The outdoor industry has changed since the early days...
Back then, people worked at and owned the companies they founded. Everyone involved was equally passionate about making the best products possible. Goals were driven by the lust for great gear, solid connections, and like-minded people. We have seen many of the companies we once respected for delivering kick-ass gear devolve into less passionate, more finance-driven corporate entities.
The methodology at SlingFin is design and quality driven. The end goal is to bring to market the most well-designed, and highest quality outdoor products ever created, for the most serious users in the world.
Utilizing our innovative designs, the best materials available, and extensive research through hands-on product testing, we make sure our gear is tested under the harshest conditions to ensure a quality and trustworthy product.
"There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear". – Masta DB.
"The heaviest tent in the world is a lightweight tent that failed". – Phil Scott
Tents are tensile structures.
Tensile structures are formed with tension and compression members. The pure form of tensile structures can be seen with tensegrity structures where tension members (wires), and compression members (struts) operate simultaneously for the structure to hold its shape (please see tensegrity.com). If any single strut or tension member fails, the whole structure is weakened, and can even fail completely. Individual parts must work together to maintain strength and stability.
The same is true for tents. Any failure in a tension member (fabric) or compression member (tent poles) results in a weakened, or even failed structure. Liken tents to chains where any weak link may render the whole chain unusable. Designing a tent where all components are equally strong is a tremendous challenge, but is the key ingredient to making a tent or structure as strong as possible.
Many companies attach webbing (with a tensile strength of 500 pounds) to a tent using fabric with a tensile strength of 5 pounds. This is not an efficient use or resources because the tent is either out of balance, being either heavier than it needs to be, or not as strong as it could be. Using ingredients that are proportionately strong will create the strongest tent for the least amount of weight, and when you're out on the trail, the last thing you need is a broken tent. At SlingFin, we put design and efficiency at top of our priorities, because our team of hardworking outdoor enthusiasts and gear junkies know just how important it is to be able to trust your tent for every mile you spend on the trail.
Steff Zurek designed our logo with help from Jonathan Buck and Martin Zemitis.
Steff came up with dozens of design concepts, and we chose one very similar to our current logo. Something about the way the tips of the fins joined together at the center made it look unfinished. Jonathan suggested that we "just spread the fins apart so they are no longer joined at the center." Steff took the new concept, and delivered our final and official logo. The process took place over 2 weeks. Steff Zurek is an artist and graphic designer who works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Where did the name SlingFin come from?
The Short Story
"Sling" refers to a climbing sling (a loop of nylon or dyneema with multiple applications), and "Fin" refers to the fin from a fish or rock formation. Founder Martin Zemitis wanted a name that represented gear made for use on land and in the water.
The Long Story (per Martin)
I started purchasing domain names in the late 90's. I would register domain names I liked, or thought I would have use for in the future. I registered the domain names TentDesign.com, TentBlog.com, GeodesicDomes.com, Tensegrity.com, ExpeditionBlog.com, MountainBlog.com, and many others over the years. One weekend I spent a few hours looking for climbing related domain names, and while searching Sling.com and ClimbingSling.com, I stumbled across www.SlingFin.com
I worked at Mountain Hardwear for nearly 15 years before I decided it was time to head out on my own in 2009. I rented a beautiful loft in Richmond about 200 yards away from Mountain Hardware's original location (4911 Central Avenue) prior to moving to the Ford Point building in Richmond, California. I moved my parts library, industrial sewing machines, fabrics, materials, machinery, and design tools into the loft. The loft had windows on all sides and a gorgeous wood floor. The property owners (European Sleepworks, www.EuropeanSleepworks.com) were very generous and best of all quiet. I was free to design and work on whatever I wanted to. No product managers, bosses, and best of all, no interruptions. Few people knew what I was up to and for 6 months I spent all my time designing tents, sleeping bags, clothing, and packs. I came up with the WebTruss™ design and ExoPak technology during my design time in the loft. I used the name Expedition Technology (www.ExpeditionTechnology.com) for nearly a year, but deep down I knew the name had to be SlingFin.
Martin Zemitis — Founder/Designer/Gearhead
Martin is widely known as one of the best tent designers in the business. As a 30+ year industry veteran and gear guru, he has developed award-winning products for other well-known industry leaders. Martin was originally one of the co-founders of Mountain Hardwear, but now as the founder of SlingFin, has his very own sandbox with two patents, and many more to come.
