Tag Archives: camo

OVERBUILDING

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A lot of people talk about military spec benefits, but they think it’s just a big zip or a patch on some ripstop nylon. Everyone likes camo, yet the purpose of military apparel and accessories seems a little taboo these days. I’m fairly interested in material technologies and the notion of making something that has to perform in life-threatening situations, because, by my logic, even a diluted version of that build is going to serve me as a civilian in any situation my non military existence throws at me (bar a Red Dawn style invasion).

I appreciate that the army jacket love can be more influenced by a Nas lyric or a Japanese photoshoot than by those who put them to their intended use, but we need to understand the true intent as well as all the cheery subcultural stuff too. In a similar way, I respect running and how it relates to footwear design, even though running shoes as a statement were popularised by drug dealers and kids with lovable rogues (a nice way to say career criminal) as brothers, fathers or cousins rather than athletes. It helps to look at objects from as many sides as possible.

I’ve got a lot of respect for SOTech (Special Operations Technologies), who are based in Los Angeles. Mr. Rob Abeyta Jr. put me onto them (Rob knows more about military life than internet bystanders like me do) and he also gave me the opportunity to interview Mr. Jim Cragg, the president of SOTech, about American-made tactical gear. If your brand makes nigh-on indestructible bags and experienced a boost in business after the Bank of America shootout (which I’m faintly obsessed with), then I’m more interested in talking to you than I am if you’ve just started a streetwear brand that homages Givenchy and Margiela. I’d kind of given up on writing for magazines late last year, because nobody actually reads them — they Instagram the cover next to a coffee and then give it a cursory flick-through during a quick shit. But I had to make an exception for this one.

The magazines Jim (who is a super nice guy and not anything like Eddie Sherman from Seinfeld) designs for aren’t the paper kind, and they actually serve a purpose, but crucially, I was keen to chat to him because he has a dedication to his craft that I think is genuinely inspiring, and I wanted to learn a little more about design as it relates to survival. Plus the trainer expert and menswear blogger tag needs to be contradicted. Jim makes things using a process SOTech calls overbuilding. Overbuilding isn’t overdesigning and covering things with ruinous silliness, it’s making something better than other people because it matters and customers who aren’t dead are a good advertisement for what the company does. Because bootlegging is rife in the military design world, SOTech bootlegs itself and makes cheaper versions of its own products overseas under the Paladin But they’ve also done some work with Vans and Stüssy too.

This ended up in latest issue of The New Order, but I think it’s also something that a handful of people who visit this blog might get a kick out of, while the rest will wonder where the old ads are. I’m looking forward to seeing what Rob and Jim’s impending SOT-BLK line looks like too. This also reminded me that I need to add a feature section to this blog for this kind of thing.

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JIM CRAGG (PRESIDENT OF SPECIAL OPERATIONS TECHNOLOGIES) Q&A

Jim, how did SOTech start?

JIM: SOTech began in my mind and my muscles every time I went to the field with my unit. At the time I was in a Special Operations unit, but my body was racked with two strains of malaria that I had contracted working in refugee camps in South East Asia. The malaria devastated my body and made every lift and flex count, getting me thinking about building better load carriage systems for everything from parachutes to pocket knives. The Malaria as a recurrent disease also derailed my Army career and I was looking to diversify into a related job field.

While serving as an Army Reservist, I set up SOTech while renting out my brother’s dining room which I converted into a bedroom/sewing room. I soon had a steady stream of police patrol cars stopped in front of the house in Encino, California. I was working as a substitute teacher in the LAUSD which I really enjoyed too. I found a niche immediately as policemen and soldiers from across the country began contacting me through word of mouth referrals.

In late 1998, an SF buddy of mine named Dave Thomas gave me rent-free space in the back of his graphics factory. The military and law enforcement may be a good ol’ boy network, but that network is good advertising when you get a reputation for taking care of the troops and patrolmen. The company grew exponentially from there. The custom shop has been part of our DNA from the beginning.

Did you have a separate premises for the early days of custom work?

The custom shop WAS the shop. When we occupied the factory space, I started with three staff and increased to 6 over 3 years (including myself as a sewer/supervisor). We treated a 2-piece order the same way we treated a 300 piece order. Every customer was a lawman or warrior in need and every design was a challenge

What kind of custom commissions were you taking on back then?

From day one we’ve serviced the need — whatever on-the-ground need an operator was facing at that time. When an elite unit operates at the tip of the spear, standard gear has normally not developed to meet that soldier, lawman or rescuer’s mission requirement. Their mission’s function in that extreme unknown of operating environments, and gear has caught up. We get to sit down with those cutting edge warriors, listen to their tactical requirements, find out about their newest tools and devices, and find a way to build load carriage systems to fit their mission.

Typically, the rest of the military or law enforcement will see what they are doing, and a few years later the Department of Defense will commission projects to develop gear, frequently off our concepts, and begin fielding them to conventional forces. By that time of course, we are working with our customers to develop systems that are leaps ahead of those now old designs. In the early days we were developing load vests, holsters, belts, vertical entry, riot control, medical, and explosive breaching systems just to name a few.

What were the relationships that defined the company?

We developed close relationships with LA Sheriffs SEB (SWAT), DEA MET, LAPD, LA FBI SWAT, LAPD Bomb Squad and 19th Group SF at first. We had a steady flow of the top team members from these teams dropping by to commission some radical designs. Working with these top programs gave bona fides to the quality of the designs and soon we were hearing from agencies across the US. We frequently had customers fly into LAX from government agencies on the East Coast, taxi to our office in the morning, provide a device and hands on description, and by the afternoon we had fitted a custom rig to the operator and drove them to the airport for an evening flight back to the East Coast. One of SOTech’s key differentiators is that I set up our business model as a service provider and not a product manufacturer.

Do you see yourself as a craftsman?

