to react, giving the industry an invitation as it were.

The split within the manufacturers as to where to go (and in some cases, who to blame) seems as wide as the one I can see between some of the industry and it’s customers.
I can see from listening and talking to folk that some are still punters at heart, some are mad professors (oh, how we need these guys), and some see gear purchasers like they’re food.
I think the industry is indeed fragmented, as mentioned above, partly because the companies are so different in their outlook as to make a common approach unworkable unless it was imposed by government, international regulation or extreme circumstance.

The reaction to MEC was fascinating to watch, some folk merely had raised eyebrows, others were horrified.
One question directed to Canada was regarding the differing business types, that their co-op status allowed them to do what ever they wanted as they had no shareholders to satisfy. The reply was that no, they had to make the same profit as anyone else to make their business viable and allow growth, which they were doing quite happily.
There was no come-back to that.
I could see a can-do attitude coupled with free thinking that’s letting MEC eat up their home market.
To me they looked like Alpkit gone wild…

There is a frustration there from some companies, their desire for change is strong, but they’re all trying different methods to bring “eco” in and finding trouble.
One brand is now doing it under the wire, and expect see in a few years a Patagonia style environmentally watermark throughout the brand. Subtle, but in the fabric and without shouting about it on the way there.
I think that might be the future. Like MEC said, do what you can when you can, right now there’s no such thing as a 100% sustainable product, make the best of it. That’s the real world right there.

There was a closed-door discussion where the guests talked to each other as well as the chair. Some of the ideas thown up would horrify and amaze in equal measure, but it does show that they’re thinking. They aren’t fingers-in-ears, but the path isn’t clear enough for decisive action.


The winning design of womand winter climbing trousers with a She-Wee compatible zip-fly was a worthy winner, Veronica Legg brought a problem and a solution together. When you see something and think “Why didn’t someone do that before?”, that’s innovation. It doesn’t have to be an abstract concept pulled out of the air.
All the entries had a certain something and we (Graham Thompson from Trail, Chris Townsend from TGO and I were the judges with head judge and boffin Mark Pedley keeping us right) came down to three contenders, but the trousers were simple and the most complete as an idea and product.
After the success Peter Dollman has had with Alpkit, it’s good to know that more sharp people are around to join the industry and keep it moving in the years to come.


I felt less of an fifth columnist this year, I knew some folk this time, and funnily folk I didn’t know knew me too. I enjoyed meeting and greeting and chatting about the day’s topics and beyond, there’s a lot of clever and enthusiastic people in the trade. Not them all, I’m no’ daft.
Dinner the night before was a fine affair in good company, it was nice to get to know some familiar but as yet unkent faces, even a little contact forever changes your impression of someone. This is a good thing, the printed or pixellated page is never the whole story.