Timothy Baka — Founder
Timothy was the "numbers guy" on the team of Mountain Hardwear co-founders. His past lives include investment banking and number crunching, but he has since started a China-based sourcing and production business specializing in organic cotton.
Richard Ying – Operations Manager
Rich is responsible for the creation of product design outlines and the management of information between the creative side of SlingFin and our manufacturers in Asia. He is our "get it done" guy.
Tim Hunt — Dealer Relations
Tim Hunt wandered into the SlingFin office after thru-hiking the PCT and the AT and didn't leave. An avid backpacker, paddler, cyclist, climber, skier, runner, surfer, gearhead, guide, and occasional glamper, he's led hiking and biking trips stateside and internationally for years. At SlingFin, he brings his extensive outdoor experience to the design process, sales, and dealer relations.
Ellese Nguyen - Intern
Between climbing and studying at UC Berkeley, Ellese helps manage and write for SlingFin's Facebook page and website. She fits in well with the SlingFin team because of her passion for the outdoors and for high quality gear. Her groovy and lively energy make her an all-around cool girl, which is perfect for SlingFin's social media and public outreach.
#1 SlingFin Start (written by MZ)
I started in this industry in 1975 with my brother Cedrik Zemitis, Bill Sterling, and Bonnie Jerome. We rented an industrial sewing machine, and I started making patterns and sewing products used by backpackers and cross-country skiers. It was easy to come up with new product designs since we were backpacking and cross-country skiing every chance we got. We made, used, and sold the gear. We started from the ground up and got our hands dirty. I learned to cut, sew, and make sample patterns, production patterns, markers, repair sewing machines, and much more. The learning curve was steep but fun and rewarding. I loved finding solutions to design problems which led me to become a designer, and later, an inventor.
In the early days, most of the backpacking companies focused on the equipment side of the business such as packs, sleeping bags, accessories, and tents. Clothing was in the mix, but was seen as equipment in the early days. Down jackets were not fashion items — they were tools just like down sleeping bags. Both were a necessary part of everyone's gear list. Companies grew and realized there was a much larger market for clothing instead of equipment though, and slowly equipment became an ever decreasing percentage of the business total as compared to clothing.
Clothing added a whole new level of complexity to the business, so most companies split responsibilities between equipment and clothing. Company owners were still working at the companies they founded and there was pride taken in the quality of their products. As the industry continued to grow and mature, the dollars got larger and product managers with pure business backgrounds took over with the mission to grow their businesses. As money rolled in, the game changed and became more serious. The economies of scale and capital resources allowed the larger companies to produce products offshore which helped them grow even faster. The industry went through several phases of consolidation with many of the smaller brands being assimilated into larger organizations. Brands such as Holubar, and others, eventually began to disappear altogether.
The important point here is the shift. Product managers with pure business backgrounds were hired to to manage the design process. Most of these managers knew numbers, marketing, product position, and sales, but few know of the details that go into making great gear. Their focus became to increase sales by selling products to a larger market through expanded distribution. Product managers are looking at the Leisure Trend numbers so they know what to tell their design department to create for the next season. For a forward looking designer, this is not a creative way to approach a piece of gear. Companies began using lower quality fabrics, raw materials, and second rate factories to make products that meet price points compelling to retail store buyers. This "cut-rate" approach leaves serious users confused and disappointed, since products are no longer well made, so more time is spent on the phone dealing with warranty departments. The customer is not happy if the product fails three days into a 17 day Patagonia trekking trip.
To meet these ever-lower price points, companies are using less experienced, lower quality factories and raw materials. For example, high end tent brands would never have considered using a nylon 6 fabric 10 years ago. To meet these price points product managers and retail store buyers want nylon 6, instead of nylon 6,6. Take it one step further and consider that nylon fabrics are more expensive compared to polyester fabrics. Many manufacturers are now making their tents using polyester because these are less expensive than even nylon 6. Using the very lowest quality fabrics will help the product managers meet their price targets but the products will not stand up to the marketing hype put out by the company. 60 days of UV exposure is about the most you can hope for from the average tent these days. We have decided to get off that train and head down a new path which really is the old path that the industry was founded on -- making great gear for backpackers and mountaineers.
Making great gear is easy if you have the balls to do it, and you know how. You cut out the product manager who does not know how to make anything, and solve design problems instead of filling product slots for the retail buyers' positioning strategies. We started SlingFin to make quality gear for professional users. This means we are positioning ourselves at the top of the user pyramid. These are professional users, guides, outfitters, expedition users and gear junkies who crave only the best. We design and build tools which help these users accomplish their objectives. This is a tiny segment of the market and not one that will excite the average retailer. It's not even a market which is economically viable in the long term, but it is the right place to start.
