Peter Langmaid: The Early Years of Sierra Designs

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The Early Years by Peter Langmaid

Peter Langmaid

I met Bob and George in the mid-1960s at The Ski Hut, in Berkeley, CA. George ran the small manufacturing factory, Bob did the marketing. I was a sixteen-years-old high school student working part-time after school for gas money. When Bob and George left to start Sierra Designs, working at Sierra Designs became my part-time and summer job through college and beyond. In all, I spent thirty-five years in the specialty outdoor industry, half at SD and half managing product development for REI.

     Thinking back over all those years, the early days of Sierra Designs in Point Richmond, CA are the most  memorable. And what I remember most about those days is the joy of making things—taking a roll of fabric, zippers, thread, snaps, grommets, cord,  elastic, and a flat pattern and turning them into a 3-dimensional jacket, parka, tent, vest, or gaiter. My chores included setting snaps and grommets, cutting webbing, cord, Velcro and elastic, reinforcing stress points with bar tacks, shortening zippers, filling jackets and sleeping bags with goosedown, and inspecting each finished product for quality. I loved it all! For me, there's a deep soulfulness and intimacy in making 'things" that's absent from making plans, strategies, budgets, and managing people.  

&As much as I enjoyed making things, my favorite day of the week was Saturday. There was no production on Saturday, and we used the time to clean up and prepare for the upcoming week. Part of the weekly clean up was the dump run (this was way before dumpsters). During the week, all the debris from production—fabric scraps, cardboard boxes, burlaps sacks, paper, etc.–was tossed into the back yard. On Saturday, George would back his old Ford Econoline van up to the impossibly large pile and somehow we'd cram it all into the back of the van. We would then drive ten miles to the Berkeley dump by the side of San Francisco Bay, and throw it all out the back door amid swooping seagulls. Today, the former Berkeley dump is the beloved Caesar Chavez Park, where Berkeleyites go to walk the trails, play on the grass, and enjoy the 360 degree view—unaware that they're treading on the refuse from the birth of an industry.

Peter Langmaid

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Debbie Stoker Kelly (not verified)
Peter Langmaid: Shall we say,
Peter Langmaid: Shall we say, it has been a few years. I am in Oregon, still loving the out doors. And wondering about you. Haven’t seen or heard from ShAron Studebaker (surprise) in years. Talked with Randi on the phone last year. Would love to hear about you.

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Story Copyright
08/22/14