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The Darkroom: Built with Purpose

11.12.2015

He had dissected thousands of garments in his 30-plus years of gear making, but there was something special about that motorcycle jacket he’d just bought. The shape was perfect, and the sleeves, rather than flapping in the wind, held tight to his forearms. The fabric didn’t pull in the elbows or shoulders, and he stretched out over the handlebars unrestricted.

That got Sitka Product Design team member Richard Siberell thinking: Why not try a similar sleeve shape on a Sitka prototype? He stitched it up, put it on, and ran a few arrows through his recurve out behind his shop. The sleeves were perfectly symmetrical, but each acted differently. On the bow arm, the sleeve held tight, keeping well clear of the bowstring. On the release arm, however, the sleeve felt loose allowing the elbow and shoulder to settle effortlessly into the draw. The Athlete team confirmed his findings, and that motorcycle sleeve now appears on nearly every piece of Sitka outerwear.

Innovation in fit, features, and textiles can come from anywhere, even the motor sports world. But most of the advancements in technical clothing over the last few decades have come from mountaineering. To make a great ice climbing jacket, you have to understand the individual movements, the sequences in which they happen, the tools, and the dangers of climbing ice.

Sitka has borrowed heavily from the technical advancements in mountaineering apparel, but it would be pretty useless for us to just slap a camo pattern on climbing gear. Hunting requires completely different movements, different sequences, far more variation in output levels, and long stints of absolute stillness wholly unique to our pursuit.

And of course, a January duck hunt presents very different challenges to our design team than an August sheep hunt. So we confront every situation through a process we call “purpose-built design.”

Here’s how that process looked when building the 2015 Whitetail line.

“For Sitka, in whitetail, it was the bow hunter,” said Richard. “That means close proximity. The archery hunter is our pinnacle customer, and we had to consider what he needed first.”

So we asked ourselves: What does the archery hunter need? What kind of warmth? What equipment requires storage – reed calls, a range finder, binoculars? How about a way to hang his bow on his belt? What does he do with his gloves and facemask? How will he keep his fingers warm and dexterous? How quiet does he need to be? Those low-profile sleeves are great, but how can we improve them for this scenario?

We asked these questions of ourselves and of our Athletes in a wide range of situations in every condition imaginable, and over time, the answer began to take shape in the form of the Celsius Shacket. Combining the best elements of a pullover and a full-zip insulating jacket, it can be worn as either a mid or outer layer. When used as an outer the kangaroo pocket keeps hands close to your body for warmth, while the diagonal zipper lets you stack and shed layers without the big, location betraying movements necessitated by a pullover. The Shacket functions like a vest to keep your core warm, but even better the short sleeves prevent warm air from billowing out at your shoulders. And they eliminate noise from forearm movement and guarantee zero interference with your bowstring.

Or take the Fanatic Bibs for example.

“One of the features we put on it was this little tiny pocket on the inside of the pants leg. You can rest the tip of your trad bow there, so you don’t have to physically hold it the whole time you’re sitting in a tree stand,” said Richard. “It’s a super small feature built for a very specific purpose, and nobody besides a traditional whitetail deer hunter understands it.”

The principle of purpose-built design is applied to every piece in every discipline. But it goes deeper—into the very fabric.

Brad Yeomans has worked in the hunting and fishing industry for 17 years. With a degree in textile science, he’s something of an anomaly (did you even know such a degree existed?) and his vast and arcane knowledge is a huge part of Sitka’s success. One of the reasons Sitka has been so prolific in developing new textiles, he said, is that the fabric properties are driven by each piece’s specific needs.

While most clothing makers simply pick their fabrics from what’s available in a catalog, Sitka starts by defining what the fabric needs to accomplish. If no existing fabric meets the specifications – as is often the case – Sitka works with top textile developers to invent new ones.

Since we build in systems, every fabric we develop has to improve the functionality of every other piece. For background, a Sitka system at its most basic is composed of 1.) a moisture-wicking, odor-resistant next-to-skin layer, 2.) an insulation layer that traps heat, even when drenched, and 3.) an outer layer that seals out the elements, while still allowing excel heat and perspiration to escape.

When seeking a new fabric, we ask questions like how much moisture must be wicked per minute to keep a hunter comfortable and dry? How much heat can be allowed to transfer out of the microclimate? How much wind can be allowed to pass through the outer layer, how much water? How much heat and sweat must be able to escape?

“I would tell customers to try a single piece and evaluate it for what it is,” Brad said, “It will be the best in class as an individual product, but you won’t realize the true value of that one piece until you put it to the extremes and wear it with the rest of the system.”

So that’s purpose-built design in a nutshell. But ok, what does that really mean?

As a hunter, your energy and focus are finite. Shivering to warm your body, or sweating to cool it – that robs you of energy and blurs your focus. So does fighting with bunchy, heavy, restrictive, or bulky clothing. And so does reaching, rifling and panicking when you need some vital piece of equipment.

Our purpose is to make you as efficient as possible, preserving your energy and focus for the experiences that make hunting worthwhile. 

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