We are craftsmen providing a service to people conducting complex and life-threatening missions with great social relevance. This way we focused on providing utility solutions to customers, not on profit-making mass productions. Frankly, had I looked at this as a numbers, quantities and efficiencies based business, I wouldn’t have justified keeping the doors open. But when you are providing short runs of a tool to a fellow special ops troop, you are willing to eat ramen noodles and rice for a few more months. The profit wasn’t there, but we walked away with hundreds of designs from “the dark side” that are now in demand across the spectrum.

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Did you feel that the quality of military equipment had started to dip in the mid 1990s?

As a military historian, I’ll say there was a surge in the development of military load carriage gear in the late 1700s, and since then gear development was pathetic. The same forms of packs, pouches and belts went from leather to canvas to nylon right up through the 1990s.

The monolithic thinking of soldiers in mass formation wanting everyone to look uniform stifled radical thinking literally for centuries. I still deal with it today, in law enforcement more than the military. I was just fortunate in the 1990s to be serving in Special Operations where very few Sergeant Majors were eyeballing your gear, and commanders were more interested in the ability to accomplish the mission than in looking “right” for the award ceremony afterwards.

The major impetus to allow change in the conventional forces was the inception of ballistic armour in the conventional field forces. This forced people to accept soldiers and policemen looking differently than they had when their fathers and grandfathers had gone to war.

To many of us, the Bank of America shootout felt more like a movie than most Hollywood films — how profound an effect on the business did that have with regards to police purchases?

The Bank of America shootout brought the threat of danger home to policemen and women. It was Vietnam and Beirut-style machine gun fire in suburban America. The vision of body armour and full auto fire opened the minds of a lot of senior officials and broke them away from black leather gun belts, blue suits and shiny badges. Now the sight of a nylon drop leg taser holster, an active shooter go bag, or a MACTAC pack is common sight on Police walking our streets. Back then it would have been called “paramilitary”. Today, US citizens feel safer running to a deputy wearing a tactical vest, but a decade ago the perception was that citizens only felt comfortable with the pressed shirt and leather belt look. This was profound for SOTech.

With that shootout, we led the way in development by creating clip on thigh rigs for ammo carriers to the officer’s leather belt rigs. That opened minds to allow the M26 Taser to be clipped on — previously they couldn’t get cops to use the taser because there was no room for it on the belt, so it was left in the car. Subsequently, thousands of lives have been saved because officers have had the non-lethal option whereas otherwise they would have only been able to employ the lethal option. This has opened minds to many other tools and their carriage systems. Law enforcement has changed drastically in the last decade, and it’s awesome to be riding the lip of that wave.

Was manufacturing in the USA always part of the plan?

USA manufacturing has been an issue of both quality control and rapid change and improvement. Of course every week when I hand out paychecks I’m reminded of the American families that we support and the local economic infrastructure this supports. But I have always focused on flexibility in our production. If a customer calls up and tells me that a retention strap is blighting the tall guy on his team, I can walk out to the floor, adjust and re-sew the sample, and change our production run. I’ve seen competitors get stuck with 3000 vests of an old imperfect design that they tried to push on unwitting customers. But when it takes 6 months to get a design in from China or Vietnam, once you’ve received that tractor-trailer full of gear, there’s no easy way to change the order.

Do you find that other manufacturers of product are creating gear overseas?

Offshore quality simply cannot match production that you oversee. I have had personal experience with offshore sewers trying to cheat my standards with cheaper materials and stitch work. And when it comes down to servicemen’s lives, it really bothered me to see them being equipped with offshore made gear that I know wouldn’t last a deployment. But there is always someone in the supply chain trying to make more money, and a purchaser trying to “save” more money.

Is it beneficial from a patriotic angle that sits with the nature of the product as well as a quality control standpoint?

I think that the quality control standpoint is the patriotic standpoint. If American innovation and quality is not worth the extra cost of buying American, then we aren’t doing our duty as Americans or industry leaders to inspire our countrymen. I thinking buying American solely to give jobs to a person of our own nationality helps no one.

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The Paladin overseas manufactured approach of almost bootlegging yourself is an interesting one — how rife is imitation within the military gear industry?

Knocking myself off with producing Paladin copies of SOTech designs fought fire with fire, and we won. I went to my dealers and distributers and put it bluntly: if you buy offshore product from me, at least the profits will go to keeping open SOTech’s design studio and you will get radical new designs in the future. If you give the orders for these designs to the offshore brands, SOTech will fold and they won’t have new designs to copy next year! It worked. Military and law enforcement gear was so rife with imported copies, that we had to make an effort to educate government contracting officers how to tell when a product is Berry Compliant or not.

When imported tourniquets began to fail on severely wounded soldiers, this signified a dark time in our industrial supply of our youth going to war. Luckily, I believe that the military is well beyond the spin up period in the war where they had to buy what was available, and are now making calculated developments and purchases as the war winds down. This means that the opportunists that tried to jump at last-minute deployment funds to sell an offshore made copy product are running out of targets. I’ve already seen some of these businesses disappear, but only after having made a fast buck.

Is it a race to patent as you go along?

Patenting designs is delicate art, but required in defense contracting. I have fought and won two lengthy court battles involving our patents (we have 10 patents). But sadly, even the US military has begun generating its own designs that look eerily like commercial products, and attempt to narrowly skirt citizen’s patents. The Marine Corps puts on meetings inviting companies to bring in their designs to show off. But most of the invited companies are afraid to bring their designs for fear that the Marine Corps will “incorporate” the designs into a USMC-owned pack design. Patenting products can be a hassle in the fast paced world of production, but when I pay the money to go out and interface with the operator in the field, my product will be priced to cover that extra expense, so the patent is used to protect the innovation from those companies that will attempt to profit from our work without incurring the expense.

Have you been endeavoring to employ veterans since the very start?

