Relaunch of Marmot's Research Team | Marmot

The Rediscovery (and Relaunch) of the Marmot Research Team

By Richard Osborn

Eric Reynolds and Dave Huntley were all but living, breathing crash test dummies, handcrafting their own mountaineering gear out of a college dorm room, then putting it to the test on demanding Alaskan glaciers, atop craggy Colorado peaks.

They couldn’t find the products they needed, so they made their own.

In 1971, the UC-Santa Cruz students dreamed up the Marmot Mountain Club, a gathering of like-minded adventurers who were in their element in the elements, relying on real-time feedback from both themselves and their newfound community to fine-tune those homespun down parkas and sleeping bags that would one day carry the Marmot Mountain Works logo.

As the brand grew, so did the need for a full-fledged research team. Marmot not only tapped into its sponsored athletes, but also its employees. Who better to critique their wares than those who designed and manufactured them, and those who ultimately put them to use in the great outdoors?

“Ever since ‘outdoor’ became a thing from a product standpoint, the means of proving their worth has been going out and trying it,” said Jeff Brandon, a brand manager at Marmot.

The idea, of course, was to design and deliver better products.

“We would have our athletes come into the headquarters and give presentations. We’d get out the chairs, pop some popcorn. It was like a big family,” remembered Aubrey Vaughn, a senior designer now in his third decade with Marmot. “It was this raw but casual get-together, but it really helped inject a spirit into the company on all levels. It was really energizing.”

Each contributor had their own niche and could therefore provide their own unique perspective. Maybe a jacket proved too heavy, too light, had an insufficient weight-to-warmth ratio, or wasn’t compactible enough. It was also a time to consider what competitors were doing, to explore pie-in-the-sky ideas.

But somewhere along the line, the program fell by the wayside. Sure, the product testing continued, in high-performance, temperature-controlled labs halfway across the world. But the dorm-room-driven essence of that collaboration got lost in the shuffle. That is until a boxful of patches circa the early ‘90s surfaced earlier this year in the photo studio at Marmot’s Rohnert Park, California headquarters. They read: MARMOT RESEARCH TEAM.

Now Marmot is returning to its roots, relaunching the program with a new twist. We’re used to seeing world-class athletes like Pete Takeda, Abbey Smith, and Maiza Lima putting Marmot’s products through their paces, roping up in the Himalayas or bouldering in Red Rock Canyon. Their insight has been, and will continue to be, invaluable—a continued resource for innovative design. But the reinvigorated Marmot Research Team will now also include the company’s ambassadors, frontline sales staff and, eventually, the consumer—the everyday adventurer in all of us.

It all started as a club, after all, with community at the very core of the brand. Consider the Marmot Research Team redux a return to that approach.
“When we were a young brand, we weren’t necessarily making products for the generalist,” said Brandon. “We were making products to perform in high alpine terrain. As we service a larger customer base, we need a larger scope of people who are doing different types of activities, not just summiting 14,000-foot peaks.”

Marmot Research Team members will now include Marmot Mountain Club members like Mallorie Estenson, a Washington-based mountain guide and a hardcore skier who regularly puts Marmot’s apparel through the wringer; Seth Anderson, Montana climber, skier and photographer who pushes Marmot-made gear to the farthest limits; and Kaila Walton, a backcountry adventurer/photographer who is a leader in the plus-sized outdoor community (see @fatwanderbabes).

“We want to share with the consumer the story behind the product,” Brandon said. “The jacket that they’re buying—there’s a lot of intention and time and effort spent in creating this piece.”

Keep an eye out: Those MARMOT RESEARCH TEAM patches are popping up again from Moab to Muir Valley, that group-think ethos first envisioned by Reynolds and Huntley a half-century ago still very much alive.

“Sometimes it’s just the little things that make a product truly valuable to the general user,” explained Vaughn. “It also speaks to the authenticity of the brand. The Marmot Research Team is a process in which we can really understand how the product is being utilized. It’s that melding of lifestyle and performance, building it right, tested by people who really put it to the ropes to ensure it works as intended.”