Right from the start, industrial designer Ash Price noticed that men tend to design gear, while women design apparel. She wanted to change that. “It was really important to me to become a voice for women in gear design,” she said.
At REI, she found not one voice, but a chorus. The pack team is primarily women. Jenn Inglin creates the strategy, Ash designs the gear, Lauren Meyer develops that gear and Rebecca Randall-Lally curates for stores. Together, they created the Flash 45 Pack.
The old version was “unisex” (read: men’s) but the team wasn’t down with that. They agreed that women should get the same awesome pack that’s designed to fit their bodies. “Nothing is as heavy as pain to carry,” Rebecca said.
“We aspired to create a great pack for backpackers,” Lauren said. “From there, we applied different shaping and sizing tailored to men’s and women’s anthropometrics. But the functional features, comfort features, and load carry capacity are the same, no matter the shape of the body using it.”
Ash set out for the Appalachian Trail, where she camped with thru-hikers and questioned them about their gear—what they loved, hated, dreamed of. Rebecca and Jenn mined co-op employees and members for valuable intel. Then they regrouped at the REI Co-op gear loft with partners in strategy, design and merchandising. “The cooperative design that we do here is absolutely my favorite thing about working at REI,” Ash said.
Lauren agreed. “Ash, our sourcing team, product strategy, our test lab, our field testers—we all work together to discover and solve the problems that arise along the way. We brainstorm, make mockups and actively seek feedback. We have our roles, but Ash is just as likely to suggest a way to improve a complicated construction as I am to suggest a way to improve a visual …