Arc’teryx prides itself on living in—and creating for—the mountain environment. Based in the Coast Mountains of North Vancouver, B.C., since 1989, Arc’teryx now has an additional home, this for footwear. And in Portland, arguably the global capital of performance footwear and only 300 miles from Arc’teryx headquarters.
While Arc’teryx has had footwear in its catalog for years, by opening a Portland office solely focused on the category, the brand aims to create new mountain-ready offerings and craft footwear silhouettes that become as iconic as the Alpha jacket.
“What is drastically different this time is the amount of resources and investment we are putting behind footwear and the focus,” says Ovidio Garcia, Arc’teryx vice-president of footwear. “Our design declaration is the same, but there is more emphasis and more focus.”
The Portland Arc’teryx office opened in temporary space in 2021. Now with five veterans of the footwear industry—the Portland area is home to a who’s who of footwear brands and ancillary resources—and still growing, the brand is currently building out 8,800 square feet of space with the help of Skylab Architecture in the northwest Portland Slabtown neighborhood walking distance to its flagship store and 5,200-acre Forest Park.
Garcia says the resources available in Portland, from biomechanics to design to contractors, allows Arc’teryx to tap into the knowledge available while working with experts at the North Vancouver headquarters’ advanced concepts department, allowing the brand to build its muscle of footwear knowledge and expertise.
Katie Becker, chief creative officer, sees footwear as a new anchor for the company, especially as it becomes a 365-days-per-year brand.
The Portland-based footwear creators have spent time in Portland and North Vancouver, learning the ethos of Arc’teryx and sharing a fresh perspective on everything from materials to process. “It has been fun,” says Dylan Petrenka, director, global footwear design, “there has been a micro and macro energy where we are focused what we can do today and thinking long-term what’s the vision that is going to take us to the next five years and 10 years.”
With the new focus, Garcia says that initially the Arc’teryx footwear line won’t expand, it will contract “to define what we stand for as a brand.”
The goal of Arc’teryx is to look and feel different in the outdoor space, bringing together a “very aesthetically beautiful and functional product.” The footwear will take cues from the brand’s design, separating itself from the previous offerings created with the help of sister brand Solomon. “When you walk into our stores or go into our online portal, it will be easy to see what we stand for and what we are solving for,” Garcia says.
From the climb approach to a true mountaineering ascent, the brand’s athlete lives and performs in the mountains, so designers will obsess high-performance needs. “We are going to be very specific to that core athlete,” Garcia says, “and then halo into trail running and hiking. The main focus is on that climb environment.”
Zeroing in on the mountain can mean a lot of different things. It could be a seven-hour mission. It could be 20 hours. It could be a mix of extreme vertical terrain, or a day spent largely on trails, mixed with craggy rockfaces. “We want to look at the entire mountain environment,” Garcia says. “There is a long path to get to a destination and in the Coast Mountains, it is rugged terrain that is not as accessible. You do a lot of activities within that moment.”
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Abby Bruning, director, global footwear creative, says this 360-degree view on the core mountain athlete defines product. “The problems athletes are encountering have changed and the industry has not changed,” she says. “We are finding the needs they have are underserved.”
That means rethinking every detail, says Pam McNelis, senior director, global footwear development. Already the design team is discovering the modifications and fixes athletes make on their own and look to create a new range of footwear that fits those athletes.
“We know there is a better way, especially for this athlete,” Bruning says.
None of the Arc’teryx plans work without buy-in from athletes and consumers. Along with the cadre of athletes constantly sharing feedback, the brand has a new product testing program based in the Coast Mountains. Bruning says the constant athlete interaction—from Instagram DMs with photos of footwear after a race to messages of feedback—and the help they desire is both “unique and beautiful.”
Adam Campbell, professional mountain runner, world champion medalist and Arc’teryx athlete since 2007, now lives in Squamish, B.C., and will head the product testing team. His job is to explain his playground and pass along his needs, letting the designers then get to work.
Having the opportunity to collaborate one-on-one with designers is a cool part of the partnership for athletes, says Eric Carter, professional mountain runner, a U.S National Ski Mountaineering team member and holder of multiple mountain speed records. “To actually go into the head office and sit down and be with designers is the best perk, for sure,” says the current Squamish resident. “It is cool to see what they come up with.”
The footwear designers work with apparel and equipment teams to solve for the same issue, sometimes taking signatures from apparel and bringing them to footwear. That can include stripping down stitching to a minimum to erase failure points (and create that minimalistic look) or combining elements to eliminate bulk. Arc’teryx isn’t out there trying to make the most simplistic products—”if it was too clean, we would be making slippers,” Petrenka says—but it is simple because, they say.
The focus on durability requires a reduction in failure points and increases the quality of materials. That’s why Arc’teryx will continue to partner with Vibram engineers to create traction patterns and Gore designers on new, more breathable waterproof membranes.
“We are operating on the edges,” Bruning says. “There are very traditional silos of footwear, climbing, hiking and running, but there is so much crossover and these athletes are not just going for a run, they are running, then scrambling, then doing a little bouldering. There is this need in the transition of these activities that we can service. A lot of the new stuff we have coming gets into the athlete edges, breaks the barriers of the traditional silo approach.”
The Arc’teryx aesthetic in footwear will, then, solve for those unique situations. “If it didn’t have a bird on it, you would still know it was a piece of Arc’teryx footwear,” Bruning says.
Becker says the beauty of the approach is they won’t release a product until they want to. “We have the time and space to make the right product,” she says. “We have this thing where we look at form and function. Is it authentic, beautiful, responsible? We want to get as technical as we can, then strip things off to make it beautiful. Until each footwear concept has that, we won’t bring it to life. We will take our footwear and put it on the level with our outerwear.”
As new footwear product continues to launch, such as the recent Norvan LD3 shoe for long-distance trail running that improved cushioning, fit and support, the team will play a larger role moving forward, such as the fall 2022 release of the Vertex, designed for running uphill. It includes an integrated sock to keep out debris, TPU protection and rigidity designed for climbing through technical terrain and durability meant for extreme journeys. The approach to mixed terrain from the Vertex offers an early glimpse of where Arc’teryx is headed with a “quiver” of mountain-ready footwear options all designed to go lighter without sacrificing durability.
Carter says the Vertex offers an example of designers creating based on specific athlete needs and is “well-suited for our home mountains,” with everything from smaller lugs for climbing on rock to design elements that help keep athletes moving. He shared a recent “link-up” that included thousands of feet of technical climbing, followed by a 35-mile run only to lead into more climbing and running. Every piece of equipment, including footwear, needed to be durable, comfortable, dependable and serve special purposes (such as a loop on the shoe that allowed it to clip to the harness when he switched to pure rock-climbing shoes).
Campbell, who is now moving into a consultant role for Arc’teryx, says this focus on multi-discipline adventures doesn’t allow room for compromise in durability or performance. “If you were to fall or lose grip, the consequence would be really, really serious,” he says. “You don’t want to be thinking about the grip on big, exposed slabs with thousands of feet below you. Our arena is very dangerous, and our equipment needs to accommodate for that.”
Whether the Alpha jacket, the harness or even the staple backpack, Arc’teryx wants to add footwear to the list of products it is known for. It believes the newfound focus and presence in Portland provides the opportunity for iconic. “You don’t design an icon,” Bruning says, “it becomes so based on the customers that make it so. I have no doubt that we have one coming, I just can’t wait to see what it is.”