An interview with Black Diamond Apparel Director Tim Bantle

With the big launch of Black Diamond Apparel upon us — seriously, click that link, it’s starting to arrive — we thought it would be interesting to sit down with one of the folks responsible for designing and building these jackets. In the outdoor industry it can be tough to make that happen at the end of summer, with Rock/Creek and Black Diamond staff alike out chasing the last warm temps of the year, but we were able to chase down the one and only Tim Bantle.

Tim is the Apparel Director for BD. That means the new Black Diamond Clothing line is his baby, and he’s overseen the entire process from original concepts and designs to final product and every step of testing and refinement along the way. We asked him some questions, and here’s what he had to say!

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Rock/Creek: One thing we really like here at Rock/Creek is the narrow focus of this initial offering — it seems like you set out with a specific idea about what pieces you wanted to design. Is that born from Black Diamond’s athletes and staff coming back from skiing or climbing and recognizing a need for a kind of jacket that didn’t yet exist, or a specific need for a piece with certain features?

Tim Bantle: “I walked over to KP (Kolin Powick) our Director of Quality here at BD and asked him “What do you think we ought to build this first year?” He said, ‘Stretch Pants and Puffy coats. That all you really need, right?’ And I said, ‘That’s what I was thinking too.’ So that’s what we made for this first fall season.

“Well, sort of. . . .

“Truth is, we really think about product through an industrial-design mindset. What is the end use? What problem are we trying to solve? What are the material technologies we want to work with? We’re a climbing and backcountry skiing company at our core, so we really started there in terms of thinking about Fall 2013.

“I don’t think there is a more loved fabric on the planet for climbers and backcountry skiers than Schoeller®. So, for us, partnering up with these guys for our first season just made sense. We helped introduce Schoeller® to North America over a decade ago with iconic products like the B.D.V. (Black Diamond Vertical) Pants and Alpine Shirt and Pants. In our first season, we re-awakened this incredible partnership.

“We really believe that Schoeller® engineers textiles the way we engineer equipment. Almost no one in the space is using Schoeller®, so we decided to work with them to deploy some of their best new textiles in silhouettes we could use every day climbing and skiing. That’s how the Dawn Patrol™ collection was born.”

 

R/C: Everything here is an athletic cut, breathable, lightweight — lots of light insulation and softshells. In that light, who are these Black Diamond jackets for? Who do you feel are the outdoor enthusiasts that will look up and say “that’s exactly what I need for that next trip I’m planning?”

Tim: “This collection was built around the needs of our core customer. If you are an alpinist or backcountry skier, you’re going to find a bunch of new pieces in the Fall 2013 line that will become a cornerstone of your kit. For fun, we tucked away a few pieces in this collection that you’ll wear everyday too.

“Introducing an entire series featuring Nanosphere® Technology was really exciting. Nanoshpere® is a technical finish that allows your clothes to resist oil, dirt and water. It has a natural self-cleaning property and it’s incredibly long-lasting and durable. Essentially, it makes all of your clothing wear and perform better. That’s something I think everyone will appreciate.”

 

R/C: Walk me through the BD design process a little bit. When did you start working on initial designs for an apparel launch? How many prototypes or design iterations did it take to go from initial concept(s) to actually bringing a new line of jackets to the world?

Tim: “It takes about two years to go from concept to production. I joined Black Diamond just over two and half years ago. After landing here, my first goal was to find someone who could design, develop, pattern and prototype technical and innovative products.

“I wanted to be able to build each of our products from the ground up and control every nuance from fit to finish. Cheryl Knopp, our lead designer for this collection, was absolutely incredible. Together, we were able to build from scratch. This collection was literally built piece by piece.

“Next, I needed to find a materials engineer. We were really fortunate to be able to recruit Jeff Nash to join us here at Black Diamond. Jeff is one of the most knowledgeable engineers in the world when it comes to textiles and the global supply chain. After that, we needed to find a factory partner that could build products to our exacting standards.

“I’ve yet to find a great new product concept that can be executed in less than seven tries. And that’s what it took to get our first season just right.”

 

R/C: Can you talk a little about the decision to go with super high-end Schoeller fabrics for the Dawn Patrol softshell jackets? I love that “Dawn Patrol” concept, by the way, being a term usually associated with surfing but used here in reference to skiing.

Tim: “For us, Dawn Patrol™ is getting out early before work for a climb, ski or run. Dawn Patrol™ is the proving ground for new product ideas and for our extensive field testing process. The really cool thing about Black Diamond apparel is that we get to draft on the incredible field-testing process that has already been developed here to prove out new climbing and skiing products. We’re actively testing in real time; validating fit, materials, and features. I’m pretty sure we’ve got the fastest and most comprehensive field-test feedback looping in the industry.

“What that means is that we can evolve an idea quickly. This notion of Use.Design.Engineer.Build.Repeat. has been the underlying process driving product creation here at BD for decades. We’re putting our apparel through that same process, and it’s yielding some legitimately great products.”

 

R/C: What’s next for Black Diamond clothing?

Tim: “We’ll be rolling out new technology platforms with a seasonal focus for the first six seasons. Each season there will be something totally new from Black Diamond. Spring 2014 is all about summer alpinism and rock climbing. In Spring 2014, we’re essentially going to give the BD guy a new wardrobe.

“We’re also putting the finishing touches on Fall 2014 right now. This will feature a complete collection of women’s jackets. If making clothes for guys the way we do it takes 120% effort, then getting it right for women takes a 300% effort. We held off for one winter to make sure we could do a great job on our women’s apparel launch.

“Each season we’ll have something new for many years to come. It’s actually hard to believe that we’re just getting started.”

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