Employing veterans evolved from a desire to have staff members who had a base commonality with our primary customers into an effort to promote awareness that veterans have a significantly higher rate of unemployment than the average citizen. Employing veterans is a two-edged sword. On one hand you get a motivated worker who is experienced in working within a disciplined organization. On the other hand you engage an employee who has experienced some of the harshest extremes that our culture can endure, and may have suffered from it.

Part of my goal is to build a bridge with our designs to bring back our veteran population from an isolation state to a core of American culture state. This can be done by a veteran fresh back from the Middle East seeing a kid on a skateboard wearing a backpack of the same design that he lived out of on patrol. It’s those subconscious connections between the street and combat that can have deeper impacts than a fashion statement.

Has the business grown significantly in the post 9/11 climate?

It has grown since 9/11. Part of that is natural business expansion based on our capabilities. Part of that is vastly increased congressional spending because of wartime demands. And part of that is a bond that has developed between the street purchaser and people who have been sent to war.

Performance in this case is so critical. Is that responsibility something that can be stressful? On an athletic item, something small can be the difference between first and second place — here it can be a life or death situation.

Combat, rural search and rescue, and street policing are all games of odds with death in the balance. Every feature offers you one more advantage. Every sane person that enters into these professions spends hours contemplating the odds they face and every little way they can improve those odds. I used to say that if your vest is ounces more ergonomic than your adversary’s rig, after you both patrol 15 miles to the point of engagement, will that added measure of energy that you have and he doesn’t give you the ability to raise your gun barrel faster? Or maybe you should ask, will that lighter weight design allow you to make it that last kilometer to back to base camp?

Military and police products seem like competitive marketplaces — do soldiers and officers buy their own gear?

Typically, the agency provides a government approved and issued set of mission essential gear. Most agencies acknowledge that this gear is designed around the last war, so they allow small units to use funds to buy gear and for commanders to approve soldiers and policemen to privately purchase gear. Serious operators buy their own gear with foresight into the next fight that they are engaging. Good commanders similarly look for gear for their units to improve their soldiers’ survival. A Brigade Sergeant Major Ken Riley of the Falcon Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division came to us, designed a paratrooper chest harness off our internal magazine slot design and secured approval and funds to purchase 3,000 for his brigade heading to Iraq. It was a great experience meeting a Falcon brigade soldier who had been saved by the design when a RPG rocket was fired at him.

Are contracts swayed by pricing over quality?

When Congress says, “we put a priority on saving the lives of the sons and daughters of our constituents” the military takes that money and buys the best quality gear. When the war starts to draw down, and congressional funding diminishes, you read statements like, “this contract will be judged in terms of price, utility, durability, and prior performance, in that order” you know the contracting office just had its budget cut.

Do you feel your military insight makes all the difference with SOTech? To have been out in the field and seen needs and potential consequences must be invaluable. It’s hard to imagine that someone who hasn’t seen combat would think to create baggage that neatly stacks magazines in movement.

Having served in the field gives you a focus on the priority, but also a cognizance of the whole picture. The natural inclination is to think solely of the tactical action —setting the explosive charge, closing the wound, shooting the sniper rifle — but when you have truly experienced the environment, you bring into account the peripheral impacts like the sounds of metal rattling, the dangling protective glasses, the last second need to access your radio to call the team leader and the sudden need to access a tourniquet to stop your buddy’s bleeding. When you are planning a great white shark cage dive, all you can think of leading up to it is the massive shark, but the second you hit the water, that freezing cold water seeping into your wetsuit brings you back to the reality of your environment.

The notion of overbuilding is a fascinating one — does that deliver a challenge in creating something that’s rugged enough yet free of superfluous elements that could weigh or constrict in a combat situation?

15 years ago we developed our reputation overbuilding everything. The conventional soldier’s gear needs to last 10 days of continuous use before failure, but Special Operations Forces require 90 days before failure. When we went into Afghanistan, you now found troops fighting at 12,000 feet chasing terrorists in man-jammies up hillsides. So we engaged the challenge by maintaining the overbuilt qualities at key load bearing and wear points while minimizing buckles and webbing that weren’t 100% required. It was actually both fun and fascinating because we were led to dissect the tactical operator’s user feedback even deeper to allow us to determine what was kept and what was removed.

How critical is user feedback on these pieces? When you’re equipping people for anything, access and ease of use must be something that’s constantly a work-in-progress.

It’s a fascinating process. The best part of my job is getting down and dirty with the customer to determine what they are doing in the field and what their actual requirements are. Here you work with their historic mission examples, current tactics, techniques and procedures, and projected future threats. If you could only put a camera on some of these discussions. On the flip side, 15 years of experience has taught me that every operator has his own opinion. Just because one soldier out of 5,000 who got issued the piece of gear complains about the placement of a flap, doesn’t mean you have to go change the design immediately for everyone…so you develop a filter and systems to test feedback and get multiple opinions.

How pioneering was SOTech in designing modular baggage for battle?

From day one, I always saw load-bearing gear as systems. The hard part was breaking the military away from its centuries old concept of, “everything you need for your mission has to be carried in your backpack”. As a company that specialized in mission focused gear, we were able to sneak these concepts into medical pack systems, explosive breacher pack systems and sniper systems. Each of these were set up modularly with grab and go bags supported by advanced kit resupply inserts. Once these were in the field with the elite special operations units, the rest of the military and later law enforcement had to embrace reality.

The concept is simple: finally realizing that your troops are almost always within a kilometer of their vehicles, if you need to carry 6 devices for your mission but need to lighten your load, why not carry 3 and leave 3 on the truck? Just send a troop to run to the truck and grab the go bag with the other three devices. That’s why customers call us “the home of the go bag.”

Focusing on an item like the Patrolman’s Magazine Rig Belt Hanger, how many alterations has a design like that had over the last 16 years?

A good design is a good design. Changes come from trends in lighter fabric, changes is belt style and color trends. But I frequently smile when I see a large order from a police department for a design I came up with in the bedroom-sewing studio that I started in.

Is there scope for timelessness when it comes to military design? I get the impression that SOTech is a restless company creatively.

