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Mar 11 2013

Black Diamond goes all in on apparel

When Black Diamond set out to impress the press with the launch of their apparel line it was obvious what they intended to do. Frankly I wasn’t expecting that much of substance, but figured it would be a good show. Indeed, the showmanship was top notch for a bunch of guys struting their athletic builds beneath BD’s new duds. It wasn’t exactly titillating for me, but I’m sure the few ladies in attendance were enjoying seeing a bit of runway action with guys for a change.

Tim Bantle, product manager for BD’s new apparel line, wraps up his explanation of the many pieces shown on stage.

That was not the most impressive part of the evening. Not by a long shot.

The clothing was nice, and sharp and functional looking. What caught my attention was the introduction by Peter Metcalf, Black Diamond’s leader, the man who captained the ship through their genesis in the wake of being strategically cast adrift by Patagonia to dodge a lawsuit and subsequently led it to dominance in the North American mountaineering marketplace.

Try as I might I could not see any evidence of a teleprompter, and yet Peter managed to calmly explain in detail the growth and vision of Black Diamond in terms that tickle the mind of every mountaineers aspirations – except not in terms of scaling rock, but of building a business fortress based on mountaineering principles. From a literary perspective it was brilliant, and yet there was no evidence of a script anywhere.

I spoke to several insiders at BD afterwards and they all pretty much said, “yeah, well, now you see why I’ve been so loyal for so long.”

It is easy to look from afar and criticize. We’ve all done it, especially with companies that make products that we buy that we wish they made better or different, or whom we’ve interacted with and they were jerks. BD among them. However, BD has earned respect from their customers because, by and large their products are solid. When they oops, they fix their mistakes, even learn from them, and their customer service is par excellënçe.

Sounds like I’ve been drinking a bit of that kool-aid myself, and perhaps I did without even knowing it by hearing Peter Metcalf explain the vision and history of BD himself in succinct detail, leading inevitably to their strategy and goals with outdoor apparel.

Afterwards I asked Peter if he wouldn’t mind sharing a transcript of what he said. Obviously I caught him off guard a little. He sort of stammered, perplexed by my question since, apparently, one didn’t exist. I was stunned. Surely what he said had been scripted, the words chosen so appropriately, yet he had spoken extemporaneously, off the top of his head. To him it was an old script, a script that played endlessly in his mind and he knew it by heart.

He sent me something a few days later, but it wasn’t what he had actually said. It was more abbreviated, and lacked the word quality – a hasty attempt to summarize his core ideas. I appreciated his effort, but it would not prove to be a good example of what he really said.

A week later I was browsing the book BD gave out at the apparel launch and I suddenly realized I was reading the “script” he had created and that his fellow BD workers had drunk enough of to document in a masterful and polished piece of marketing paper.

So let me share a bit of that, and imagine Peter Metcalf speaking (not reading) this to you in his distinct voice which neither booms nor squeeks, but comes at you with a force that demands attention with the boldness of the claims he makes in a matter of fact tone.

This is not exactly what Peter Metcalf said when introducing BD’s new line of apparel on January 24th in Utah’s Natural History Museum. It IS representative of the quality of language and the spirit of the message he delivered. If you wonder who maintains the recipe for BD’s notoriously strong employee kool-aid, look no further than Peter Metcalf. He makes a wicked brew. ;)

The question remains, is the clothing deserving of the hype? Based on the specs, materials used, and functional look of each piece, yes. Will it catch fire in an already crowded market? That remains to be seen.

In case you wondered, the sample BD provided at this event has managed to fetch a fair number of unsolicited compliments. I’m no model, so when someone notices something I wear, it’s the clothing, not me.

The complete collection of Black Diamond’s apparel line for Fall 2013.

© 2013