OTC Endorses: ETWAS Bags

ETWAS Stencil 300x225 OTC Endorses: ETWAS BagsThis article was originally written in 2010 after Will Lisak, founder of ETWAS Bags first got in touch with OTC.  It was in the form of a challenge.

Will commented on a post about Jack Bauer’s bag, from the television show “24,” stating that his bag was tougher than Jack’s. After getting to know more about Will and his company, ETWAS, German for “something,” we had little reason to doubt.

So, it was with satisfaction that we recently saw Will and his bags profiled in Issue 2 if the outstanding new menswear and lifestyle magazine, Port.  It’s a wonderful examination of this prolific and highly principled guy, focusing on Will’s absolute commitment to long-term style and minimal impact.

Some brands talk about civic and social good, ETWAS smacks you across the face with it.  More than that, Will backs it up all the way, as you will see below.  And, by the way, these clean, classic, modern bags are outstanding.

So, with ETWAS’ belated but growing appreciation among the style/craftsman/heritage cognoscenti, OTC is happy to remind everyone that we knew all this way back when.

My Bag 300x225 OTC Endorses: ETWAS BagsWill is a graphics design graduate whose dad taught him how to make small leather goods while growing up in western Pennsylvania. In fact, the tannery near his childhood home is where Will now gets the exceptionally fine and thick hides for his ETWAS bags.

A pragmatic guy, Will designed his original bag to simply fit a need at hand. He wanted a bike bag that served the practical purpose of carrying stuff while reflecting his aesthetic and environmental concerns.

Will tells OTC, “I wanted to create my ideal bag, not something was going to be dated in a few years.” The resulting prototype was simple, plain, sturdy and functionally stylish. It’s reminiscent of a classic dispatch case but also embodies distinct elements of a messenger bag.

ntrl bag 300x203 OTC Endorses: ETWAS BagsTwo narrow but sturdy straps secure a single, giant compartment. On either end of the bag, D-rings provide additional functionality. The solid brass hardware is sturdy but simple, almost discreet. On the front of the bag, those two straps can also be used to store a small notebook or folded newspaper.

The bag’s body consists of three pieces: the center wrap that creates the front, back, bottom and top flap; and the two side panels. This clean, almost minimalist design creates the illusion of compactness, but don’t be fooled. It’s actually a big bag. The overall message this bag sends is one of near-familiarity. You think you recognize it, but quickly realize that, no, it’s something different.

What’s also distinctive is its inherent imperfection. Since it’s entirely handmade – no machines whatsoever – there is a rustic roughness to the bag’s finishing. The edges are raw, except on the darker stained versions.  On the leather’s unfinished underside, you may very well spot template markings from when the maker went a bit off course.

bw side 237x300 OTC Endorses: ETWAS BagsSo, each bag bears the nuances and hallmarks of the person who made it. My own bag’s minimal idiosyncrasies don’t bother me at all. Quite the opposite; I often wonder about the craftsman who made it. Because of the personal nature of their construction, each bag takes about five hours to make; the connection between maker and owner is almost tangible.

The real star of this bag is the outstanding leather that Will sources. Thick and stiff, it takes time to wear in and though it will never really soften in the traditional sense, it will conform to the owner’s body and ease over time. It’s just beautiful stuff – from, as it turns out, a tannery close to where he grew up. The regular compliments I receive are evenly split between the bag’s overall look and the leather itself.

When you buy an ETWAS bag, you are investing in the kind of manufacture that is the antithesis of name brand large-scale production. While not inexpensive, with the original version starting at $600.00, Will could easily charge much more based on material and labor costs alone. With ETWAS, you are buying outstanding durability, one of a kind design and a genuine belief in keeping local, staying green and dedication to quality.

Will’s commitment to thoughtful production is evident in the fact that there is no ETWAS factory. Work is primarily done in a Brooklyn co-op facility. But everything needed to make an ETWAS bag can be found in the Design Box, a totally portable workshop that allows each craftsman to set up shop wherever he happens to be.  It’s more of a collective effort than it is a traditional start-up.

