Usually only magicians or fancy star-sign readers can look into the future. We wouldn't really trust them, would we?
Patrick Stangbye, creative director at ROA, also has to know the future. Sounds crazy, but it's part of his job. He has to know which products people will want to buy in about two years in advance, and seeing the buzz around ROA, people trust him.
Patrick and I sat down for roughly an hour to talk about his role at ROA, how the fashion industry as a whole needs to change and how the 'Gorp' movement might develop. Talking to Patrick, you feel a certain calmness that surrounds him. His words are well considered, his answers are precise.
For me, being in my late 20s, I wanted to know from Patrick how to learn to trust yourself and your vision, and how to live a balanced life. Also, as two passionate runners, we've spoken about what running can give, how being curious is the base of progress and why ambient music teaches you to pay attention to details.
Patrick even turned the interview upside down and managed to sneak in some questions about the aesthetics of outdoor and its development since Covid.
I would like to start with a question that we always ask at the beginning. Could you describe the brand Roa to someone who has never heard of it?
Roa comes from a footwear background. That's where the brand started, taking a new approach to mountain footwear at the time. The first product was the Andreas, a now fairly iconic take on the hiking boot. The founder started the brand with just this one product in mind eight years ago. A lot of similar products in that time were either too over-designed or too heritage oriented. The gap in between of a modern functional hiking boot that was not super performance oriented, in terms of being for mountaineering and needing a crampon, but for a boot that was stylish enough to wear everyday but having an additional functional aspect. Since then the brand has evolved into a modern functional brand. Some categories are more technical than others but in general Roa offers a full wardrobe solution for an active person.
Having mentioned the mountain and landscape aspect, the Roa slogan says that you’ve got a ‘hybrid attitude towards the landscape’. What does that mean?
It's a very abstract saying, of course. A lot of mountaineering equipment is either for ascent or descent, it's about going to the top of the peak with specialized performance equipment. Roa is not only about being active, it’s also about the culture in the valley. About the whole mountain and landscape culture. The product is functional but we see people active people who are doing alpinism, riding bikes or running, looking for more casual or lifestyle products. And that's where Roa is: High quality product that uses performance components without restricting it for a sports setting or an elite athlete. We focus around mountain culture and the landscape in general.It's also interesting for us to be part of an art festival or a music festival in a mountain town. That's equivalent to reaching a peak.
In your production process, how do you come to a final product from the initial idea? What are the steps that you go through?
Most of the distribution or the stores that we sell to are part of the fashion market, now there's a lot of stores that are in between fashion and performance. We always start with function in mind in contrast to a pure fashion brand. With our wardrobe approach, we always want to make products that we can wear for a long time. Products that we feel the need for in our lifes. The Neil, Roa's second product, was actually considered to be a shoe for commuting on a bike, even though this was never communicated. In the first catalog of Roa for example, the Neil was shown on a bike. This was because the Andreas probably is not the best shoe to use for commuting on a bike, when it comes to flexibility. So we always have function in mind, we need a use case and a purpose. The next tall, waterproof boot for our next fall winter collection came to live because we were tired of being in the snow or the rain and becoming wet. There is also a certain aesthetic that we always strive for.
But all in all, the functional aspect is in the focus. The Loafer for example fills the gap for people who want to wear a more formal shoe. In the beginning we thought it might be a bit strange for us to make a Loafer, but some other original mountain brands, like Merrell for example, have made Chelsea boots as well. The loafer combines formal aspects with a grippy sole unit that we already had, while providing top comfort. If you wanted to go to a mountain top in a loafer, the ROA one would probably be the best one to choose. So we always start with a need in our wardrobe and then we try to fulfil that need.
Let’s stick to that functional aspect. What is it that makes functional fashion so attractive and how do you see it developing in the future?
For me it's an integral part of my personal life. I'm Scandinavian, I grew up in pretty harsh conditions. Now we are in May and it still seems like it's winter here. When it comes to waterproof gear, there is this feeling that you are always safe from the weather, right? But these garments are just one aspect. If you ride your bike to work and you can wear softshell trousers that are flexible, breathable and hardwearing, that's perfect. Lots of people who work outside wear mountaineering clothing instead of workwear. Scientists and people doing fieldwork wear Klattermusen instead of classic workwear because they know it's hard-wearing. Also comfort is an important aspect. We saw people wearing hoodies and sweatpants for comfort for a long time. I personally don't like it because it's super limiting in terms of the usecase, but the comfort element is always there.
