Field Testing - Products with a Purpose



Photography by Chris Rollett 

Black Bear Brand’s connection with it’s makers is what drives the essence of the company. When creating a new product, we design with purpose. What we do is done by makers for makers. Our “Union of Makers.” consists of artists, builders, riders... makers of all talents. We focus on creating pragmatic products that meet the high quality standards that we require. This mountaineering project started with a passion for quality leather goods and the desire to work with some of the finest makers in the business. This all starts with Horween Leather and a goal to create something needed within our circle of makers.  Our lead influence in this project comes from Mountaineer and Tattoo Artist Alex Wigley, as well as a photographer Chris Rollett. With handrafted leather maker Colette Rymer, we created a Horween Leather field notebook, and 3 different camera straps. These pieces are a reflection of a shared mission to create products that reflect utilitarian style. The intention is in the details, to always serve a PURPOSE with pragmatism and refined tailoring. We took the collection for testing to the back country off the Coast Range of British Columbia. 
–Josh Sirlin

If you were to pick up a ski magazine and choose any story to read, you would find much of them are very similar. People have a great idea to ski something incredible, a plan is hatched and they go have an adventure.  Many will experience a mishap along the way, but if they fail, a lesson is often learned. When Black Bear Brand began this project, they did so with a much different approach than a back country skiing supplier would. The goal was to move into a different market and bring style and functionality without trying to re-invent the wheel.

While working as an ACMG Ski Guide, heli-skiing, and ski mountaineering, I’ve run the gambit just about every piece of gear in the industry.  It’s all made of nylon, it’s all bright and outdoorsy looking, and it all breaks. When I’m not moonlighting as a clean-cut, collared shirt ski guide for the rich, I work as a Tattoo Artist, which is how I met the guys at Black Bear Brand. During one of these meetings I proposed bringing something different to an industry and recreation that hasn’t really seen anything new for quite a while.

We brainstormed a great deal and decided to keep it simple. The idea, a Notebook Cover. This is the one piece of gear I use around 50 times a day, every day, and it always looks beaten, dirty, and boring. Functionality is obviously the most important thing, ease of use is also vital. How great would it be to have something that provides those things, but is also elegantly crafted while remaining nearly bomb proof during years of service? Wear and tear only adds to the appeal of an item like this. A mountaineering notebook is not just an accessory, it is a tool that aides to your survival in the mountains. The notebook will need to stand the test of time of being dragged against rock and ice, while having ice tools, and gear smashed against it.

We decided to head out to do a photo shoot where we would record ourselves climbing and skiing a massive line in the Coast Range of British Columbia. But just like so many stories you’ll read in the Magazines, the weather conditions seemed to be against us, making our plan much more difficult. With just enough time in the season left to get out for a good ski session, we headed out on a 20 degree Celsius day in the Spearhead Range for a classic ski touring loop. We climbed some ridge tops and skied some couloirs. While out, we were able to photograph our new Black Bear Brand notebook cover and use our Black Bear Brand camera straps; really testing what these new piece have to offer.

While on the Mountain testing the notebook, we planned our day and dug in the snow using the crystal that’s included with the notebook to make sure we were all kept safe. That is when we came to the realization that the notebook had already begun living up to the objective we’d set for it. The Black Bear Brand Mountaineering Notebook held up better than any nylon notebook I’ve ever used. I was blown away with how easily it had integrated into my daily routine on the mountain. It was then that I saw we had hit our goal. The goal was to create something that did exactly what we wanted it to, and did it with more style and ease than anything I’ve ever used in the past.

Between the hotter than usual weather and a cornice careening through the couloir, the day didn’t go exactly as planned, but when does it? Using this notebook we made sure that we stayed safe, even with an avalanche within our distance. It had recorded everything that we needed, and in the end, it was the process and journey we had originally planned for this notebook that made it so successful.
-Alex Wigley
Mountaineer/Tattoo Artist

Alex Wigley

  • Raced on the North American and World up Circuit, as well as prestigious races such as Pierra Menta.
  • Holds the world standard in remote speed traverses, clocking the McBride Traverse (typically a 7-9 day (traverse) in just over 18 hours. Approx 75km as the crow flies with 500m of climbing.
  • Multiple first decents, including not since repeated steep ski descents, and major ski descents in the Coast Range.
  • Canadian National Ski Mountaineering Team 2009-2012.
  • President of Horween Leather Co.

Skip Horween

“It is a very interesting time to be in the leather business. There are so many challenges, and so many opportunities. Horween Leather is fortunate to have a traditional line of American tanned products, still done the old fashioned way. One of the coolest things going right now is that we get to work on projects with people that share their vision of our leather shaped by their ideas and creativity. The resulting products have resonated very strongly with an increasingly educated consumer who want something genuine with a very real history. In late 2015 when I first spoke to Josh and he explained his ideas for the project and products done by Black Manufacturing’s Black Bear Brand, we decided this was very interesting and well worth pursuing. We are excited to be playing our small part in supplying him with great leathers.”

Josh SirlinComment