Bag Production 300x199 OTC Endorses: ETWAS BagsThe individual leather worker is the brawn that crafts every bag by hand. And by handmade, I mean no machines at all; not even for the Goodyear stitching on saddle-thick leather end panels.

They use a reinforced palm cushion to help drive a giant needle through the hide – no easy task. And true to his green beliefs they don’t even use any artificial lighting. When the sun goes down, they’re done for the day.

There are now three models available, the original Standard #1, a more compact version called the Light Pack and a tool bag-cum-purse.  Will is working to get his bags into more stores in Manhattan and to increase the brand’s online awareness. OTC wishes him luck and is honored to be an ETWAS kind of guy.

To learn more about ETWAS the company and its dedication to low-impact manufacturing, environmental sustainability and craftsmanship, please visit the company’s website.

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Vineyard Vines: An American Original (Part II)

vineyardvines christmas 300x225 Vineyard Vines: An American Original (Part II)In Part One of this column, we took a look at the philosophy and strategy behind the brand that is Vineyard Vines.  Now, let’s look at the business side of that ubiquitous pink whale.

A very important thing to note about Vineyard Vines is that they are opening brink-and-mortar stores while almost any other brand in this market segment is either closing them of postponing any further retail expansion (let alone refurbishment of existing units).

Vineyard Vines’ decision to follow a corporate/institutional branding strategy alongside its retail market is a big reason for their resiliency in the current economic environment. Their corporate/college/sporting division’s business offsets, or at least makes less impactful the capital costs of their retail operation.

This duel market strategy and Shep and Ian’s ability to create a real and passionate culture around their brand are two key reason that they are thriving while other bigger and better financed brands are just trying to stay afloat.

Vineyard Vines Logo 300x84 Vineyard Vines: An American Original (Part II)Early on, the company focused on the college market as a key demographic and it has been a successful effort.  Go into any college store anywhere in the country and you are likely to find Vineyard vines branded ties, polos and tote bags.  That well-known repeated logo pattern is a virtual signature telling you from a distance that the Dartmouth green necktie with the never-ending shield repeat is the work of Shep and Ian.

Hitting The Books
In the same spirit of Jimmy Buffet, Vineyard Vines has college tours that bring the brand’s lifestyle directly to college students on their campuses. Complete with beach parties and pink foam whale hats reminiscent of Buffet’s “land sharks” they are marketing the Vineyard Vines brand directly to a core consumer audience.  Some critics point out that in some segments – namely fraternal groups – the brand has become synonymous with boozy college keg parties.  While not really the company’s fault, it’s a persistent form of collateral brand damage none the less.

Unflattering subsets aside, this kind of legwork does indeed develop an enthusiastic and educated customer base predisposed to support the brand and product outside of the college environment.  They see their support of the brand as integral to their own lifestyle.  Tell me of any retail lifestyle brand that wouldn’t want a market full of grade school-to-country club ambassadors.

VV college Branding 300x178 Vineyard Vines: An American Original (Part II)How is all this managed?  The company has a business unit dedicated to producing customized designs for colleges, their sport teams and fraternal organizations.

Think of it as a collegiate marketing version of vertical integration. If it works right, pretty much anything that campus needs will run through, or at least by, their Vineyard Vines rep. To keep these collegiate efforts coordinated and effective, Vineyard Vines has dedicated brand managers who focus solely on the university market; working with student leaders, administrators and sports teams.

A key goal of course is that as these students grow up and head off to their own careers, a new supply of Vineyard Vines diehards are ready to open their wallets.  They’ll graduate to corporate casual, weekend and country club lives and bring Vineyard Vines along for the ride.  The thing that makes this philosophy tangible is that unlike other aspirational brands – the ones that let you believe that buy wearing their shirt or shoes you too will live in a countryside estate – the Vineyard Vines “lifestyle” is approachable and believable.

The Vineyard Vines world is populated by people you know doing things to which we can all relate: having weddings and graduations, going to parties and just hanging out with friends.  That life is not only easy to aspire to, it’s tangible and easily made real though you and your best friends all sporting the same Vineyard Vines tie and khakis in that Christmas party picture.  Now that’s aspirational branding.

