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Tim Bantle: Black Diamond's director of apparel draws inspiration from climbers, architecture and autos

Black Diamond's Tim Bantle talks about building an apparel line from the ground up.

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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

When Black Diamond set out to launch its first apparel line, it turned to Tim Bantle.

Tim Bantle was promoted to Black Diamond global brand manager.
Tim Bantle was promoted to Black Diamond global brand manager.

The technical apparel expert, hired in 2011, spent the prior seven years at Patagonia, working his way up from sales rep to product line manager to business unit director.

Unlike his work with Patagonia, at Black Diamond, Bantle got the rare design opportunity to walk up to a clear whiteboard and start from scratch with apparel, an incredible experience, he said.

At Summer Market, Bantle sees tighter outdoor apparel lineups — fewer in number, but higher in quality — and tells us what fabrics he’s on the hunt for to develop a new women’s climbing apparel collection for BD.

What are the top trends you’re seeing today in the design and apparel category?
It’s a pretty wild world out there and you can find a proof statement for just about any trend. I continue to see a movement toward a totally curated wardrobe. People are buying nicer products and fewer of them. At Black Diamond, we’re using outstanding materials and pursuing really clean design. For us, this is a perennial idea. It’s baked into our industrial design point of view as a brand. I can’t say that this is necessarily what is happening in the apparel category as a whole, where outlandish use of color or down market retail pricing have dominated the market for the last several years, but it’s right for us as a brand.

At Black Diamond, you created a whole new line of apparel from scratch. Was that easier or tougher than developing new pieces for an established player in the category?
There’s no better moment than walking up to a whiteboard with nothing on it. No baggage and no sales history. It’s an incredible feeling and a big responsibility to take one of the world’s strongest brands and put it in the apparel space. I started with our brand, our industrial design sensibilities as toolmakers, and the culture and sports of alpinism and rock climbing. In the end, I was simply trying answer this basic question — “How do we give a BD guy a new wardrobe?” The Spring 2014 collection is an attempt to distill down the essentials and overdose on quality. It’s really focused — and in that way it was way easier than managing an existing business.

Fashion and style are playing a much larger role in outdoor apparel. Can a brand create an innovative piece of apparel that is all about function and performance — style and fashion be dammed — or does everything today have to look good for the streets afterward?
That’s a good question. There is no doubt that fashion and style affect our industry and our thinking in product creation. People care a lot about what they look like and how they feel when they put on a product. We focus our time and attention on a clean point of view, super-functional fabrics and outstanding fit. Our point of view around clean design means that our product will get re-contextualized in urban environments all the time — and that’s great, but we’re not chasing trends. We’re simply trying to reflect our most important brand qualities in each product we bring to market.

What type of fabric/material characteristics are you on the hunt for at Summer Market? What do you want to see from the ingredient brands that maybe isn’t out there yet?
We’re in the middle of designing our first season of rock climbing clothing for women. We see this as an incredible opportunity for the brand. As we hone in on the needs of rock climbers — what we see is an incredible synergy of activities emerge. Rock climbing is supported by other activities like yoga, pilates, running and high-intensity training like Cross-Fit. Given that consideration, we’re on the hunt for high-performance technical knits at this show. With our timelines and field-testing requirements, we’ll be largely focused on Fall 2015 and beyond.

Other than the obvious outdoor or apparel fields, where are you drawing inspiration for design these days?
We pay a lot of attention to what’s happening in architecture and homeware. What are people surrounding themselves with? Where do they take shelter? How do they use the things they surround themselves with to express their values, their point of view, their in-born genetic code? We also tend to geek out on automotive design since it captures in a really unique and macro way the intersection of brand identity, function, technology, performance, innovation and material selection.