Archives LIVE: A New Age Approach to Presenting the Past

Utah State’s @outdoorrecarchive was created in conjunction with the University’s Outdoor Product Design & Development program.
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Outdoor brands are dusting off the conventional image of archives as old documents and faded photographs filed away in a drawer for safe keeping and applying a fresh coat of contemporary vision by presenting corporate and cultural history in an inclusive and informative way with mainstream appeal. Welcome to archiving in the Instagram age.

Why archiving outdoor apparel and media is important was the theme of a recent webinar titled "Outdoor Archive,” presented by RANGE with co-hosting by Utah State University. Panelists explained how archives play a role in current culture by offering context to company values and brand authenticity, in addition to being fodder for modern design and product development.

Panelist Dave Moore oversees Carhartt’s archive as Heritage & Digital Asset manager at the Dearborn, Michigan-based brand. With a 132 year history, Carhartt certainly has a lot to draw on, but Moore emphasized that the archive “brings our history into what we are doing now,” adding that archives are not static, but are used actively to connect the past with the present. “It provides all the details to tell our story. And is the backup to validate what we say, and what we stand for in terms of company values,” said Moore, aka “Archive Dave.” He continued, “We are an old brand, but we do new things, whether that’s with high-tech textiles or modern style; We’re authentic and we can prove it.”

The work of panelist Brian Kelley reimagines the traditional archiving in a modern version. “What I’m doing is applying the creative process to archiving,” said Kelley, a photographer and archivist, who has pushed archiving into the mainstream with his approach to everyday objects, for example, a MetroCard project for NYC Transit Authority. His work on “Parks,” a collection of over 300 United States national park maps, ephemera, and brochures spanning over 100 years, put Kelley on the map, so to speak, for outdoor enthusiasts, the outdoor community and public at large.

Kelley spoke of his latest endeavor, Gathering Growth Foundation, that works to visually preserve the legacy of significant trees and forests in the U.S., using photography, videography, and audio recordings. “Archives are beyond documents in a drawer,” Kelley concluded.

Professor Dr. Rachel Gross offered the 100 or so webinar attendees a historical perspective on the outdoor industry. Many think of the 1970s as when outdoor got its start — and as an important time period in outdoor industry growth — however, according to Gross, assistant professor of history and co-director of the Public History Project at University of Colorado/Boulder, the journey was already well on its way by then. She cites the years following the Civil War as the start of the modern era of recreation, and the end of WWII as another pivotal moment. “After WWII we saw a rise in functionality, and deep links with outdoor and military as the latter didn’t have extreme weather protection expertise, yet outdoor companies such as L.L.Bean, Eddie Bauer and White Stag did,” explained Gross, adding that, “World War II was a turning point for advancing a scientific approach as well as for wear testing products, which trickled down to outdoor.”

Gross acknowledged the role of ingredient brands, in particular Gore-Tex, in driving the growth of outdoor recreation. Gross commented, “Teaching people how to sense that high-tech materials are working, with properties like breathability and waterproofness, etc., gave a vocabulary to talk about materials.”

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