I told myself when I had 40 designs competed that I would be finished when I reached 80. Then it became 150, then 300. Now we have over 1,500 designs hanging on the sample wall and there is no end in sight. The principles of utility, simplicity and durability have a timelessness to them, but the eternal competitive nature of military design means that until we achieve world peace, someone will always be thinking of a way to outdo his adversary. Beyond that, we at SOTech want to take our designs beyond the military and law enforcement realm to provide the utility development to the street, sport and professional worlds. We have been inspired to develop some great concepts for the life and death environments, and now I feel a social duty to provide them to other areas of society.

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Are there significant differences in creating products for combat and for combat support?

Not really. In the modern conflicts, everyone is a target and thus requires the same principals applied.

Do you have a specific testing process for SOTech products?

We listen, build a sample, send it for field-testing, make adjustments, retest, get approval, and then produce. As revisions come in, we integrate and retest. We have a solid core of friends who test the gear for us.

Has the quest to find the perfect Cordura been a challenge?

Its been more of a nuisance. The industry provides great quality fabric in 1000 denier, 500 denier, and 300 denier, which are military standards. It’s often overwhelming when people try to make cheaper, inferior cloths and hound us to try them out only to find that there is a reason that they are cheaper.

The obscurity of the clasps SOTech uses is something different in the market — are they sourced or custom-made for you?

Yes, we commissioned custom fasteners and the military approved them. When it’s dark, and your hands are cold and muddy, getting into a pouch to retrieve a survival device is no time to realize your zipper pulls are too small to grab. This situation has dire meaning when a wounded soldier is bleeding in front of you, but I find it helpful every day I unzip to pull my laptop out of my go bag.

Using thread so thick that the sewing machines have to be modified for it is the kind of thing that an accountant will never comprehend — does that approach to manufacture prove far more expensive than regular manufacturing processes?

I have been at odds with my accountant since day one. But I believe China currently beats America in mass production efficiency. But where America beats China is in innovation — when we were willing to go that extra mile that the mass producers couldn’t, we established ourselves as a cut above.

Has the location of the company been beneficial in terms of onscreen presence of SOTech products in movies?

Being located near Hollywood has always been a benefit for SOTech. It has been fun for our staff, and having access to arsenals full of dummy props for design purposes has been great. But the advertising we have gotten for our designs has been unreal. Movies like Transformers and Proof of Life became the talk of the gear community.

Has that helped business?

I’ve always looked at it as a fun side business, but providing props has become a notable part of our marketing. And now studying social media marketing and its interconnection with media, I see imagery that originated in Hollywood films promoting SOTech gear finding its way in images and video bits into multiple social media outlets.

Have you seen an increase in urban usage of SOTech products?

I really feel that the demand for SOTech bags on the urban market is more than just a trend, I see it as people on the street connecting with people downrange. After all, a majority of the Special Forces and SEALS that I know were riding skateboards before they enlisted.

So many non-military brands boast Mil-Spec details, but it sounds more like a buzzword.

I get frustrated with the term Mil-Spec because we pay extra money to have our raw materials certified Military Specification, and I see companies throughout the industry stamping Mil-Spec on products that I wouldn’t wear to a baby shower, much less into combat.

Is serving in the military and still running a company where customers are encouraged to demand to speak to you if the product isn’t up to scratch a difficult task?

I’d rather be interfacing with happy or unhappy customers than sitting through financial meetings! I live to communicate with the troops. It’s what keeps me in touch and invigorated. Still serving adds to my depth of concern. I have the same concerns for my soldiers as does the customer on the other end of the line. I hope I never lose that sense of responsibility, even after I leave the service.

How did you end up working with Rob? Was the bag for Vans the first project you worked on?

Rob was working with a team at Stüssy that took an interest in our tubular SOTech Go Bag design. I think that because of Rob’s prior life as an infantryman, he wasn’t afraid to reach out of the urban world into the military contractor world to talk to us. Rather than have a civilian company make a version of our design, why not go for authenticity and develop the bag that was actually used in combat? I’m really glad he reached out. It has given us at SOTech a creative outlet that we have been looking for and it has had positive impacts on all facets of our development as a company. Rob brought us in and we did a backpack for Stüssy that really changed our company tone. After that, Vans engaged us for the DualForces bag and shoe collaboration. Right now, we are building a skateboard travel bag system with Anthony Van Engelen. This spring, we’re working together on the SOT-BLK (Special Operation Technologies, Black) line.

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SHEARLING

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For a few minutes today, pondered writing some kind of ‘best of…’ list for today’s blog entry, because the year’s coming to a close. It’s the easy route to content creation. Then I remembered that you, quite rightly, don’t actually give a shit, because nearly every list of that kind is subjective claptrap that’s either stating the staggeringly obvious, an attempt to get the awardees to retweet the fawning praise (it’s always better to reward those with lots of social media followers who don’t need the props in the first place) for maximum traffic, or some tedious attempt to provoke “conversation” with some willfully irksome inclusions. If you, like me, feel like doing something like I did, I recommend carving it on your forearm or something to make it different to the numerous best of the best of’s that are already out there. But it has been an interesting year. One day, a boffin will create some kind of algorithm which calculates the lateness to a “viral” and subsequent Facebook and Twitter shares of every single user and a figure that determines how tedious they are — a reverse Klout score of some kind, that can be passed to potential employers when they apply for some shitbag social media role so they don’t end up polluting timelines and ruining the good name of a brand or reputable organisation.