The mental aspect that is about this mountain attitude appeals to us, this explorative element, the story telling. This also counts for Roa, with the black leather Andreas for example. You could even wear this shoe to the office, unless you're a banker, and bring this mountain attitude with you. You don't always need the functionality, it's also about the mentality.
What do you connect with that mountain attitude that you mentioned? What does it create within you?
For me, it's curiosity. For most people it might be performance or risk. There's always planning involved when you want to do an adventure. It's this adventurous mindset. If we imagine going back 200 years, people were very happy to stay in the valley and suddenly some tried to climb the mountains, figuring out what's there. Having a curious mindset and wanting to achieve something, that's the attitude. Wanting to see beautiful things, being outside and the curiosity for what is next.
Let’s move on to ROA apparel. Having introduced the fashion world to ROA apparel, what were the biggest challenges for you in creating an apparel line?
When we set out to do it, we had a pretty clear idea in mind. Setting out with making clothing for the first time, there's a lot to consider. Who will be your partners, where will you produce the garments, how can you achieve the results that you want to achieve. We had to start with a collection that wasn't too big, it had to be quite focused. We looked at categories that felt natural for us and tried to find our take on these garments. In the first collection, which was Fall/Winter 2022, we had one technical trouser, which was like a softshell trouser, and one trouser which was more like a chino, but it was made from a recycled nylon fabric. This trouser was a take on climbing pants from the early 70s, so it was something that looked organic but still had the performance element to it. We wanted to bring some texture into the looks and being a smaller brand, we could do that. We didn't want it to be super polished. We had the ripstop Down Jacket were you could even see some of the down coming through. We wanted to play with fabrics and bring texture into functional garments again.
As a creative director, you obviously have to be super visionary because you have to know what’s fashionable in the future. What's interesting to me, being in my late 20s is, how did you learn to trust yourself and the vision that you have?
That's a difficult question, right? You somehow just have to. As a person, I think, I was always very curios. Nothing is constant and it's hard to envision to say what’s fashionable. But what I realise today is that there are so many things that are considered stylish or fashionable at the same time, that it's more about having a clear perspective on what you want to communicate and what you believe is good. If you really enjoy something and think it's great, the chances are good that there will be other people enjoying the same thing. As long as you have passion about something or if you believe in it, there will be other people who are willing to follow. As long as you stay open minded, consume art, music and culture in general, as long as you are interested in these topics, you will find things that can help you evolve and hopefully you'll evolve in the same direction at the same pace or maybe even faster than other people. To establish this is your DNA. You're of course part of an ecosystem, but for ROA for example, it was interesting to have a long term vision of their own story. This sometimes correlates with other brands and there might even be an overlap, but in other parts you go in completely different directions. You will still have enough people who are willing to support and follow your vision. In the end though it's also a business, so there is product that somehow has to be sold.
That ties in super well with my next question about the fashion industry as a whole. If there was one thing that you could change about the fashion industry, what would it be?
I personally don't believe in the seasons anymore. I mean, we are selling in a global economy. People are in very different seasons at different times. It also happens that if because you are making a season, something is going on sale. Of course it makes sense that after a while something is going on sale if there are only a few pieces left in stock and people need space, but I personally don't really believe that a sweater from this season is more relevant than a sweater from last season. Often it's not better only because it’s new and this goes for every product, basically, it can still be relevant even though it’s from last season. There's this urgency in fashion to always rush and to do something new, which I personally would change. I would just want to bring product to the market when it's ready, but then it's also super difficult for a brand to just do it because of how the whole system works. Also for stores it's more difficult, since they have seasonal budgets.
So this would then require a full restructuring process of the industry. I mean what you're saying makes total sense since for example when we sell something here, people in the southern hemisphere live in a different season.
Yeah and also in some other things. Some people see nice shoes and want to buy them but you can't because it was a product from last season and it's not on the market anymore. Even if they wanted to buy it for full price, they couldn't. People don't follow retailers all the time, but they follow when they need something. And by the time they need something, a lot is already gone. Fashion is always working super hard to create something new, but sometimes you should just develop and improve what you already have.
