Words: Jakob Schiller
Ed Schmults, the CEO of Wild Things—an East Coast softgoods company—thinks the future of technical outerwear is customization. And he’s not just talking color. He thinks people should be able to pick a style of jacket and then choose everything from how many pockets it has to what kind of material it’s made of.
“Everyone is a little different when it comes to what they do, how they do it, and how their bodies respond in the outdoors,” he says. “Customization is perfect for this market.”
Certain sections of the garment industry have offered customization for a long time. You can design your own Nikes and people have been buying tailored suits for centuries. But when it comes to outdoor jackets, consumers have mostly been at the mercy of the companies and their designers.
At the moment, Wild Things (which is based in Rhode Island) offers three jackets consumers can build from the ground up—a soft shell, a puffy, and a fleece with Polartec Wind Pro. When consumers buy the soft shell they can choose from four different kinds of material for the jacket’s outer shell. They can also customize the material on the side panels, add a hood, customize the pockets, and choose the fabric and zipper colors. The puffy buyers can do many of the same things, plus choose the insulation weight they want.
Resort skiers might want the warmest insulation. People who spend more time in the backcountry can choose their insulation on how well it packs down and fits in their bag.
This fall, Wild Things plans to offer a customizable pack plus three more jackets, one of which will be a hard shell with several kinds of waterproof/breathable fabrics that people can mix and match.
“Some people choose a particular brand because they want a particular fashion designer’s eye,” says Schmults. “But for technical outerwear, it’s less about fashion and more about performance, and that’s what this kind of customization offers.”
Customization might sound like a branding gimmick but Schmults says the idea, and the jackets, are backed by more than three decades of experience. Wild Things was founded by John Bouchard and Marie-Odile Meunier, well-known alpine climbers. Over the decades the gear has been worn and tested by people like Will Steger, who was part of the first team to cross Antarctica on foot, and Mark Richey, who was part of the first ascent of India’s Saser Kangri II in 2011.
The company has also built technical gear for Navy Seals and Air Force Pararescue specialists since 1984. Now they provide gear for other branches of the military as well.
Ultimately, Schmults says, Wild Things wants to provide gear that has a wide audience. It can be worn by people who just want to spend a leisurely day skiing or by “those people who want to climb ledges at 25,000 feet or chase bad guys at 15,000 feet in Pakistan.”