Wearing the Whale
The brand also fits nicely into the preppy/New England Americana trend that has been evolving for the past few years.  In fact, rather than losing steam the look seems to be gaining, moving into new markets and creating its own subsets of “authentic” work wear, classically inspired sportswear and deeper dives into the prep school ethos.

VV Fans 300x200 Vineyard Vines: An American Original (Part II)The brand also has an appeal that reaches those who will never set foot on the Vineyard and who will never be part of “that” life and the continuing economic downturn provides a silver lining of sorts because customers are drawn to safe, stable, familiar styles now more than ever.

The company’s classic, some say pedestrian, designs will be in style for years and have a certain malleable nature that engages both New England Gold Casters and Southern preps used to bolder color palates.  Typically, Vineyard Vines pieces are not standouts; rather they are good compliments of other aspects of an outfit.  Supporting, rather than starring roles as it were.

Fall 2010 changed up this historical rule however and it seems that Vineyard Vines’ designers were looking to the highly stylized designs of Ralph Lauren’s Rugby brand for some inspiration.  Mild compared to Rugby’s hyper prep school look, but still a noticeable uptick on the style front.

VineyardVines2 300x200 Vineyard Vines: An American Original (Part II)For some then, the traditional designs of Vineyard Vines shirts, pants and shorts represent stylistic security as well as comfort. As an OTC reader one observed, Vineyard Vines is no Ralph Lauren. While the two share a seaside/preppy/windswept lifestyle brand, Ralph is champagne and oysters, Shep and Ian are Sam Adams and lobster rolls.

The brand has never been about highbrow, but it does appeal to the lifestyle sensibilities of many who want some of the privileged coastal life. Functionality plays role as well. A Vineyard Vines polo, tie, fleece jacket or classic “bare feet” D-ring belt will be in style now, a year from now and probably 10 years from now.

Their tote bags have become, especially for many young women, signature accessories. Other items like blazers, oxfords, shorts and pants all reinforce the Vineyard Vines lifestyle without the overbearing brand association of a Ralph Lauren-like status issue. The message is often that if you are a Vineyard Vines person, you are a fun loving low key brand ambassador who doesn’t need go out of your way to impress others.

Washington, D.C., has also found the brand to be a good fit. Apart from its appealing natural heritage and traditional preppy theme, there is a long running and bipartisan relationship that politicians, particularly from the Northeast, have with Vineyard Vines ties.

VV Obama Tie 300x217 Vineyard Vines: An American Original (Part II)During his 2004 presidential run, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) commissioned blue donkey ties for his staff which quickly attained must-have status. Since then, Vineyard Vines ties and belts sporting donkeys, elephants, and American flags regularly dress up blue or red political operatives from Capitol Hill to K Street.

For then-Senator Obama’s 2008 presidential run, Vineyard Vines came up with Capitol Domes and the Obama “O” logo on the tail.  Is there a now a White House version?  Hmmm, I’ll have to check on that.

Even those classic Vineyard Vines totes have been tricked out with blue/donkey or red/elephant trim – my direct observation showing this item to be a perpetual de rigeur accessory for Hill interns and staff alike.

The Business of Fun
From a purely business perspective, Shep and Ian are pretty smart guys. They understand the power of branding and customer association to the Vineyard Vines island lifestyle. They are heavily involved in non-profit, good will and social activities in many of their key markets. The brothers understand the financial and marketing benefits of letting their brand grow organically and in markets that make sense.

VV Sox Tie Vineyard Vines: An American Original (Part II)One of those markets is corporate branding. The company produces neckties and select garments and accessories for the National Football League and  Major League Baseball.  Where one might typically expect to see repeating sailboats, instead team logos scroll across ties.

In announcing the NFL deal several years ago, SportsBusiness Daily, quoted NFL Vice President of Consumer Products Susan Rothman saying, “we have ties in the market, but they don’t have the quality that Vineyard Vines has.” She went on to say that additional team branded Vineyard Vines products are a logical next step.

