Outdoor apparel, bags, and workwear; design and development
Concept, design, patterning, prototyping, development and small batch production of outdoor apparel and bags.
Kurt Gray is maybe just a little too geeky about technical apparel. Just ask his friends. He started out in outdoor specialty retail before moving over to product and chasing design and development for a number of outdoor suppliers and brands. His work includes being on the design teams for both the Guide de’ Chamonix and Rainer Mountain Guides uniform programs, as well as the Protective Combat Uniform for SOCOM. Gray has designed technical apparel (and sometimes gloves) for: Lowe alpine, The North Face, Cabelas, Helly Hansen, Carhartt, Fila, 3M, Kelty, Salomon, Sierra Designs, Wrangler, Marmot, et al.. His current focus is the product development for Jagged Edge Mountain Gear, an American made brand headquartered in beautiful Telluride Colorado. He also writes a trend and short story column for Textile Insight, a trade magazine. If you can’t find him, he’s usually in the Montrose sew shop, trying to get his notches to line up.
Back in the day, we frequented ‘mountain shops’ as opposed to sporting goods stores. We liked the freedom vibe and all the cool new backpacking equipment and clothing. We would wander about, touching the sleeping bags, flipping through Rebuffat books and day dreaming of high alpine adventures. I was lucky enough to get hired as a clerk for one of the hybrid shops of the time; businesses that were both climbing shoe and boot cobblers and mountain gear merchants at the same time. One job led to another, as it so often does, and I ended up working in a couple of the classic mountain shops of the era while a student at The University of Colorado. (Don’t laugh, I’m a botanist.) What followed was a long tour of duty in emerging the emerging specialty outdoor retail trade. I happily clerked, bought product and managed for several shops in both Colorado and Washington while leading the basic mountain athlete lifestyle in the Rockies and Cascades.
I moved over to product when I was fortunate enough to meet Rick Lipke in Bellingham, Washington. It was in his skunk works that I started to learn the ropes regarding small scale manufacturing and discovered my true work love, messing around with product design.
Teaming with Charly Oliver, we launched into local small scale manufacturing in Boulder Colorado with “Oliver Gray”, a critical success and financial disaster. I’d like to think that we put up a good fight.
The die was cast when Frank Shorter Sports picked me up for a position that I was barely qualified for, product manager. Being an Odyssey company with a Gore license meant our production was all China based, and I essentially went to hard-knock-university in modern outerwear manufacturing.
Joining Lowe alpine meant coming back to the core of the outdoor industry and allowed me to serve an apprenticeship in technical design as only the Brits can teach it. The technical capability of that company at that time was amazing.
Eventually, I moved on to freelance design positions, at first doing what I knew best, worldwide mountaineering apparel collections. Clothing as equipment, so to speak. A knack for practical design started to translate into workwear design, military work, general outerwear, etc. I had found a niche doing both technical and rugged lifestyle design.
Somewhere along the way I began to write trend and trade show articles, and eventually started writing a regular column for Textile Insight magazine. It is a humbling process, communication, and I am often reminded that content is what one hears, not what one says. My kids remind me of this almost every day.
One of the advantages of having done design work with so many brands through the years is that I’ve seen many, many different processes and results. They say good judgment is the product of experience, and experience is the result of poor judgment. In that case my job is to bring my customers apparel options based on what I’ve experienced. I bring creative options, production options, merchandising options, whatever the situation requires.
So the summary is I would rather be in the mountains than at the beach, I would rather design race cars than station wagons, I usually get along great with the folks in the lab, and I very much enjoy bringing functional, quality apparel to market.
Always looking to be classic and edgy at the same time
I enjoy the mixture of new materials, convenience in use and time tested design.
Trend, technical and commercial writing
Outdoor oriented trend, catalog content, technical presentations and general punditry.