The hype around the tiny monkey in a Canadian Ikea car park was a perfect catchment incident to log this late adoption social media blabbermouth data, but I have to concede that whereas parodies by the unfunny and time-rich YouTubers of the world of an already painfully wacky PSY song are intolerable, that monkey still amuses me. He amuses me because he, a small Japanese macaque, rocked the shearling better than Tom Hardy in that letdown Batman film or anybody that rushed out and bought that H&M Margiela shearling and Instagrammed the jacket wearing them, rather than the other way around, with some horseshit about #swag. Darwin the monkey made the jacket look frivolous and luxurious. Humans have made the wearing of a slain sheep look way less cool than it should be. Back in the winter of 1990/91, the shearling was responsible for a handful of homicides in the quest to own one. Murder over an item of outerwear (legend has it that NYC police had an eightball jacket unit back in the day to combat the crime that item was instigating) is a nightmarish representation of how low somebody will stoop to own a material object – if people were willing to slay an individual for a $169 leather jacket, it’s little surprise that they were willing to execute somebody in cold blood for something that was worth $450. Sad, but true.

If morals won’t stop murder over fashion, I wish retro culture would. 22 years on and people are still losing their lives over a pair of Air Jordans. Without trivialising the severity of these incidents, everything operates in a rotation — that shoe you might pull a trigger over will be back again in 3 years or so. Put down the weapons and save your pennies rather than facing 25 to life over clothing. I hope, on release, these killers see the gear they’ve had a couple of decades to regret obtaining through such brutal means gleaming at them from a store window to remind them of the true stupidity of their actions. While you were languishing behind bars the item you valued over a human life may well have hit shelves at least 5 times.

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The logical end to the camouflage preoccupation is to let it enter your bloodstream by smoking it. Salutes to Milcentric for putting me onto Florida-based Humo del Diablo’s Recon Cigars, with their website that looks like rejected concept art for the ‘Expendables 3′, a tube that’s made to look like anti-aircraft ammo and a case that’s meant to look like an artillery case. That “ECU” wrapper, with added Criollo-Maduro, South American and Candels patches gives this Marine-affiliated brand’s output that camo look (darker in real life than the first image indicates). I’m keen to smoke one to see in the approaching new year.

The only thing worse than misguided #swag Instagram shots and ‘Rainman’ style laid out outfit Instagram shots is Instagram shots of your weed stash (and cheapo rap videos for Tumblr-friendly artists with the mouth to nose weed plumes in slow motion need to stop). There’s no difference between a filtered shot of weed leaf socks and some student twat with a Bob Marley stash tin and scratched copy of ‘Legend’ who sees every object as a potential bong. Smoke it, don’t talk about it like some 14-year-old. Why does a wake and bake get multiple ‘Likes’ and Tumblr love but a morning tumbler of vodka would elicit concern? Instagram weed culture is a good argument against decriminalising marijuana. However, I believe that if anybody ever rolled a blunt using a Recon Cigar and photographed it artfully, it would go triple Instagram platinum immediately and get reblogged from now until infinity.

Here’s to 2013. Thanks for all of the support.

WISH LIST

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With Christmas fast approaching, it’s time to reflect on those less fortunate than ourselves. As a result, I’m reflecting on the tragic younger form of me in 1985 and in 1994, when I requested amazing things I never got. On the back of a TV showing of ‘First Blood’ and the release of ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ everybody wanted a Rambo-style knife and sewing kit for mending yourself post self-surgery in the wild while on the run for knocking a policeman out a helicopter with a well-aimed rock. When novelty stores started cashing in by selling badly made weapons with a compass at the end of the handle and an enclosed wire that was meant to cut down trees, but everybody knew was for garroting enemies, everyone suddenly decided they needed one and we got on that camo hype early. I was denied one, but my brother was allowed a “survival knife” which he subsequently ruined while away at camp while throwing it at a tree to show off (or so he claims – maybe he killed a man and had to dispose of the weapon). Not only did it not stick in the tree, but the self igniting matches are alleged to have somehow lit themselves in the process and melted the handle. And that was that.

I wanted a pager because rappers always had them, name checked them and made them seem important. The fact I only needed to get hold of about two people who were glued to their Super NES anyway was irrelevant and after coming close to getting hold of a Motorola numerical pager that would involve elaborate number codes and some premium price to contact me, the plan was dropped. Looking at ads like the ones above, you can’s blame me for willing Santa to gift me the goods though, can you? The brilliantly-named Knifeco also made the more expensive and even more terrifying Survivor model that was like a grown-up version of the Survival Knife Kit. In 2012, the “Answering machine for your pocket” is totally redundant and I’d be arrested and face a custodial sentence if I marched around with Knifeco’s handiwork in a sheath (though I want this official version). There’s still part of me that wants to receive both of them on the 25th of December, just for some closure, but it’s safe to say that the ads are better than the actual items. They don’t do ads like this any more. What can I link this talk of bowie hunting knives to?

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Putting together the Christmas list, there’s plenty that’s due to drop after the big day. If we fast forward over a year, Mike Tyson’s autobiography has a publication date of the 22nd of May, 2014, but to tide us over, ‘The Undisputed Truth’ by Mike Tyson and Paul Sloman (presumably based on the Broadway show) is released on the 16th of July 2013 and yes, there’s an audio book of it too. Hopefully there’ll be an audio book of the autobiography too. I’m also saddened to see that the ‘David Bowie Is’ book doesn’t come out until a couple of weeks before the exhibition of over 300 items picked from Bowie’s art, outfits and objects that the book ties in with starts at the V&A museum (sponsored by Gucci). Seeing as the majority of men’s fashion editors appear to have just noticed that mid 1970s David Bowie looks awesome, despite the rest of the world knowing this several years prior, this exhibit and book should give them more to copy a little too late, thus defeating the object of Bowie’s masterful re appropriation and ability to stay ahead of the curve.

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Image taken from this Flickr account.

Mr. Matt Collett upped a link to a Flickr collection of Nike archive visit images from a few years bacon Facebook and it opened up a whole can of nerdery for me. We’ve all seen the Mag, the Batman boots made from Air Trainer SCs and the Batman Jordans created specially for films, but even on a trip to those fabled vaults recently I didn’t spot the ‘Jurassic Park’ raptor shoes (and I’m not talking newcomer slang for a particular pair of VIIs) there. In Donald Katz’s ‘Just Do It’ it mentions these models as an inspiration on the Air Carnivore because they were supposedly loosely related to, “…a shoe that Tinker Hatfield had worked on for the people running around inside some of the animal costumes in Jurassic Park (Tinker called those shoes Air Dinos and had since encouraged an “Animalistic” design motif).”