In addition to its collegiate and professional sports business ventures, Vineyard Vines provides an extensive corporate branding service that captures lucrative company contracts for employee polos, fleece, etc., and corporate gifts, like tote bags, hats and jackets.

Vineyard Vines TP Tote 300x223 Vineyard Vines: An American Original (Part II)Cashing on on the blog-fueled interest in TRUE PREP, the long-awaited follow-up to The Original Preppy Handbook, the company partnered with author Lisa Birnbach to play host to a national book signing tour and produced a capsule collection of TRUE PREP branded product.  the move garnered attention from multiple quarters and also positioned, or re-positioned if you will, Vineyard Vines as a classic brand equal to L.L. Bean when it comes to its preppy DNA.

Minding The Store
Vineyard Vines has taken a creative approach to its retail outlets as well. The company makes a concerted effort not to cannibalize existing retailers whenever possible. In many cases, they actually partner with their existing retailers in developing a new stand-alone Vineyard Vines store.

This strategy captures local market knowledge and existing customer bases, engenders goodwill with their local partners and consolidates retail channels. It also frees up the corporate team to focus on product development and branding efforts.

vineyard vines store large 300x200 Vineyard Vines: An American Original (Part II)The company has won numerous awards, including being named a 2008 All-Star Awards winner by Apparel Magazine for outstanding achievements in the apparel industry. Though it certainly has its detractors, Vineyard Vines continues to be a case study in creating and building a passionate and successful business.

The company also invests in robust back office and supply chain management software.  Controlling costs and inventory across the various retail platforms (web, catalog, company store and retail) is just as vital as customer development.

Vineyard Vines’ website is regularly refreshed, while still retaining it’s clean and brand-appropriate friendly feel.  Though relatively new, the company’s blog, “The Vine” is refreshingly non-corporate feeling.  An active Twitter feed and Facebook fan page round out a robust if relaxed social media platform.

If there is an area of legitimate concern regarding Vineyard Vines’ brand, I think it is the issue of brand dilution. By moving into so many tangential markets – collegiate, fraternal, club, professional sports, corporate – the Murrays do run the risk of muddling what Vineyard Vines really means. If I can pick up a dozen San Francisco 49ers Vineyard Vines ties at Marshall’s for $12.99, exactly how special is that brand? What lifestyle am I really buying?

It’s a legitimate concern and frankly one I suspect has already been mulled over up at the Stamford, Connecticut, headquarters.

VV Logo Vineyard Vines: An American Original & Preppy HeavyweightVineyard Vines is everywhere.  A classic American success story, the company, most associated with whimsical yest office compatible ties, was most recently feted in the long-anticipated follow up to The Original Preppy Handbook – TRUE PREP.

In fact, TRUE PREP and TOPH author Lisa Birnbach worked together to promote the new book.  In September, Vineyard Vines used its stores to host a cross-country tour for Ms. Birnbach and even launched a TRUE PREP co-branded capsule collection.  As it did not even exist when TOPH was written, this example of Vineyard Vine’s impact on, and influence in, the East Coast preppy trend is even more noteworthy.

The Back Story
Founded in 1998, Vineyard Vines sells a classic vision: that everyone should enjoy the simple New England seaside life; and through their products you can. In times like these, still full of turmoil and uncertainly and a desire for simple, classic influences, that message is very attractive.

Vineyard Vines was built by two brothers, Shep and Ian Murray, who both had suit-and-tie Manhattan careers but really wanted to live and play by the water. They quit, started making quirky ties and the rest, as they say, is history. Self financed by the seat of their pants, it’s an authentic story. And the company’s hats, ties, shirts, short and bags all carry this inherent authenticity that resonates with Vineyard Vines’ customers.

VV Tie Grouping 300x225 Vineyard Vines: An American Original & Preppy HeavyweightThough host to a variety of product lines, the most well known are their ties which have a similar cache’ to Hermes ties and so are regularly snapped up by suit wearing lawyers, bankers and even politicians.