Following you, we see that you spend lots of time in museums, with music or outdoors. What is it that this gives you, what inspires you?
For me, it's everything. This is how I life. I'm very visual as a person and I get a lot of stimuli from visual input. Also in terms of having an experience. Of course we work with physical things, so it's easy to consider them as materialistic, but for me a product can communicate the essence of something. Two weeks ago I had the possibility to be in front of a sound system that I really wanted to be in front of for a year. I spend six hours with this sound system throughout the week. I would love to have it with me right here right now, but I don't have the desire to own it.
For me it's not about ownership, it's about feeling and experiencing something. The same goes for art. I see a lot of 'bad' art, art that doesn't do anything for me. It's interesting to see it, but it doesn't do anything. But once in a while, I see something that really touches me. That moves me from one place to another. This experience is very valuable as a human being in terms of growing and the same thing also happens when I do mountain races as well. It's never easy, but sometimes it's just a race. In other times it changes something within you, the experience in running can be super valuable as a human being. I always try to explore something more, also within myself. Sometimes it might even be that a friend has cooked a meal for you, that you never had before. You can have this same kind of sensibility from the meal that your friend cooked, it doesn't need to be something fancy. I just crave these experiences to teach me something.
I would like to stick with that art aspect that you mentioned. You spoke about 'bad' art and good art and how it moves you. We always seek for cultural inspiration, we always ask for books, music, or movies. Is there one that really sticks with you, that you might go back to and that you would want to recommend and share with others?
There's quite a lot! I's difficult to mention one thing, it's more like a genre kind of settings. For art, I'm super into post-minimalism. Minimalism was super strict as a movement, but in post-minimalism we see a lot of organic textures, organic elements. There are contrasts as well and some things don't seem as considered. These are things that also shine through in ROA and my personal work. Some things are very rigid, whereas others aren't. For music, I listen to a lot of different genres but if I had to pick one for the rest of my life, I would pick Ambient. That's also because I see some of these aspects in that genre. Ambient also relates to the landscape and nature for me. It's not about favourite artists for me, it's about movements.
Being a big ambient fan myself, I do get the feeling that ambient music nowadays is becoming more and more popular. Do you have an idea, why? Because I think one reason is that life becomes more and more hectic and we need pauses. Ambient calms us down and relaxes us, but maybe you've got a different take on it?
Yeah, I think you might be right here. I worked with music when I was younger and also I was listening to lots of other genres, but what I also came to understand is that quite a lot of musicians listen to Ambient, even if they work on something that's completely different. Ambient is super essential, a lot of things are taken away and you are left with something that has a lot of clarity, that is very direct. It's a neutral, which is why it might be difficult for some people to listen to, it might be too simple for them. There's usually not a lot of lyrics or tons of drums, there's not much contrast. That's offering a place to relax or to focus, as you said, but I personally think it's super detailed. I love following details, I'm not into music that is super loud with a lot of noise.
From a cultural aspect to sports. As a runner myself, I'm always curious in what running makes with others. What's the feeling that you get from running, why do you run?
The very easy answer is because it's a lot of fun. Especially trail running. For road running there's this element of becoming better, competing with yourself, showing up, keeping a routine. I think these are all great aspects, but I really find trail running to be super fun, it's something I enjoy. I used to mountainbike when I was younger and as an adult running around in the forest is a playful activity. I find joy in it.
What's also really good for me is running with others. It's a social thing to do. To go out into the forest on a sunday morning with a few friends and to have conversations, also with people who have different interests. We could also be doing something different, but we run because we enjoy it. It's a nice way to see the nature and to move through the landscape, to see different things. Of course we could go hiking, but it would take a lot more time to hike through the same environment.
And also I'm quite competitive, I enjoy the competitive element. Most of my training is easy and comfortable, but it's also nice to push yourself, do some adventures, do some racing, see what you're able to do.
You mentioned the social aspect of running. In the last couple of years we saw a big rise of running clubs, running becoming cool and hip. What do you think might be the next step?
Well, I think it's a good thing. We saw road clubs first and then we might see some pure social clubs or trail clubs soon. I think that some people only run because it's a trend, but that's also fine. If you're doing something healthy because it's a trend, it's still healthy for you. But I think it's something good, especially for friendships. It's a nice way to socialise. You do an activity together, you create a bond which is different to just going out for a drink with someone. It's nice to have these experiences together, to create friendships during activities. I hope it will develop to more cafés and restaurants doing events for runners or active people in general, creating a community where people are being active together and socialise after. We'll see events that are focused on a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.
