20 years of product development

20 years of product development

A milestone for many of us at Addnature came in 2007: Swedish brand Houdini launched its first 'circular' product, using recycled fibres from old textiles. Since 2001, the company has endeavoured to greatly minimise its carbon footprint. Their maximum experience, zero impact and 'beyond' philosophy already existed and they'd already started to work towards being completely circular. This year, they're 87% circular, aiming to reach 100% by 2022. This has, of course, affected product development over the years. Part of their philosophy is that a garment shouldn't only be durable, but also timeless – it should still be 'in', even as trends come and go. We love how several Houdini products look quite the same as they did 20 years ago. Jesper Danielsson, Head of Design and Product at Houdini, believes technological advances have been essential for product development: - Technology has helped us make quiet, flexible and comfortable garments that are tougher and last longer. Today our products meet the requirements for durability at half the weight they were 20 years ago. This technical development helps us to go back to our roots and create garments that deliver more, last longer and have minimal environmental impact. A perfect example of this is our 'Made-to-move' concept: easier recycling, better mobility, softer garments, greater durability and fewer weak points. Win-win-win.

In recent years, our rate of consumption has increased drastically. Houdini would like to slow this down. The average lifespan of a garment can be less than ten wears; the brand's now-iconic Power Houdi is worn on average over twelve-hundred times! The Power Houdi is a good example of a product that's hardly changed at all, yet continues to be relevant, despite having been in the company's range for many years. Since it was launched in 2003, the cuffs and thumb holes have been redesigned for more comfort, the hem is a few centimetres longer, and it's manufactured nearer to the consumer to reduce the carbon footprint. Otherwise, it's identical to the first Power Houdi. It is, therefore, the perfect manifestation of Houdini's motto: the goal isn't to be the latest and greatest, but rather never to get old.

"The end result is that it provides more creativity, more options and greater efficiency."

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On the material side, a lot has happened, and Jesper tells us about a particularly significant development: - Shell garments are designed for the convenience of the user, but they should also be kind to the planet. There's a growing understanding that we can no longer make our garments from 'junk' or chemicals that don't serve us well as individuals, nor the planet. Technical developments with wool have enabled us to create shell garments that offer great performance without damaging the environment. Therefore, the need for fluorocarbons in membranes and DWRs is gone. Using wool for base layers is a given, but the material has recently been reinvented for outer shells. That means no heavy, felty wool; this is light, comfortable, flexible and durable, with a water-repellent surface that regulates your body temperature. This specific material development itself is about understanding a fibre's full potential and bringing it to fruition. Wool can deliver above and beyond. Check out Houdini's Lana Shell and Desoli ranges, as well as the 'Houdini Menu' for clear examples of this. More and more people have begun to realise the importance of a future where technology and nature are in perfect symbiosis.

What about climbing then?

When we started in 2000, climbing was one of our most popular activities. It still is – but a lot has happened since. Climbing has gone from being a niche sport practised at the fringes of society to a mainstream activity that's constantly gaining popularity. Today, we find climbing gyms in the city centre and always meet new people at the crags. Undoubtedly this rise in popularity has affected the development of climbing products. Kolin Powick is the Category Director for climbing at Black Diamond. He previously worked as a manager in Quality Engineering, which means he's tested (and destroyed!) one or two products in his time and knows the whole QC process inside out. Interest in the outdoors has grown steadily among the general public over the past 20 years. How has it affected the development of climbing products?

- The growth of the outdoor consumer base has affected product development at both ends of the spectrum – from the entry-level new user to elite athletes. - As more new people join the scene, we need to ensure we're making products that make life easier. This means making these sports more approachable, safer and more affordable. By pushing the limits of technology at the professional end, the knowledge, manufacturing techniques and materials trickle down, ultimately resulting in better products for the new user. For Kolin, innovation has been the company's driving force for development. In his opinion, a major reason why so much has happened during these years is due to the competition that exists in the outdoor industry. More and more companies are coming up with innovative products and pushing the boundaries of materials, which means that everyone has to be at their best to keep up.

- Many advances have been made in materials, technology and manufacturing processes over the years. These have enabled us to develop new products and better ways of manufacturing existing products. Compare a harness from 20 years ago with a modern harness: the harness, or 'belay loop' as it is today, simply couldn't have been manufactured 20 years ago. But in my opinion, it's 3D printing that's revolutionised the manufacturing of climbing equipment. To come up with a concept, have one of the engineers model it and then 3D-print it overnight is incredible – we can have a physical test product in our hands within 24 hours. This has made it possible for engineers to trial different concepts at a much faster pace. What used to take weeks of prototyping at a high cost, often done externally, is now literally handled with one of our 3D printers.

Doing this, we can speed up our research and development process by producing a physical design before sending it to our machine shop to have a climbable test product manufactured. The result is more creativity, more options and more efficiency. We can't wait to see how we develop over the next 20 years. In our opinion, the most valuable development of the last few years is how more people explore and spend time in nature in different ways. Trends will continue to come and go, but our love for nature and our passion to inspire more people to discover it will always be there.

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