Design for Change: How an epiphany led Arc’teryx out of Vancouver and into the world to celebrate the planet’s problem solvers

Design for Change: How an epiphany led Arc’teryx out of Vancouver and into the world to celebrate the planet’s problem solvers

WORDS • Martin Rogers

Arc’teryx was founded by a group of Vancouver, British Columbia, climbers in 1989, and has since grown into a company that designs and develops world-class gear used by professionals and recreationists across the climbing, skiing, mountaineering and greater outdoor world. The company has always conceived and produced its gear out of its Design Centre, based in North Vancouver, in the shadows of the mighty Coast Mountains, a setting that provides constant inspiration and incomparable testing grounds. While it’s widely regarded as a top-tier outdoor gear manufacturer striving to provide technical products built to perform and endure, Arc’teryx came to the realization that it was part of a global problem: It was tapping finite resources—fabric materials, energy, processing practices—that the planet couldn’t afford to give up. Putting its efforts exclusively into improving the weather-proofing of a backcountry touring jacket, durability of a ski pack or air permeability of a next-to-skin baselayer was important for mountain recreationalists, but it was clear there was a better way to utilize Arc’teryx’s 30 years of design expertise and problem solving skills to provide solutions to those facing far greater life-challenges. 

The epiphany led the brand to concept a venture called The Way of the Problem Solver. The project required Arc’teryx to step away from its Vancouver design headquarters, outside of its own bubble, in order to seek out people in the world working to alleviate seemingly incurable difficulties, in order to tell their stories and inspire the greater world to “show up” and become problem solvers of their own.

The resulting video series highlights four instances of humans problem solving for humanity’s sake. “Out on a Limb,” profiles Kai Lin, a Brooklyn-based industrial engineer fascinated with mountain goats, and taking cues from their anatomy to design a prosthetic leg capable of allowing climbing amputees to continue their passion in the face of adversity. In “Wild Space,” aerospace engineer Nat Panek focuses her efforts on making defunct satellites functional again, in order to reduce the amount of “space junk” deposited into the universe. “Ripples in All Directions,” highlights the Japanese architects behind Home For All, a group designing community living spaces focused on a connection to each other and nature, to assist those displaced by recurring natural disasters in The Land of the Rising Sun. And in “Closing the Gap,” Arc’teryx designers utilize their expertise working with insulation and designing gear for extreme climate conditions to assist in humanitarian efforts in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar, the coldest capital on Earth.

Scenes from The Way of the Problem Solver episode 4, “Closing the Gap.”

At the core of their skillset, the folks behind Arc’teryx are designers. As a result, they are people that identify problems, then think and act through the process of solving them, becoming, themselves, the catalysts for change. By celebrating these global designers, Arc’teryx hopes to inspire the world to take cues from them; to think about daily life in a new way and simply show up where help is needed. At home, Arc’teryx has installed initiatives to encourage people to get involved for the greater good. Each year, the brand dedicates certain days, dubbed “Do Right Days,” to organizations that reflect these humanitarian ideas, with 100-percent of online proceeds that day going towards the chosen organization. And Arc’teryx holds community events at its stores across the continent where members of the community can nominate local change-makers, with three projects being shown live with cash and gift card incentives.

“I think it’s very true, you can’t design something for somebody unless you understand who they are. It’s impossible. You have to address the humanity behind their request. You have to look into that person’s eyes. You have to deal with the soul of that person,” says Pat Fitzsimmons, advanced R&D with Arc’teryx, in the trailer for “Closing the Gap.” “If you have the wherewithal and the opportunity to reach into somebody’s world and help them with something, if we can build the framework to solve this kind of thing? Lord. Why wouldn’t you want to try?”

The Way of the Problem Solver | All Episodes

“Out on a Limb”

“Wild Space”

“Ripples in All Directions”

“Closing the Gap”

To get involved, visit: arcteryx.com/problem-solvers/