This particular aspect of the company’s brand is one of its most interesting.  While VV ties are not made in a French artisan’s atelier, their similar subtle repetitive patterns, rendered tongue-in-cheek to Hermes’ status-heavy bridle bits, often resonate with the same customer demographic.

As Ian says, “We started making neckties so we didn’t have to wear them.” That feeling has effectively translated to their customers. For many, wearing a Vineyard Vines tie is a little like saying, “I may have to wear a tie, but I’m wearing a vineyard Vines tie because that’s who I really am – someone who doesn’t need to wear a tie.”

VV Tie Detail Vineyard Vines: An American Original & Preppy HeavyweightVineyard Vines’ ties send a message about the wearer, or at least what the wearer wants you to believe about him. Their designs are tastefully neutral but topically ironic. As noted above, where Hermes may have interlinking Raj elephants, Vineyard Vines ties have interlinking beach chairs or gin & tonics. They are statement ties at a very irreverent level and in fact require the wearer to possess some personal confidence; a little “in-your-faceness.”

To my mind, one of the main reasons that Vineyard Vines remains a successful brand, even during these economically challenging times, is because its growth and brand recognition were both the result of an organic process. It’s grown slowly in terms of a national label and by doing so has achieved a certain cult status among the American preppy/Trad cognoscenti.

The brand and its products have a personal and timelessly classic appeal. Most companies spend small fortunes trying to manufacture that magic – Shep and Ian just seemed to stroll right into it. But once the brand stuck, they made a point of effectively managing its growth and sticking to their natural markets.

Branding the Life
At its core, Vineyard Vines can still be considered a cult brand. While its product lines are fairly strait forward New England preppy standbys – polos, khakis, shorts, fleece, tote bags – the buzz surrounding the company is still the visceral kind normally associated with newcomers. Not everyone knows about the brand, but those who do are often vocal advocates.

VV Shep Ian Murray Vineyard Vines: An American Original & Preppy HeavyweightFor a lot of their customers, sporting a Vineyard Vines martini glass tie or whale logoed hat, tells people that really they are an individual, not one of the corporate masses. And within the company, there is still a real passion to spread the gospel of Vineyard Vines. With products and price points that range from hundreds to just a few dollars, it’s also a lifestyle brand that people can buy a little piece at a time. This approach is the classic recipe for retail success practiced by the likes of Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren.

From the customer’s perspective, moving through the Vineyard Vines world is well thought out presented at a casually human scale. Everything reinforces not only the “VV” lifestyle but also the real people living it. For example, the catalogs feature real people whom the brothers have known for years, not professional models. This practice began out of necessity – they couldn’t actually afford to hire models – but eventually became a staple of the local and real world ethos that has made the brand so popular and accessible.

Over the past few years, there has been some validity to complaints that Vineyard Vines was on design autopilot.  The styles were a little drab and neutral and quality not top-notch.  The 2010 Summer and Fall seasons however, have been absolutely on target. The designs are inspired and appealing in a functionally preppy way and a renewed focus on materials and construction show.

OTC recently received a box full of Vineyard Vines’ current offerings and I can say that, unexpectedly, I love each piece.  to be blunt, I did not expect to be so impressed.  Given the generally average stylistic and performance reviews the brand gets, I was hoping to find one or two pieces for OTC to recommend.  Turns out, it all gets a big OTC thumbs up.

VV Noreaster Vest 255x300 Vineyard Vines: An American Original & Preppy HeavyweightThe two pullovers they sent, a Raft Up Rugby and  Jersey 1/4-Zip (in Blue Blazer), are without exception my new go-to favorites.   The Washed Twill Club Pants (in Beach) were, honestly, the biggest surprise.

I tried out VV pants before and was disappointed.  They never really fit me and I felt like the leg openings were too wide – just not me.  On top of that, I’m a bit of a khaki snob, mostly because I can never find a pair that I really fits me.  These khakis, rendered in a lightweight brushed finish vaguely reminiscent of moleskin, are great.  I wear them all the time and I’m going to get more; simple as that.

