Inside Man: the Cold-Weather Commuter

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When you’re proud of your work, you want to show it off. Rob Gill usually does this in the dead of winter on snowy roads in Vancouver. As the VP of design for the athletic apparel company SUGOI, he’ll throw on gear he’s designed and bike to the office in sub-zero temps – just to prove the stuff works. It’s a badge of honor to make it – the nastier the weather, the better. Here, Gill talks about his design process, SUGOI’s new Alpha Hybrid Jacket, and the wintry commute.

The Alpha Hybrid jacket came out just in time for the cold weather season this year. What does it accomplish?

We found that the real challenge for high-aerobic winter sports is you overheat quickly, so it’s just finding that balance between high output and real insulated warmth on the jacket. 

The best insulation actually is just air. If you were to take a cross section of a house where it gets cold, it has all this stuff that just traps air. What Polartec, the fabric company we partnered with, did, is they came up with this alpha insulation. It traps a ton of air but it allows two-way air flow. It’s sort of like the holy grail of insulation, you can really exert yourself super hard and you just don’t get that clammy feeling because it’s allowing two way air exchange.

Can you describe your design process? How does a jacket like the Alpha Hybrid go from your head to the trail?

The design process typically starts with a problem, for example running up a hill. In the parking lot before a workout it’s really hard to stay warm enough, but during the workout not totally overheat when you are redlined. When I start it’s old school. I will start sketching out stuff, then I will use illustration programs.  We have two full time pattern makers. We also have full time fit models a guy and a girl; they are what we would consider as being the perfect example of that size. I can design a jacket, get it fitted, and then have a prototype ready all in the office.

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Wait, so you work with a full time model to get the fit correct?

The guy is a firefighter. We don’t let him go to Dairy Queen or anything to change up his body too much. His body type is pretty much equal to the perfect men’s large size.

What elements go into every piece of apparel you design?

It’s three words: it has to be intelligent, engaging, and beautiful. There has to be some detail when it’s on the hangar that makes you say, “wow I want to buy that.”

So what makes a jacket beautiful?

It’s just got to talk to you. On the back of the Alpha Hybrid jacket specifically we have a really cool organic material down the back. It just looks fast; it looks cool. We try to add a punch line or a little hit on everything we do to talk you into owning it.

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I assume you are active yourself. What do you do to stay in shape?

I am an ex-competitive cyclist and ex-competitive Nordic ski racer. We are in Vancouver, which is a cool town. Our office is right at the foot of a mountain and there are all kinds of trails in there. We certainly have a lot of athletes here.

How do you guys test the products?

It’s a nice perk of the job, it’s almost like a badge of honor if you ride in the shittiest weather on the way to work. We are in Canada so in January and February it can be pretty bad out. But it’s amazing how comfortable you can be with the right gear. 

So being a designer, what do you look for in sports apparel when you want to purchase it?

I think good performance apparel will do a few things: one, it will just disappear around you. It should fit you so well it just works with your body perfectly. That coupled with the fact that you just want to look cool. You should feel like you look good and are ready go after it.

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