You seem to be super balanced within yourself. In a world that's hectic and stressful, how do you achieve that balance?
Ha, I'm not sure. My life also is not always super easy but I think what's important is to make sure what your priorities are. Of course they can change and in certain periods they will even have to change. But it's important to understand what you really enjoy and what you really want to do. Also with work for me: Sometimes there's a lot of requests and you want to get things done or do different projects with different people. People, as well as the system, are demanding a lot. Then you also have to ask yourself what it is that you can do and what you really want to do and then focus on what's important.
Also balancing between my private life and work life is important for me because I'm also creative from that. I can be super creative for two months without doing anything but then I'm completely drained and I cannot continue my work, so it would be very negative for me as a person to just do it that way. I think it's important to find this balance. Some people like to have conversations around stress or building stress rather than doing the work. If I realise something needs to be done, I prefer to just start to solve the problem rather than just talking around the fact that there is a huge problem and not doing anything about it.
Yes, that makes absolute sense.
Probably also from what you guys are doing, I think that running and more people camping, going outdoors is an interesting change, right? Because also I think there was a moment where it wasn't cool to go camping but now it seems like a cool thing to do!
Yeah, you're right! We actually saw that, especially during Covid, that there was a change in mentality, I would say. People seem to be more drawn towards the outdoors now and now it's interesting to find out whether this is just a trend or it will actually last.
I think it for sure was a trend. I mean we saw a lot of people camping or buying tents simply because they couldn't do anything else for vacation. But it also is connected with brands and how things are looking. In Japan, for example, there has been this very curated camping vibe for a long time, which we can see in magazines like 'Go out'. The fact that camping could also look different meant that it could also feel different for a lot of people. Buying a few things from Snow Peak, getting a nice tent, the fact that there was an opportunity to have the campsite look different also meant that some people, who originally were not very inclined to go camping, felt that camping could also be something for them. It could look beautiful and curated and therefore could feel different as well. Of course, when it's raining while you're camping, it's still going to be wet, no matter how it looks. But that was probably something about the aesthetics of camping that became cooler in a way.
Can I ask a question as well?
Yes, of course!
Do you think this kind of aesthetical approach is more relevant for a specific age group or a certain community or is it that more and more people in general are opening up to this take on it?
I think we have to differentiate here because what we clearly see is that the 'Gorp' movement is for the kids and I personally think it's just a trend right now and will maybe only last for another two years. But there is something that might stay for the future, being the aspect that you can get a nice functional jacket that you can use everyday, that you can use for hiking as well as for the city. So the idea that's behind it, not needing three different garments for three different activities might be something that will stay. The trend will go away and the kids will just move on to something else.
In general, I think that there is also a change within all age groups towards more high quality products, more aesthetic products and I think that people are willing to spend more money and just buy one product instead of buying a new t-shirt every month. But I still think that not enough people are doing it and that we are too slow, especially when we look at how everything develops in terms of fashion, how much is thrown away. We still produce too much and need a new way of dealing with it. So there is a change, which I think is good, but I still think it's happening too slow. It could be more radical.
Yeah, I think you're probably right and it's interesting that you see it as well. For me, there has been this trend and now the question I ask myself is what comes after. It obviously has gotten more visibility in this moment but I think there will and always has been a space for functional everyday clothing, which is interesting to see.
That's also what I think. Functional products that look like everyday products will never go away. There are people, like us two for example, who also like products that look functional, but I guess the majority of people aren't into that. So what we need to do is to make products that are functional and can be used for different areas of life but they don't really shout the: “hey, I'm a functional product” message at you. That's a big challenge, I think.
Yeah, that's right. And change is always something that's good. Sometimes it also happens too fast, but I'm curious in what happens. I think the peak of this trend is almost like a caricature of itself at this point, there is almost a too-specific uniform for the 'Gorpcore' movement, so it's nice to see what can come out of this movement and what changes it will bring. There are a few things that have gone so extreme, that they are almost too much at this point.
Pictures of Patrick: @patrickstangbye
Picture of Roa: @roahiking