Oliver Hutton’s Flickr account is excellent and worth checking out, but is this image of an object credited to the Hulk, the mysterious “Air Dino”? Was it created for motion capture of raptor actors (inadvertent double rhyme) in the original ‘Jurassic Park’? I know there’s a few Beaverton-based boffins who can help me out here and the gift of weirdo knowledge would be gratefully received this Christmas.

COLUMBIA

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Bar the feather filled jackets I used to gawp at, Tom Penny’s fabled boots and the occasional temptation by Vibe ads for Body Jar outerwear, Columbia has never grabbed me like North Face, Patagonia and Arc’teryx did, but that late 1980s collection of ultra tech, interchangeable ski jackets in the insane colour combinations like the Vamoose Parka and the Powder Keg always grabbed my attention. I always assumed that Columbia embraced the fashion crowd a little earlier than most and made the decision to be built overseas long before the majority too, but the story of the brand, from the late 1930s start by fleeing Nazi Germany and purchasing the Rosenfeld Hat Company to make it the Columbia Hat Company to the 1960 switch to the Columbia Sportswear Company, is an interesting one.

The matriarchal nature of the company after Gert Boyle took over after her husband passed in 1970 (the ad above is from 1968) gave it a point-of-difference over other outdoor brands of the era, with Gert and her sons’ battles over the colours and modernity of the 1980s creations (the campaign started around 1984) being a key part of the marketing strategy. Given that an 80-something Gert fought off some wannabe kidnappers a couple of years ago, the ads weren’t too far from the truth. Gert Boyle is also credited as creating the brand’s first fishing vest in 1960 and, while the brand is currently taking on the might of GORE-TEX with Omni-Dry, they were putting the iconic household name membrane into a parka back in 1975, which makes them one of the first to use it on a coat.

Boyle helping steer the brand from near-bankruptcy to a publicly traded one by 1998, and taking in Sorel and Mountain Hardwear along the way, is near miraculous. The copywriting on the ski jacket ads stays classic and 1983’s GORE-TEX and Thinsulate Delta Marsh Parka is no joke.

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Mr Leo Sandino-Taylor a upped an interesting image on his Instagram from the Stanley Kubrick exhibition during its Los Angeles residency of the mystery man posing for a photograph in some Nike Air Mad Maxes. It was so good, I had to borrow it for here, so go follow him to make up for my theft. If the Footscape is the Cassavetes of the Nike line and the AM1 is Spielberg, the recycled rubber and reinforced precision and mild eccentricity of the Mad Max is kind of appropriate for Stanley, even though I’d say the Huarache was a better shoe representation of him. Like the excellent Air Max Racer from around the same time, you don’t see many pictures of the Mad Max and to see them on the feet of a rarely seen man is even better. This one trumps the Jordan Vs on David Fincher and might be the greatest sportswear on a non-athlete moment since Bob Marley wore Marathon TRs. Especially since Saville in Air Max became less of a cause for celebration, given recent revelations. Seriously, if any one image sums up what this blog is about, it’s STANLEY KUBRICK WEARING A PAIR OF NIKE AIR MAD MAX.

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First of all, fuck you if you didn’t like Devin the Dude and, while I can understand you not hearing the cult classic that is the Odd Squad album where his career commenced (though its been ZIP and RAR filed heavily since people used YouSendIt links), you should track it down. There’s not too many albums you can pitch to the next generations, because the younger heads won’t care for the sameness of Hard Knocks’ long player regardless of how wide-eyed you are about it, but there’s too much going on with 1994’s ‘Fadanuf Fa Erybody’ to ignore.

It’s so creative and funky (yeah, I said it and I make a point of never using “funky” in vain), that it’s the perfect accompaniment to Outkast’s debut from the same year. In fact, this Rap-A-Lot classic is so good that Rob Quest from the group being blind was largely rendered irrelevant by the strength of the music (check out this excellent Noz interview with Rob from earlier this summer). The mooted follow-up that ‘Rap Pages’ discussed back in 1999 never happened, but it’s worth noting that what constituted a serious brick in 1994 is different from 2012’s failures — ‘Fadanuf…’ shifted just under 70k and the group despaired, but Nicki Minaj’s ‘Roman Reloaded: the Re-Up’ shifted 34,501 last week and still landed at 28 on the Billboard 200. Tokyo’s DJ Muro is shifting some of his own gear on his DIGOT site and he’s selling this promo Odd Squad t-shirt that’s awesome enough to get married or buried in.

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WINDPROOF

This blog should probably become bloggingaboutchampiongearidontownagainandagain.com, but it’s my blog, so if I want to get stuck in the mud and dwell on one topic, I will. Nobody told me about the existence of this sweatshirt — I knew about last year’s Stussy collaboration on that slightly fussy M-65 style tracksuit employing Windstopper, but this ARMY Reverse Weave hoody in Oshman’s is the best Champion Windstopper design yet. Trying to give basic fleecewear technical properties is problematic. Angular, stiff fanciness defeats my primary purpose for putting a sweatshirt on. If a DWR treatment can’t sustain regular washes, it’s pretty pointless and if you can’t breath through the sweatshirt, it becomes a suffocateshirt. Water resistance has never worked for me on these garments, but Gore’s Windstopper protection layer makes sense and doesn’t infringe too much on the hand feel of a sweat. It’s good to see two technologies with over 50 years between them (I think this might be the Windstopper patent, a technology that officially debuted around 1992 while the 1938 patent here is a Champion one that seems to be focused on a Reverse Weave style technology). Pop fastenings on the collar, ribbed side panels, minimal vertical shrinkage, but annoyingly small Japanese sizing — everything that intrigues me about the work from a licensee that just does its own thing with a certain finesse.

