I’m really pleased to introduce a guest post from Chris Townsend. Chris has shared a great story with us. None of us will need much introduction to Chris catch up with his latest activities here. A thought struck me when I read the story if those early garments failed to perform we would be telling a different story. Gosh! We would all like to read more – no pressure Chris.
In The Beginning
Once upon a time there was an outdoor shop in Manchester where I worked for a while. One autumn day a young man came in with a bag of garments and asked to see the buyer. Just another company rep, I thought, as he disappeared into the office to see the notoriously grumpy and bad tempered manager. Shortly afterwards the manager appeared. “Give some samples to my staff and it they like it I’ll stock it”, he snapped. The young man showed us his garments – breeches and salopettes made from a smooth stretchy synthetic material and jackets made from a thin fabric that was a mix of polyester and cotton. The clothes were lightweight and seemed insubstantial. On the hills I wore tweed breeches, wool pullovers and shirts and a heavy gabardine cotton jacket with a coated nylon cagoule for when it rained, which was standard outdoor clothing at that time. However I’ve always been interested in trying new gear and if this stuff did what the young man claimed then it was really innovative.
The next weekend I set off into the Peak District wearing the stretchy breeches and the polycotton jacket. The weather was wet, windy and cool. I was quickly impressed with the clothing. The breeches were warm and very comfortable and when damp didn’t rub my thighs or drag down on my legs like the tweed ones. They dried much faster too. I never wore tweed again. I liked the jacket too. The thin fabric kept out the wind just as well as the heavier gabardine jacket and dried much faster when wet. I never wore the gabardine again either. And as well as the fabrics I liked the designs – roomy zipped pockets that were secure on both breeches and jacket, a good hood on the jacket, stud-fastened elastic below the knees on the breeches. Back in the shop on Monday I enthused about the garments to the manager. “Right, we’ll stock them”, he growled, “and you’d better sell them”.
This all took place some 32 years ago. The young man was Paul Howcroft and the company was Rohan. The breeches were called Super Striders. It took the outdoor industry over 20 years to catch up. Today they would be called soft shell. The jacket was called the Pampas jacket and was the first in a line of polycotton clothing that was to revolutionise outdoor and travel clothing in the next decade.
Oh, and I did sell the garments. And wore them on a walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats the next spring, my first long distance walk.