Brand Names That Mean Something: The Best Active Gear And Clothing Comes From The Best Adventurers – Forbes

Royal Robbins

Royal and Liz Robbins at the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park in 1967.

I get pitches all the time from brand new outdoor and fitness clothing companies with made up names that sound like new models of Nissan or Toyota cars, and almost always, they are simply rehashing other products with little innovation other than slick marketing. But in several notable active clothing and gear cases, the name really does mean something.

I’m talking about the iconic outdoor and adventure companies that were started by actual adventurers, because the gear they needed just didn’t exist. Think about one of the most popular items in the American woman’s wardrobe today – jeans. Skinny or boot cut, designer or not, faded, dark, ripped or embroidered, we wouldn’t have any of these today had Levi Strauss not seen a need for gold miners to have durable work pants with riveted pockets. Denim may not be the active wear of choice today, but Strauss’ namesake company remains the best known and beloved jean brand on earth, a reputation it earned through innovation and quality.

In the fashion world, almost every great brand is associated with the designer who launched it, and if I needed a dress for the Oscars I might look for names like Versace, Dior or Armani. So when it comes to activewear, it’s worth remembering that Royal Robbins, Eddie Bauer and Helly Hansen were all real people who excelled at both outdoor activities and clothing breakthroughs – and in every case, there is an active woman behind the story. There’s also a Gore family behind W. L. Gore and Gore-Tex.

Robbins, who passed away earlier this year, was one of the true pioneers of American climbing and put up numerous first accents in Yosemite and later became an acclaimed kayaker. Always environmentally conscious, he was known as one of the leaders in the trend of “clean climbing,” removing protection as he went rather than drilling holes and putting permanent bolts into rock, a once common practice. But the clothing company that bears his name was his wife’s idea, and Liz Robbins is still involved with the management of his namesake outerwear company. She was the first woman to ascend the face of Half Dome, and the first woman to ascend a grade 6 climb anywhere in the world. She famously had the inspiration back in 1967 after a tourist snapped a photo of the two atop one of Yosemite’s most famous climbs, looking especially scraggly in cut-off jeans and sweaty t-shirts. As she later recalled, “When we got to the top of Half Dome, a tourist took our camera and agreed to take a photo of us as we stood there. When we looked at that picture, we said, maybe we’d better get in the clothing business.”

Royal Robbins

Clothes from Royal Robbins are now much more comfortable and travel and adventure appropriate.

After a pair of hiking boots Royal designed for a French company became a hit, the couple started importing heavy wool sweaters from England, which quickly became a Royal Robbins signature, and sweaters, hoodies, wraps and high-tech merino blends remain a mainstay of the women’s line today. The company makes a full range of high tech travel and active clothing for men and women, but in keeping with the early ethos of clean climbing, one of the signatures is a focus on environmental responsibility: wool from ethically raised sheep, bluesign® approved fabrics, plant-based fibers, or Tencels and Modals from sustainably-managed forests.

Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer (in hat) and Stine Bauer and friends.

Few in this country have done as much to change the way we enjoy the outdoors as Eddie Bauer, born on Washington’s Orcas Island in 1899. An avid outdoor adventurer from childhood he began working in hunting and sporting goods retail at age 13, and after a brush with death on a winter trip, Bauer down jacket design was the first one patented in 1940, and his brand soon became famous for down garments and sleeping bags that have created an industry-wide legacy of winter warmth we all still enjoy today, though now the company also offers guilt-free high-quality down alternatives like PrimaLoft Gold, a cruelty-free state of the art synthetic insulation used in several of the pieces from Bauer’s top shelf First Ascent line.

Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer’s BC Alpine Lite Jacket

After Bauer’s parka and pants combo became popular with Alaskan bush pilots, the US Army Air Forces hired him to design cold weather flight suits for pilots in the Japanese theater in WWII – Eddie Bauer’s logo was the first ever allowed on military clothing. After the war, the brand became the preferred gear of Himalayan climbers and is still the top choice for many alpinists today, such as Melissa Arnott, the American woman world record holder for Everest ascents. Eddie Bauer encompasses everything from very high performance, expedition worthy gear to active travel garments that look good, all at an attractive value proposition. In the past I’ve written about the cool ways you can design and order your own custom soft shell jackets online for a truly one of a kind look, and more recently I explained why the brand is a go-to choice for those headed on African safaris. From soft adventure to the cutting edge, day packs to rain gear, the Eddie Bauer line still lives up to its original reputation.


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