The Nor’easter Vest, lined in dense but thin Polartec has already seen extensive dog walking and apple picking use.  In speaking with the company’s PR crew I learned that, although not really touted, Vineyard Vines outer wear is genuinely tough and built for use.  No, walking the dog is not akin to heeling your 420 in 15-foot swells during a squall, but the taped seams, heavy zippers, durable materials and solid construction appear to be some new hallmarks for a brand that has heretofore been categorized as “style over substance.”

Bricks & Mortar
In its stores, Vineyard Vines has done the elusive – effectively capturing the appeal of coastal New England life and tying the physical experience to emotional appeal of the brand.  In fact, while other brick-and-mortar outlets are closing or at least slowing their expansion,  VV is still moving ahead with targeted expansion.

The stores are friendly, bright and inviting. You feel the Nantucket-ness in every inch of the place; from the large framed maps of New England coastline to the buoys and nautical paraphernalia scattered across the selling floor. For a native Connecticut Yankee who spent childhood summers on Long Island Sound, it’s like going home.

VV Georgetown Store 300x225 Vineyard Vines: An American Original & Preppy HeavyweightOf course, it’s a clean, shiny, well designed nautical version of home akin to Polo’s take on the classic English country manor house. Better and more ideal than the real thing but nonetheless inherently true to its roots.

On the cyber end of things, the website is visually engaging and makes the visitor feel like they are part of the Vineyard Vines world, or at least that should want to be. There is even a photo gallery so that customers can send pictures of their exploits and celebrations while wearing or using Vineyard Vines products. This last feature is a very effective method for building brand personalization and identification because the customer is literally getting to be part of the culture. It also marries traditional “real world” marketing with aspects of social media and first person reporting.

Shep and Ian also recently launched their blog, which highlights a more conversational approach to the brand.  In fact, what it really pushes is a community approach to content generation.  they want the blog to populated by fan stories, posts or videos of local and family events sent in by customers and employee highlights from retail outlets.

In Part II of this extended brand profile, we’ll continue our discussion about Vineyard Vines’ business strategy, including their successful approach to college grassroots marketing, its political connections and creative model for retail development.  Part II is working its way through editing and should be ready in a week or two.  Keep your whale hat on and your eyes peeled.

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IMAGE 1 Truely Preppy Travel: True Wind Sailcloth BagsI grew up sailing 420s on Long Island Sound and still have a real love of the water. Sailing, as with many physically challenging sports, makes you appreciate the quality and construction of your equipment and accessories.

For example, Sperry topsiders are beloved by sailors because they actually work well and last. They look pretty good too, especially after being waterlogged a couple of dozen times.

Storage is another big issue, and a good bag is worth its weight in waterproof sailcloth. There are several companies that manufacture tote and duffel bags out of recycled sailcloth – my wife has a cool one with the original number “4” stitched on the side.

But only one company, True Wind, is manufacturing its bags out of brand new Dacron sailcloth, the same stuff that is normally turned into the sails that power some of the world’s top racing boats. From the ground up, True Wind’s bags are uniquely designed and built like tanks.  They were kind enough to send me a Port Laptop bag for testing and review some time ago and after months of use, it’s holding up incredibly well.  What goes into the bag is what makes it so durable.

420+Sailing Truely Preppy Travel: True Wind Sailcloth Bags

Their sailcloth is custom woven in Ireland by Hood Sailmakers, the world’s oldest Dacron sailcloth manufacturer, and the only sailmaker in the world that weaves its own cloth.

Hood’s legacy goes back to its founder, the legendary yachtsman Ted Hood, and was the first company in the world to use man-made fiber (Dacron) in sailmaking. Almost from the beginning, Hood sailcloth has been the cloth of choice for some of the largest and most prestigious cruising, classic, and racing yachts in the world.

For True Wind, using custom woven sailcloth gives them total control over the cloth’s color, hand and finish. In production terms, that means the cloth is of consistent high-quality from one bag to the next. Speaking of production, each bag is made individually by hand, and completely made in America.

