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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012: Project OR

Read our coverage and see pictures from the latest installment of Project OR, the 48-hour student design competition at Outdoor Retailer.

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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. 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.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

Day 1: Project OR offers glimpse into future

Outdoor Retailer provides a glimpse into the future of outdoor products, which makes it a perfect setting for Project OR, the 48-hour design-to-prototype competition.

Project OR is growing in popularity, said Director Eric Steele, and it really is a preview of outdoor apparel design, or rather the raw talent behind it. For Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012, Project OR, Cycle 9, five design students are charged with creating an outfit for cruiser cyclists in the Northwest.

“There’s a lot of growth for soft goods and lifestyle part of cycling and it just makes sense to include that,” Steele said.

Project OR was held every day in Meeting Room 155, booth 417, co-located with the Design Center. The final prototype presentation took place on Saturday, Aug. 4 at 2:30 p.m. Show goers could stop by any time to see the contestants’ progress and vote for their favorite designer.

Steele said that while Project OR always has boasted good energy, it’s even better given recent staff changes within the Outdoor Retailer marketing crew.

“I feel really positive about how much energy has been put into this Project OR,” Steele said. That enthusiasm and dedication kicked off the event Aug. 1 in the Design Center introducing the contestants and the competition sponsored by FabricLink and Project OR.

Steele said the contest has brought more attention to the Design Center, which is a show within a show. “Project OR really supports that platform of the Design Center, which is a show within a show on the supplier side of the show and that’s the important part.”

The five designers for Cycle 9 were: Abby Nurre, a junior at the University of Cincinnati; Jeannette Ray Sheridan, a junior at Framingham State University; Katy Jessee, a senior at Missouri State University; Kaylyn Smith, a junior at Baylor University; and Rachel Aihara, a junior at Polytechnic University Pomona.

The judges, all designers and trend forecasters in the outdoor industry, were: Annemarie Furey of Product Think Tank; Gregg Bagni, president of Alien Truth Communications; Haysun Hahn, trend forecaster and consultant with Fast Forward Trending; Jen Keesey, brand ambassador at RYZ; and Skip Yowell, founder of JanSport.

The winner received an all-expenses-paid trip to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 and a highlight article in Textile Insight. Even more of a prize, though, was the exposure to outdoor companies and vice versa.

“This is a great opportunity for people in the industry to see new talent before they get out of school,” Steele said. “If somebody is looking at recruiting somebody who is a junior with a lot of enthusiasm Project OR is the place to do it.”

–Ana Trujillo

Day 2: Project OR sees fruits of its labor

It seems Project OR finally is starting to get a bigger buzz around Outdoor Retailer.

The 48-hour design competition, now in it’s fifth year, is starting to see the fruits of its labor, and we don’t mean the just the kick-off event Thursday, which included fresh fruit and Italian sodas. Designers, both winners and participants alike, are starting to get hired at outdoor companies and write to staff, expressing what an invaluable experience the concept-to-prototype event was.

Margaret Mussman, winner of Project OR Cycle 8, said she earned a lifetime of bragging rights for winning the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market project. She’s back this time to mentor the latest five designers, who presented their concepts to judges yesterday, and to do some networking of her own.

Mussman is now an intern at Land’s End, and she’s set to graduate from the University of Cincinnati. Project OR has given her an abundance of confidence.

“Even before I came to [Outdoor Retailer] I knew I wanted to be in the outdoor apparel business,” Mussman said. But her time participating in last winter’s competition solidified her interest in making a career out of it. She promptly got an internship with Land’s End, where she has been designing women’s outerwear since June. “This is the place where I want to be.”

Jessica Walther, who was a contestant at Summer Market 2011’s Project OR competition, recently sent an email to Project OR Director Eric Steele thanking him for the experience and informing him that she’d landed a job at Tasc Performance.

“I know that my experience at project OR helped me get the job and for that I am forever grateful to you for creating such an amazing platform for young designers to showcase their talent,” Walther wrote. “I just finished designing the Tasc women’s line for Fall 2013 and am having so much fun.”

Though Steele knows it’s not only Project OR that leads to such great opportunities for the young designers, he still gets happy when they land jobs.

“Every time I hear of a designer getting a job, I get this warm feeling,” Steele said with a smile. Steele said the Outdoor Retailer marketing team is working on a “Where are they now?” video that highlights all the different designers who have gotten jobs designing in outdoor industry companies and beyond.

Mussman’s advice to the five designers who were working hard to create a cycling outfit for riders in the Northwest in their cubes at the Design Center, is to enjoy the experience and not take it too seriously.

“When it’s happy hour, get up, have a beer,” Mussman said. “Don’t take this experience for granted.”

–Ana Trujillo

Day 3: Stress less, design best

It seems that with every cycle of Project OR, the contestants are a little less stressed.

On Aug. 2, the five designers were fewer than 24 hours away from zero hour, but they were smiling, asking each other for advice and calmly working at their sewing machines.

“It’s pretty chill,” said contestant Jeannette Sheridan, who won the pre-contest concept design board competition. “All of us are just helping each other out and we’re all here to have fun. I love this show. It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced before.”

Just because Sheridan won the concept design board contest doesn’t necessarily mean she’s the one favored to win the entire design competition, which was shaping up to be the battle of the cycling jackets.

Project OR Director Eric Steele said the winner of the concept board contest is the one who best communicates what it is she wants to design, and for whom she’s designing her product.

Sheridan was designing a reflective cycling jacket for a fictitious woman named Dorothy, a yoga instructor who commutes via bicycle to teach her classes.

Fellow contestant Kaylyn Smith also was designing a jacket, but more of a loose-fitting number. She wasn’t panicked yet, she said, maybe that’s because it still felt like it was Day 1 of the competition.

“It still feels like Day 1 because I stayed here last night,” Smith said with a smile. But not to worry, she said, she’d been eating after stocking up on groceries and snacks prior to the competition so she wouldn’t have to leave her station.

Abby Nurre, who was designing a cycling jacket, said she, too, was feeling calm.

“I’m kind of worried that I’m not [stressed],” she said with a laugh. She said she’s probably doing well because her co-contestants are fabulous. “The group of girls that are here are not all about winning. We’re just about getting through it all and talking.”

Not only were the contestants more tranquil, but Steele also was more laid back about the competition, which was running like a well-oiled machine. On Aug. 1, Steele briefed the contestants before he headed over to the New Exhibitor Pavilion to check out new products.

“In previous years I’ve been all about the contest and haven’t left,” Steele said. But he said the contestants had their business under control so he decided to take a break from the Design Center and head out to the other areas of the show for a bit.

–Ana Trujillo

Day 4: Project OR picks winner

Grace under pressure: Katy Jesse, a Missouri State University senior, presents her winning design to judges of Project OR, which she won with a menswear-inspired jacket and capri pant with materials from Schoeller and Cordura.

Show time: Kaylyn Smith, student at Baylor University, talks through her style choices.

Lean on me: The five designers (from left to right): Rachel Aiharaa, Kaylyn Smith, Jeannette Sheridan, Katy Jesse and Abby Nurre.


Zero hour: The five contestants put the finishing touches on their concept boards in the minutes before their presentations.

Switch Swatch: Rachel Aiharaa makes color adjustments to her garment sketches.

–Photos by Christopher Reeves