The Story of the Sierra Designs 60/40 Mountain Parka
Author George R. Marks was co-founder of Sierra Designs in 1965
Bob Swanson, (1933-2016) , my co-founder of Sierra Designs and later of The Walrus Tent Company, more than anyone else remains in my mind as the greatest innovator and contributor of outdoor products to the industry. With his passing in August of 2016, he shall be remembered for his abundant legacy among which is the Sierra Designs 60/40 Mountain Parka.
Bob’s career spanned more than fifty years. Starting with a brief time spent in Colorado with Alice and LeRoy Holubar (1). He then moved west to Berkeley California, where he took a job at The Ski Hut working for Allen Steck (2) manager and George Rudolf the owner (3). During his tenure he became experienced in catalog sales and to a large degree marketing, both of which he was able to expand upon after we began our company in October of 1965. He was also an active outdoor person and small boat sailor.
For the first six months we worked like maniacs developing one product after the other. This included a full line of sleeping bags, tents, packs, garments and a range of small accessories. Our first mountain parka was one for wind and rain as suggested by Doug Tompkins who was our first retail client (The North Face), using a fabric called Reevair which was supposed to breathe, something like Gortex to come, but not effective at all.
As best I recall, we received a bit later a visit from two representatives from the Arthur Kahn Company, Thor Gustafson, (1916-2015) vice president of the company and the young John Murphy (4) who is still active in the textile business today. As we were going through the sample swatches, Bob picked out almost at once the fabric they designated as one of 62% nylon and 38% cotton (or perhaps the reversed). He ordered some right away and later when he was writing the text for the catalog he rounded the numbers off to 60/40 and thus was born the name which continues to this day. The design construction of the fabric was actually done by John Murphy as was confirmed years later when I asked him about it.
By 1968 both 60/40 and Reevair parkas were in the catalog. However after a while it became clear that Reevair was just not working so it was dropped from the line. By the time we had relocated to Berkeley from Point Richmond, it was the leading sales garment in our line.
On one occasion we attended the National Sporting Goods Show in Chicago (Pre OR days) where we had taken a booth. On a brilliant suggestion from Bob, in the morning of each day of the show we arrived in force, all of the SD staff as well as the sales representatives dressed in orange 60/40 Mountain Parkas. It was pure theater and had a major impact on the attendees of the show, especially the buyers of all of the specialty retailers. The competition (mainly The North Face) were left with their jaws dropping as we marched in. You might ask Mark Erickson as I think I remember years later he told me of their reaction to this clever stun
In time the sales for the parka just kept going up and up.
With this success came the inevitable knock-offs. Leading them was one of the major garment companies, Woolrich (6).
To counter this shameless action by a company that really did not need this garment, having been so successful in their own right for more than 100 years, Bob designed a special lable for the parka, The Original 60/40. Those who were gear enthusiasts would have no other. There were others most of which can be seen if you go to Google and type in the key words, Sierra Designs 60/40 Mountain Parka or add Japan and the results are many.It seems the Japanese have embraced this garment ever since it appeared. They have also made many variations of the styling, much of which leaves a lot to be desired.
One of the features is a small flap at the top of the zipper. One day the sales manager told me of some complaints about the slider coming up to the chin and it was very cold. It took me about ten minutes to design this little flap and it solved the problem right away. To my astonishment this detail seems to appear in countless garments of all sizes, colors and prices throughout the garment industry up to and including to the present day.
As the years passed the garment was often seen being worn by celebraties, such as Robert DeNiro in The Deer Hunter, and Carl Sagan the cosmologist.
I even found one group of motorcyclists who use it as their uniform.
By 1983 Bob had left the company, disenchanted with the new owners, The CML Group. He spent a short time working with Bob Gilles in his company Shelter Systems. (5) But he became dissatisfied so as soon as he heard that I was leaving SD in late 1984 he asked me to join him in a new venture called Walrus Tents. We worked together for the next 13 years until the company was acquired by REI in Seattle. Bob moved along with all of the assets of the company to REI and stayed with them until the line was sold to MSR. After that the brand Walrus had just about dissapeared. Remarkably one can still find Walrus Tents being traded on eBay all the time.
It was at that time he left to take a position of design consultant for Big Agnes, where he spent the last ten years of his professional life
Catalog models: Image 1 - big image: George Marks; small image - ? & Phil Brown. Image 2 - Nick Lawrence, Bob Swanson(?), Jean Nagy. Image 3 - Bob Woodward founder of SNEWS
Index: Results of research on Google.
# 1 Alice and LeRoy Holubar
#2 Allen Steck
#3 George Rudolf
#4 John Murphy
#5 Bob Gilles Shelter Systems
# 6 Woolrich Company
Woolrich, Inc. is a United States clothing company based in Pennsylvania since 1830. Woolrich, Inc., founded in 1830 by John Rich and Daniel McCormick, is the oldest manufacturer of outdoor wear in the United States. The company was founded for the purpose of manufacturing fabric for the wives of hunters, loggers and trappers. Later, the company also outfitted clothing supplies to the American Civil War and Richard E. Byrd's 1939–1940 Antarctic expedition.
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