Ditty+Bag Group Truely Preppy Travel: True Wind Sailcloth Bags

The price point for True Wind bags is higher than some other sail cloth bags, but as owner Meredith Marquis pointed out to me, you really get what you pay for. Premium materials and attentive domestic production make these bags legitimate heirlooms.  And True Wind is a genuine family business; Meredith and her brother Roger who grew up sailing of the coast of Long Island, founded and still run the company.

Everything that goes into Marquis’ bags is well thought out. The solid brass hardware even comes from the same manufacturer that produces for Coach. All of the other materials, right down to the thread, is marine-grade and of the highest quality.

From a design perspective, True Wind’s bags are genuinely unique. The distinctive stripe pattern takes its inspiration from maritime signal flags; “Y” to be exact. Most of the recycled bag brands all use the same design of numbers and draft stripes, which are the thin strips of color that go across a sail to help the sailor see the shape of the sail. While this random element of “found design” can be appealing, sometimes those bags can take on too-rustic a look.

Navigator+Duffel Group Truely Preppy Travel: True Wind Sailcloth BagsLastly, since True Wind’s sailcloth material is brand new and its bags purpose-built, I feel that I could beat the heck out of one and not worry about it. Bags made out of recycled sailcloth are, to me, more of a fashion item – perfect for a cool tote bag, but perhaps not for a duffel bag headed towards an airline baggage handler.

To learn more about True Wind bags, check out the company’s website. By the way, their bags make a great holiday gift and can be monogrammed.

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OTC On the Road: Nike Golf’s Oven

DSC07435 300x225 OTC On the Road: Nike Golf’s OvenWhat do Hermes and Nike have in common?  When it comes to Nike’s golf division, a great deal.  Last month I was Nike Golf’s guest at their remarkable R&D facility in Fort Worth, Texas.  Not only were my eyes opened as far as golf technology is concerned, I have a whole new appreciation for Nike as a quality-focused brand.

When I arrived in Fort Worth I was generally interested in Nike’s golf operation, the general brand and its business model.  I  was not, however, expecting the total obsession with excellence demonstrated by everyone I met there.

The craftsmen, and they are craftsman in every sense of the word, are literally some of the best golf club makers in the world.  And the Oven, the facility’s nickname, is to me the golf equivalent of a Hermes atelier.  There is a total fixation, exhibited by all the staff, akin to a spiritual goal of ideal perfection.

In reality, that makes pretty good sense.  On any given day Tiger Woods could stroll in and ask to test the latest putter or driver.  In at least one case a PGA pro walked out with a prototype club that had so impressed him that he planned to use it that very week in competition.  The Nike staff had to scramble to make sure the club was PGA approved by the time the event began!

DSC07439 300x225 OTC On the Road: Nike Golf’s Oven

I and about 12 other bloggers and journalists, were invited to attend the Crowne Plaza Invitational to see Nike’s athletes in action and then headed off to The Oven to learn about all the work that goes into those pros’ clubs.  It was eye opening to say the least and I have a new level of respect for the folks who research, design, test, and hand craft the tools that allow the likes of Tiger Woods, Michelle Wei and the legendary Tom Watson, achieve such amazing feats of sport.

In  fact, during the tour, while everyone else was moving on to another area, I was still chatting with the head club maker and actually got  to hold Watson’s 8 iron – the set was in a locked display case.  That very club had helped him win 5 majors.  A special moment to say the least.

The tour itself was a rare opportunity.  Typically, the only people allowed inside the Oven are Nike staff and the tour professionals themselves.  From testing and design to fabrication and final product, I had an up close and personal view of what actually goes into Nike’s golf clubs.  I was a great experience.

If you don’t love golf, this kind of visit will likely make you a convert and if you do, it’s on par, so to speak, with your wedding day.

At least that’s what one guy told me.

Here are some more pictures from OTC’s visit to Nike’s Oven:

DSC07440 300x225 OTC On the Road: Nike Golf’s Oven

DSC07449 225x300 OTC On the Road: Nike Golf’s Oven

DSC07445 300x225 OTC On the Road: Nike Golf’s Oven

(more…)

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