As part of a larger learning expedition around the world, the responsible innovation tour aims at discovering and sharing the most inspiring innovations (and people who make it happen) that will shape the future. Everyone at AIR is invited to go out of the office and start its own tour.
During this summer 2014, Benjamin spent almost 6 weeks of immersion in the USA. The West Coast was the place. Most of the time has been spent in Oregon and California with few days in Salt Lake City.
Here is a overview of the key people Benjamin met on his way, the key places he will remember and some key trends to take away for future work.
Key people :
Most of the people I met on my way are either people who have been recommended by people I know or friends that I met in France / Europe. One of the first person I met in Portland is Anna Martens. Anna is the director of the FARM (Footwear Advanced Research and Marketing) at Amer Sports. She is based in Portland and works closely with the Footwear Team in Annecy. Anna shared her vision on the differences between the US outdoor culture and the European Outdoor Culture and the way it impacts the communication.
Another great person I met in Portland is Simon Lofts who was the former Sustainable Business and Innovation Director at Nike. Simon is the founder of the Re-use a shoe program at Nike. He is now developing his own business : HABU. In short, he is helping companies to move towards and thrive in the “Circular Economy”.
On my way along the Californian coast, I had the chance to stop in Ventura, at the Patagonia Campus. There I met and discuss with the whole environmental team about projects I’m leading in Europe (Footwear Recycling, OWL, Product Environmental Footprint). Among the team : Jill Dumain (25 years at Patagonia!), Todd Copeland (Strategic Environmental Materials Development), Cara Chacon (CSR Director), Nellie Cohen (Product Environmental Responsibility Analyst) and Elissa Loughman (Product Responsibility Manager). Thanks to Amber and Damien for the Patagonia Campus Tour ! To see the kinder garden, the organic cantine, the solar panels in the parking lots and the Tin Shed of Yvon Chouinard in reality is quite an unique experience.
Hal Arneson and his wife Darcy were also two very inspiring persons. Hal and Darcy currently live in Bend, Oregon. They spent some time in Portland working at Nau and before 21 years in Ventura working for Patagonia. Hal was THE creative director of Patagonia. Hal is now doing some freelance work for outdoor brands like Black Diamond.
Special thanks to… Mark McCambridge (Atlas Foto), on his way to be a very successful photographer ;-), Rachael and Alex Hamlin content manager at Black Diamond for showing me and sharing with me the great spots in Salt Lake City, which is not easy…
Key places :
There are some places that you remember. Those places that make you feel special :
– Outdoor Retailer Show : when you know ISPO (Munich), the Outdoor Retailer Show is nothing unique. It’s a rather classical fair. Not really well structured. On the top of that the Outdoor Industry in the US includes more activities than in Europe and add some confusion. As an example, fishing and hunting are the major outdoor activities in terms of participants. However, a cool atmosphere at the show is cool and friendly. I was amazed by the commitment of the brands to sell products at a fair prices and the money goes to NGOs or associations.
– Patagonia Campus : Nothing comparable with Patagonia Europe, the Patagonia campus in Ventura is really a special place. A place where there is a lot of life and activity beside work.
– Google Campus : at the opposite of Patagonia, it’s very difficult to evaluate the limit of the campus…the free google bikes is maybe the best way to go around…
– Mount Hood and the Timberline Lodge : definitely the 2 most important places in Oregon for the outdoor enthusiasts. The Mount Hood (stratovolcano) is the highest mountain is Oregon and also the second most climbed mountain in the world after the Fuji Yama. Built in the late 1930, The Timberline Lodge is the high class mountain lodge of the Mount Hood area. Climbers meet retired people. Snowboarders meet hikers going along the Pacific Crest Trail.
– Portland : besides the fact that Portland is one of the greenest city in the US, it’s also the current « outdoor and bike city » of the US. It is where most of the outdoor and bike brands are located in the US. If it’s not Boulder, Colorado then it’s Portland. Besides the big players like Columbia, Nike and Adidas US, small brands like Nau, Poler, Keen, are blooming. A local organization, Portland Athletic and Outdoor is currently doing a similar to the Outdoor Sports Valley to federate the outdoor industry.
Key trends :
Spending 6 weeks in one country is just enough time to get to know the culture and grab the trends. Here are the ones that I could highlight (might be really outdoor, nature, bike oriented…) :
– Local, Organic, Handcraft : 3 words that came back really often during the tour. Local food, local and organic beer/wine/cider, handcraft bags, etc. Both in Oregon and in north California, there is a strong desires to buy local, organic when possible and more and more we can feel the need to help local communities through the development of small businesses. To illustrate, local farmers markets are flourishing and artisans gather together in collaborative workplaces like Bean & Anchor.
– Bikes : Bikes are everywhere in Portland and developing fast in San Francisco. Bicycle tracks are getting common, cool coffee & bike shops are opening, small handmade bicycle companies are appearing on the market.
– Made in America : it was one of the very strong trend at the Outdoor Retailer Show, I could also verify it on the road. More and more brands are producing in the USA. Of course there are the traditional US brands like Pendleton, Woolrich, Danner, Filson, that are quite trendy now but new brands are emerging : Topo Design, Liberty Bottles, Iron & Resins, etc. Even REI, the largest outdoor retailer in the USA has a Made in USA section…
– New Outdoor Creativity : Well illustrated by the book the Outsiders (Gestalten), a new outdoor creative scene has emerged and draws inspiration from this development along with its original products, brands, and ideas. Brands like Poler Stuffs, Snow Peak, Nau, Topo Design illustrate quite well this trend.
– Sustainability –> Business : How to translate sustainability into business values ? this is one of the rising question in the outdoor industry but not only. Nike is great example of the current shift. To be convinced about it, check their last sustainability report. The B-Corp movement is also a visible demonstration of companies trying to use business as a force for good. More and more companies in the US are becoming B-Corp certified (in 2015 for AIR).