Sunday, 24 February 2013

Ssshhhh! It's Top Secret...

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that Cotswolds put a post on their site asking for people to apply for a Gore Tex workshop and obviously, being the gear freak I am, I was quick to respond. Quite quickly I got a response with a couple of email addresses for a German based market research/innovation company called HYVE (pronounced Hive) who were running the workshop. They were looking for people interested in gear (check) and people who were out in all types of weather especially wet weather (check). After a couple of emails and a bit of a phone interview I received my official invitation. 
The workshop was held in Gores Livingston office, a recently modernised building which has been there for 20 years plus. The area that was used for the workshop was what I can only describe as a break out area. They look after themselves there too, coffee making machine (I assume for the long hours spent developing the shells we wear), soft drinks, bowls of fruit, biscuits and a later in the day plates full of muffins. On top of that lunch was provided in the canteen facilities with good old fashioned lentil soup and in honour of Burns night there was haggis, neeps and tatties. There was pasta for people not keen on the traditional dish. 

I arrived at Gore and was signed in and given my visitors pass. As I passed down the halls of the newly refurbished building I noticed the glass fronted cabinets containing examples of garments made from Gore fabrics from various well-known brands such as Norrana and The North Face also there is some water proof lumberjack looking, but probably trendy, jackets made for the Chinese market. 

Once I was in the main workshop arena the documents we were emailed which basically give the hosts the right to record both video and audio everything the participants of the workshop do and say. Also anything we all came up with was then theirs to do with as they wish and also we are not allowed to divulge anything that was discussed or written down on the day. The Gore Official Secrets Act is probably what it should be known as. I need to be careful what I include in this post or I fear a team of waterproof suited special force bursts in my house and drag me off to a really dry interrogation. 

There were 7 participants in the work shop, four members of staff from Gore and 6 from the market research company Hyve. There was quite an influx of people as the Hyve team had travelled from Munich, Germany. Also the Gore project leader, Birgit, had flown in from there too. Mary, originally from America, had come over from China. There was a broad range of experience and interests from the participants, fell runners, climbers, cyclists and hillwalkers. A couple of the guys take some of their experience from when they are walking their dogs in the adverse weather, something I never really considered but a very valid perspective I think. 

We had an informal introduction between ourselves and had a quick chat with the hosts and managed to break the ice before we moved to what would be our conference table for parts of the day. Obviously I topped up my Gore mug with my first caffeine charge. 

With everybody now around the table, and the safety exits and toilets pointed out, everyone from the Gore and Hyve team introduced themselves and the role they play in the workshop. Then it was the participants turn to do an official introduction. We were asked to bring our favourite jacket when we were given the invitation so included in our introduction we were to talk about the features and draw backs. The conclusion that I took from it was people just want their jacket to keep them dry and last a long time. One of the guys I think had the first Gore Tex jacket ever made! 

We headed back downstairs for another refreshment and we were split into groups to go through different stances where we chose what was important to us about fabric, make-up of jackets and cosmetics amongst other things. It was all recorded and there was a camera clicking over our shoulders throughout. 

After our Burns influenced lunch, the plan was to get back around the conference table and put pen to paper coming up with how we would see our perfect jackets would be put together. Our visions were captured by Sebastion from the Hyve team, who was a very talented sketch artist. When we were happy with the features we stood up in front of the group and presented our master pieces. There was a wide range of feature requirements. My idea was for a technical mountain jacket with a solid hood and features which revolved around long days on the hill and climbing. Everyone else had a hood but they preferred it to be stowed away in the collar predominantly. The features were all practical to the pursuits each of us undertakes. There were some similar ideas and a bit of design envy amongst participants. Maybe some of the ideas will end up on the market. 

With the factors each of us required from a jacket we were split up into small groups with participants of similar thoughts on outdoor gear. The big thing for me is functionality and ability to move in the garment. I was paired up with Gabriel, young climber, who had a similar thought process. The task was to take our prominent requirements and come up with a fictional individual who would also want the same characteristics and dream up a life surrounding it. All very Weird Science! There were no bras on our heads to make it clear! Each group did the same and each character seemed to evolve from someone or from similarities made to ourselves. All the other tasks I could see there benefit of taking information from but this one baffled me a little. I sure someone much smarter than me will take something productive from it. 

That brought the end of the workshop and as I am a gear geek I have to say I enjoyed it. The project, we were told, is in the very initial parts and the outcome will not be for a while, a couple of years probably. Between the Gore employees, the Hyve team and the participants I think I managed to speak to everyone. All were passionate to be involved in something that will aid outdoors people in the future.

This workshop reinforced to me why the variety of garments, not just jackets, exist on the market. There will never be one overriding jacket that will cover every activity and suit every consumer. Whether it is new ideas or new technologies in fabric, companies are trying to meet our requirements and needs. That may be to sell products and make money but they are going to do it anyway why shouldn't the Joe Bloggs end user be involved in the process. It will be us at the end of the day who will buy it. 

Before I post this I am looking out of my window to check for waterproof warriors. 

It's all clear!   *post*