Arc’teryx – Probably The Best Workplace In The World!
If James Bond needed skiing or climbing gear, let’s be honest, he’d get it from Arc’teryx. Arc’teryx are the brand with the newest fabrics, the cleanest cut designs and the achingly cool logo; they are the closest thing in the outdoor industry to a secret society. But while on the ground in Vancouver, Canada, I was lucky enough to get a peek inside their headquarters. I can tell you what I found, but then I’m going to have to kill you.
Vancouver’s North Shore, where mountains flank the ocean, is the place to be for people who want to play outside. Leaving the view behind, once you’re inside you realise that Arc’teryx is filled with people like that; the bike room is packed to the ceiling with road bikes, mountain bikes, commuter bikes and every variation thereof. There are pictures of employees out in the waters nearby, paddling and sailing. In the winter, Arc’teryx’s media manager Jo tells me, lunch breaks often turn into an opportunity to head up the nearest hill for a session on the ski slopes or a hike with snow shoes. And if it’s raining or snowing outside (this is Canada, after all), there’s an indoor bouldering room to get you away from the desk.
So it makes sense that every product they produce is tested by their staff, lovingly tweaked after being put through its paces. Anyone who has owned an Arc’teryx product will recognise the quality levels that the company achieves, and it all becomes clear once you realise that anything less than perfect will mean that designers have to answer to cold, wet or unhappy colleagues.
The second thing you realise about Arc’teryx is that their high standards in production can also be found in everything else they do. Want the best photography of your products? Build a photographic studio in house, and employ a top notch team. What about making sure the manufacturing’s up to scratch? Well, even in these outsourced days, Arc’teryx maintain a manufacturing site in Vancouver, allowing them to pilot new ideas quickly and enabling them to make sure that the most specialised jobs are done by those with the best craft skills. Even the IT system they use has been crafted to meet their precise needs. I find myself wondering if this is what it’s like within Apple: sure, the products aren’t the cheapest on the market, but everything is beautifully designed, and it just works.
Like Apple, Arc’teryx recognise and connect with their community, the people who are out at the crag, on the slopes or on the hills. The company are exploring how best to engage using social media, to share stories of their athletes, and have a direct connection with their users. And beyond the swishy website and the nice photos, Arc’teryx support a range of creative endeavours, such as The Season (previously reviewed here on Rock Climbing UK, currently midway through its second series), and the environmentally aware ski film from Sherpas Cinema, (worth checking out that jaw-dropping trailer below if you can spare six minutes).
The Season’s second series features a familiar mix of climbers, bikers and outdoors adventurers. One story is that of Thomasina Pidgeon. Canada’s top female boulderer, she lives an archetypal ‘dirtbag’ lifestyle, sleeping in her van, following the good weather around North America. But behind the stereotype, Thomasina is also mother to a cute five year old girl called Cedar, who travels with her. While the short films show her working on a problem in Squamish, BC (The Method), they also show that the mental skills Thomasina uses to unlock bouldering problems are also put to good use resolving how to balance her passion for climbing and her responsibility as a parent.
When I chatted to Laura, Arc’teryx’s athlete programme manager, she told me that Thomasina’s situation isn’t unusual: “We’ve got athletes who are parents, who have careers, who are science teachers. It’s all about working with people who connect with us, and who have great personalities”. Although Thomasina’s achievements dwarf anything I’m ever going to achieve on rock, Arc’teryx have deliberately chosen to work with athletes who have got more in common with the average weekend warriors, who have to juggle their other commitments to make time to be outside.
It’s clear to me, from even a short visit to their HQ, that it is the people within Arc’teryx that make it a special place to work. The whole building buzzes with enthusiasm for what they’re doing, and with that view from the car park, it’s no wonder they feel inspired to keep improving their tools for playing outdoors. Arc’teryx show that you don’t have to compromise your ethos to be successful, and that’s a gratifying lesson for anyone.
Big thanks to Jo Salamon and Laura Fergusson at Arc’teryx for showing me around and taking the time to chat with me, and to Jojo Cook at Soulsports for putting me in touch with them.