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Camping & Hiking

Sierra Designs scraps existing product lineup in reboot for 2014

SNEWS brings you an exclusive first look at the strategy behind Sierra Designs' upcoming remake of the 48-year-old brand.

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Sometimes it’s best to start with a clean slate.


That’s the thinking over at Sierra Designs, where officials gave SNEWS an exclusive sneak peek at a reboot of the brand with an entirely new team, philosophy and product lineup to debut at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.

This isn’t your typical rebranding.

Sierra Designs Vice President and Brand Manager Michael Glavin, who joined the company in 2012, is spearheading a complete redefinition and re-invention of the 48-year-old brand. That includes scrapping almost every existing product, even recent award-winners, and starting fresh for spring/summer 2014. In a bit of a Back-to-the-Future move, Sierra Designs will abandon the pack and lifestyle apparel categories to refocus on a small core of new backcountry sleeping bags, tents and apparel.

“We were given the carte blanche to do something great, and we didn’t take it lightly,” Glavin said. “Our vision is that our products can’t just be better, they also have to be different from anything else out there. Better isn’t good enough for specialty outdoor. Just being better isn’t fun. Different is fun.”

While Sierra Designs isn’t ready to unveil specific product details yet (check back with SNEWS before the show), Glavin noted the lineup includes “no traditional mummy bags, no double-walled domed tents, and different ways to dress in the rain.” Sierra Designs also will abandon all synthetic insulation, shifting solely to its water-resistant DriDown.

The initial style count for spring/summer 2014, to debut at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, will be half that of the previous season. The lineup will include an approximate total of 42 new styles for men and women with additional colors and sizes where applicable:

  • Three shelter/tents
  • Three sleeping bags
  • Three tops
  • Two to four bottoms
  • Three wind jackets
  • Three rain jackets
  • Three rain pants
  • Three insulation pieces

“The strategy was to make it a tight lineup, which will help our retailers sell the product in-store and online,” Glavin said. “We didn’t need to make it complicated. When there are too many choices, you’re forcing the customer to ask questions they don’t know the answers to.”

Sierra Designs is owned by American Rec, a collection of outdoor brands based in Boulder, Colo. that includes Kelty, Slumberjack, Isis and Ultimate Direction. Companywide, officials wanted to create greater separation between the brands, which had been drawing from much of the same talent pool within the company.

The first step was to separate the brands and give them their own leadership and design teams. Sierra Designs totals eight people now, including Glavin and Product Director Jim Trombly, both of whom previously worked at Cascade Designs. Joining them are Creative Director Martin Flora, Product Manager Casey Sumicht and Merchandiser Meredith Prentice.

“Even though Sierra Designs was a strong, profitable business, it wasn’t an inspirational brand leader any more,” Glavin said. “We were doing what everyone else was doing. So, we’re walking away from all that. There’s a new story to tell.”

They’re taking a risk, he admits. There have been plenty of recent high-profile reboots, from J.C. Penny to Windows 8, that haven’t exactly been a hit with consumers.

Being part of a larger company, with heritage brands like Kelty to hold down the fort, gives the new Sierra Designs the flexibility to set out and take some big chances, Glavin said. But “this isn’t a charity case,” he added. “There are financial objectives … we’re expected to grow sales. We’re expected be an industry leader again.”

–David Clucas