The ‘Vintage Menswear’ book by Josh Sims and The Vintage Showroom’s Douglas Gunn and Roy Luckett is good value for money. If, like me, you lay down £20 on a Japanese magazine covering similar ground just to gaze at the photos, the 130 items here and accompanying copy is a nice antidote to keep on the shelf. I’m still stuck in the military chapter, where reversible German mountain parkas, custom military greatcoats, eccentric footwear innovations, a truly remarkable Aero Leather company B-7 sheepskin flight jacket and a lot more deliver enough insight for an idea-free clothing brand to get at least 2 years of designs out of it. The notion that the British Army’s Paratrooper’s denison smock was painted with a non-colourfast ink so that it might fade in enemy territory and give the wearer a different kind of concealment by letting them blend in with civilians (though it’s just a rumoured innovation) fired my imagination. I had no idea that the reddish applications to brushstroke camo on the Indian Army paratrooper’s smock dated back to the 1940s — I thought they were a 1970s treatment to the (to tie it to the Windstopper talk, the Denison jacket design’s spinoff was the lighter Windproof smock) pattern. All of which goes to show that I know nothing about camouflage. Go buy the book and get educated — it’s bitesize pieces rather than an exhaustive history of anything, but the spotlight on the details.

Who else used to buy magazines for the tapes? ‘NME’, ‘Select’ and ‘Melody Maker’ seemed like better value for having them on the cover, even though I never listened to them. ‘The Source’ had a good Rush Associated Labels one attached in 1994 and on buying ‘Fantastic Four’ #376 in a mysterious polybagged pack for the tape, I was introduced to the mighty ‘Dirt’ magazine. Then dad-mags like ‘Q’ got all fancy and stuck CDs on their covers and by 1996, the cover cassette was done. Few genres justify continual use of a long-gone, labour intensive object like the audio cassette like doom metal does, and UK-noise bible ‘Terrorizer’ gave away a couple of CDs this month, but throwing Dorset-based stoner-doomers Electric Wizard’s new EP in as a tape was a glorious flashback to the newsagents of old. It was a shame that only select issues got it. It’s also a damned shame that I don’t own a tape deck any more.

HORROR FILMS, SKATEBOARDING & FREEBIES

It’s CT party time tomorrow, so this blog got updated early. At my usual Sunday blogging time, hopefully there’ll be some puke stained streets in east London and I’m anticipating the usual wave of negative tweet feedback over the 6pm queues. It’s over ten years since the first Crooked event (for the launch of ‘Cavemilk’) at the Great Eastern Hotel in January 2001 that was pleasantly decadent, debauched and an introduction to freeloading for me. There’s some stuff that the Nike/CT crew’s cooked up this time that should generate some positive hype.

Today I’ve been preoccupied with Dr. Martens, Hermès, Japanese mooks and horror films. Before you go any further, read this piece on Hermès and the rumours of LVMH interest, complete with CEO Patrick Thomas’s shots at LVMH as he tells the Wall Street Journal they’re not compatible because, “Hermès is a human experience.” Between that and Rei Kawakubo‘s, “I don’t feel too excited about fashion today. People just want cheap fast clothes and are happy to look like everyone else” quote, WSJ was heavy on the fashion soundbites last Thursday.

Nobody told me about this Dr. Martens video from last year (late pass please). Usually I avoid brand-sanctioned videos because they seem to play out like marketing duties rather than offering much insight — the process of brand managing out the interesting stuff rarely helps either. I was surprised at how this one didn’t shy from naughty words or the far right associations that the boots amassed, and through that honesty it elevated my appreciation of the brand. Impending projects from the brand sound interesting, but if you want some extra sub-cultural Dr. Martens material, I recommend FRANK151’s DMS issue from 2008 (available through their site as a PDF) and this phenomenal blog post on the relationship between Dr. Martens and skateboarding.

Linking tenuously to that ’92 ‘Thrasher’ shot of Matt, I’ve been pondering old skate publications and this 1997 ‘Big Brother’ interview with Fabian Alomar is one of the gnarliest things I’ve read. Fabian went to prison for eight years a few years later and got out in 2010. This Crailtap interview from a couple of months back is an anecdotal goldmine that also includes an amazing Gonz impression.

If you’re a horror film fan (you might have guessed that I’m quite keen on the genre), you owe it to yourself to invest in Kim Newman’s ‘Nightmare Movies’ — the greatest tome on a single cinematic genre ever written (though ‘Destroy All Movies’ is still astonishing). Operating as a series of flawlessly written essays on the many facets of the celluloid scare and as a film guide via the index and the time Newman takes to dissect a film, it’s the best source of recommendations too.

While Kim bloodily impales some perfectly good b-movies in the process, he’s taken the time out to write post chapter notes that expand on each subject and incorporate a second half of the book made of entirely fresh material called ‘New Nightmares’ that clocks in at just under 300 pages, just in case anyone was looking to conquer Newman’s crown as the subject’s true guru. It’s the volume of video shop cheapies that Kim lists that really piqued my interest in the topic all those years ago, and I still spot gems in there that even the most ardent z-grade flick torrent-heads haven’t uploaded. Even the geek’s paradise that the internet offers can’t match the content here.

Now that cereals throw freebies in the bag as incentives because they’re a choking hazard, it’s down to those Japanese magazine book catalogues (mooks) to offer the giveaways that matter. Umbrellas, Moschino bags, wallets and some awesome crap accompany these publications, but have to concede, that despite suffering tote-irritation, I like the A.P.C. camo bag that accompanies their effort (with the ladies in mind rather than the men). I wonder if it’ll end up in a rap video like the Supreme towel from book #5 did in that ASAP Rocky video that led to free towel beef between him and Left Brain. This blog lists a lot of these mooks and their giveaways and even has a poll: “Do you think unauthorize ripping open of Japanese Mooks or Magazines should be tolerated” (93% said no) — serious business.