It is however, an often overlooked and critical part of the market. The users at the top of the pyramid are the ones that can give the feedback needed to produce great gear. They are the ones that help define what the problems are so the designers can work on solving the problems. I have learned something interesting over the years working with professional guides. If they return a piece of gear that is in tatters (what most people would consider a trashed piece of gear which should be recycled or discarded) and they want you to fix it, then you know you have succeeded. If you never hear from them again after giving them a product, then you know they are not interested in it. It's a rather dysfunctional means of communication, but that has been my observation over the last 35 years in the industry. There are guides and outfitters that are willing to work with you if you are willing to listen and learn from them. That is something I have always done since it's the long term users who know what works and what does not.
I have had the privilege to work with many great mountaineers, Ed Viesturs, Eric Simonson, Robert Link, Babu Chiri Sherpa, David Breashears and many more. I feel a great amount of respect for Sherpas since they are many of the best mountaineers in the world. Babu Chiri Sherpa is an example of one of the best and strongest climbers ever. I learned a lot from Babu and his Sherpa friends. They see and use gear from all over the world and they know better than most what works and what does not work in some of the most inhospitable places and conditions on the planet. The way you make quality outdoor gear is the way you make any quality product. You find like minded people who love gear and have a passion for making it. There are factories and raw goods suppliers who are passionate about making quality products as well.
The trick is to know who they are and to set the ground rules when you start working with them. Generally, US manufacturers love to improve the quality of their products as the product cycle matures. Companies build their brand and improve their reputation which allows them to charge a premium for their products. The price goes up as more features, improvements and models are introduced. Asian factories, in order to win the contract, bid very low which means they have a very thin margin. The factories are betting they can increase their margin by lowering their costs over time. They do this by squeezing their suppliers and employees. In Asia, from the day you get a price quote, the factory (and all the suppliers) are trying to figure out how to lower their costs and increase their margins. This means that from day one the quality of the products steadily decreases as factories try to reduce costs. You have to either own a manufacturing facility or know how to work with contract factories to understand how to make quality gear. Paying for quality fabrics alone will not get the results you are trying to achieve when it comes to making quality gear. We work with factories that do not play by the Asian pricing strategies.
What else makes a great company? People! To make quality gear you need to bring people together who are passionate about gear. Phil Scott, for example, has been in the industry since the 60's. He has worked for every name brand outdoor company in California. He is one of the few people I know (other than Marty Kaiser and Mark Erickson) that can design clothing, sleeping bags, tents and packs. While Phil is a designer his real specialties are cutting, making production patterns, markers, grading. His sewing is rather crude but he does know how to sew better than most people. He has been designing and making gear for nearly 50 years. He knows what works and is constantly making improvements to his products. He is an old fashioned craftsman who loves gear! Phil has been "banned for life" from participating in any marketing or product naming sessions. His dislike and contempt for marketing is only rivaled by his dislike of poor design, fabrics or craftsmanship. Phil is working in our skunk works on clothing as is Susan Smith, a former design room manager and product engineer for The North Face and other Bay Area outdoor companies over the last 27 years. Tim Baka is a Harvard MBA and was Mountain Hardwear's numbers guy until the company's sale to Columbia in 2003. He put together the business plan for the Hardwear along with Jack Gilbert. While his first jobs were as an investment banker, Tim and his wife Dora have spent the last 6 years in Hong Kong working in organic cotton garment and fabric manufacturing. Tim has visited and worked with more textile mills and sewing factories than anyone I know. While we are working on clothing, sleeping bags, and packs, our initial products are tents. Equipment has historically been the foundation of any authentic brand in the outdoor industry. Tents often separate the creative brands from the others. The world sees your company logo in some off the craziest places on Earth. Any company in the rag trade can make a garment, but only a handful of companies can make a tent that can withstand 8,000 meter conditions with less than 10 pounds of aluminum and fabric. SlingFin has no formal marketing department, other than a keg of beer and a jockey box full of ice (and some very creative minds). We have 18 industrial sewing machines used for sample making, the support of our vendors that we have been working with for over 30 years, and people who are passionate about making great gear. What we do is build gear like others in our industry used to, but this time with people who have more experience than those who did in the 60's.
– Martin Zemitis