HIP-HOP TV & OTHER THINGS…

Making light of Channel 4’s ‘Street Summer’ season is like shooting beatboxers in a barrel, so it would be too obvious to lampoon their Superdry-friendly mix of parkour, BMX, making music with your mouth and dripping stencils. It is what it is, “urban” culture zip-filed up into some kind of rapping, dancing expression of da ‘yoof. If you expected a three-hour Money Boss Players documentary, a JA character study or a celebration of Hypnotize Minds, then you were being wildly optimistic. Still, it’s curious that T4’s ‘Inside SBTV: From Bedroom to Boardroom’ and some of BBC Two’s ‘No Hats, No Trainers’ felt like superior attempts at the same subject matter.

But their two-hour ‘How Hip Hop Changed the World’ was a wasted opportunity. It’s not a case of naivety and nerdery, angrily fist waving at a lack of Beatnuts — it was just a weak offering that seemed to be cobbled together by the same minds behind ‘Street Summer’s infamous commercial. Idris Elba waved his arms around and swaggered like Danny Dyer on a roof somewhere, Nas was deadpan and dull, plenty of UK acts got excited, people were filmed in the act of racking their memory banks and historically it flitted around like some Burroughs-esqe cut-and-paste hallucination. People spinning on their head! Mike Skinner! Ronald Reagan looking impressed! Diddy being wealthy! The Sugarhill Gang! Weetabix men! A clip from a Wu-Tang Video!

‘How Hip Hop Changed the World’ was simply another ‘I Love…’ nostalgia show that felt curiously dated, like the sort of thing you might catch at 3:15am on a freeview music channel in a drunken haze and it displayed a curious regression — 1999’s ‘The Hip-Hop Years’ attempted a history and failed with a simplistic delivery, but it was more watchable than friday night’s offering. As if to highlight the inferior nature of Channel 4’s latest failure, adverts looked culled from YouTube and plenty of footage from 1987’s BBC Open Space documentary ‘Bad Meaning Good’ and 1984’s ‘Beat This! A Hip-Hop History’ was used. The latter efforts were excellent, and while hip-hop culture operated in a smaller space for documentation, how on earth is hip-hop still being treated as some kind of fly-by-night gimmick in terms of documentation?

The truth of the matter is that hip-hop needs something akin to the ten-part Ken Burns treatment. An adaptation of Dan Charnas’s ‘The Big Payback’ would be fascinating. Some would say that it’s still too immature and others claim that it regressed…that it doesn’t respect itself enough to warrant a serious documentation, but that would be erroneous. Contemporary “urban” culture being treated as some kind of bad musical where folks dance out their grievances in dayglo clothing is part of the problem — depictions of the inner-cities are wildly at odds with the realities, and a multi billion-dollar business that seems to have permeated everything is still being summarised in a 1-minute moving tableaux of twattery.

Forget $299 books retreading the flawed steps of ‘Hip Hop Immortals’ or the equally messy ‘Hip Hop Immortals: We Got Your Kids’ and ‘Rhyme & Reason’ documentaries. The culture got more complicated and the depictions got dumber. How on earth does an expert in Tudor history end up on Newsnight in lieu of any of the young journalists who could have offered some valuable insight without resorting to a Mr. Starkey-friendly “white voice”? How did Channel 4 go from screening Henry Chalfont’s masterful ‘Style Wars’ in 1984 to 120 minutes of unstructured stating-the-bloody-obvious 27 years later? This was a valuable opportunity to celebrate something remarkable squandered.

While we’re ranting, what’s up with the 5D culture of factory-tour videos? If your brand needs to show me the manufacturing process in order for me to appreciate it, then I want nothing to do with it. The provenance of a garment or item seems to be superseding whether it’s actually very good. Making something in the UK and describing it down to the strand of cotton doesn’t necessarily make it better than anything else. Production line shots, earnest images of men in aprons, occasional blur and a SBTRKT or Beirut soundtrack are becoming a formula — if your documentation of handcrafts feels formulaic and clinical, then you’ve missed your own point.

I had a wander round Jacket Required in London. I can’t remember much, but I enjoyed myself. My favourite item was a velvet jacket from Sk8thing and Nigo’s Human Made line depicting a Toddy Cat (aka. the Asian Palm Civet — the creature that defecates the berries that make Kopi Lawak coffee) enjoying a brew. It’s a very expensive item, but like the varsity jacket with a hotdog across the back, Nigo seems to have restored his aptitude for awesome again, building on the URSUS styles to go completely crazy with these surreal, self-indulgent vintage style. I like the Carhartt camo pieces as part of the archive line that are dropping soon too — definite crowd pleasers, and the contemporary buttons on the recent heritage-style stuff have been ridded in favour or something a little more olde world.


Picture from Thursday’s NOWNESS feature.

Rest in peace KASE 2 TFP. I mourned his passing a little too early on Twitter this week, but the one-armed, letter camouflaging, King of Styyyyyyyyyyyle has passed away. I know Goldie painted with Kaze, but did I dream up the footage of a starstruck Goldie meeting KASE 2 back in the 1980s? Was it from the ‘Zulu Dawn’ footage pulled down from YouTube? My love for the ‘Beastmaster’ scene in ‘Style Wars’ has been expounded upon here before, but this legend deserves a celebration.

Linking to that Canon 5D remark, you’re likely to see an influx of tattoo-centric videos soon, but ignoring a lot I’m really enjoying VBS’s Tattoo Age. In a fantastic coincidence (and one that will no doubt cheer up the homie Nick Schonberger, just as VBS started teasing the Grime episodes, Grime Daily started showing their ‘Tattoo Watch’ episodes. In the latter, there’s no talk of technique, just lots of madcap meanings or none-at-all, but the UFO chest piece is awesome.