ROXANNE, SAGA'S DESIGN MAVEN Roxanne Weippert has been a product designer at COACH, Jones New York, and Black Diamond Equipment, and has now released a ground-breaking womens' line with Saga Outerwear. This exclusive interview with Gear.com is a must-read for any aspiring designer.

Editor, Gear.com

GEAR:
You've been a designer at COACH, at Jones New York, at Black Diamond, and now have released an absolutely stunning new women’s line with Saga Outerwear (click here to shop her entire Saga collection). You have a degree in fiber science from Cornell, and are widely respected in the industry for your clothing designs. What experiences inspired you and helped you know that this is what you wanted to do?

ROXANNE:
I grew up in Miami, Fl surrounded by culture & art and knew early on that I wanted be an artist in some way, shape or form. As a kid I drew everything, but mostly horses. Not sure when that evolved into clothes. I started my fashion studies in high school, at Design & Architecture Senior High located in the heart of the Design District in Miami. It was an incredible experience to be immersed in art & design so young. I learned how to sew, pattern-make and drape on a dress form at 15. I also had the opportunity to share a collection of my work during Miami’s Fashion Week.

It was around this same time that I took my first ski trip to Gore Mountain (upstate NY) where my aunt and uncle were ski patrollers. I went with my older brother, took 1 lesson and then took the gondola to the top (on his insistence). On the second day, I fell my way down my first black diamond and was hooked on the sport.

It was in 2013 that I realized I was spending more time driving out of the city I lived in rather than enjoying NY for all the art & culture it has to offer. I decided to combine my two favorite things: the outdoors & design.

GEAR:
There's a never-ending need to balance forward-thinking design with what will actually sell. What do you believe are the key qualities that a designer needs to nurture in themselves in order to create ground-breaking designs that don't just impress, but also deliver a strong commercial result?


ROXANNE:
Ability to learn something new, whether it be a new program for patterning a jacket or a better way to draw in illustrator. I often feel like I’ve learned more on the job than I ever did in school.

Ability to communicate & take criticism – this is essential to design and is often the hardest for any designer (myself included). I try to invite all the athletes and testers to come in regularly for an open discussion about the current product and any future developments. It’s great hearing from athletes or coworkers telling me they love their new jacket, but it is much more meaningful when they shoot me a text with a photo of the jacket wetting out or a pocket failing. It’s disappointing to know you made a mistake, but it’s also an opportunity to make the product better.

Ability to take on challenges and test your ideas – similar to above, basically taking the problem that needs solving to the work table. Meaning, sometimes you have to rip open some seams, sit down at the sewing machine or patterning table and make a prototype to figure out how to solve a leaky pocket or how to clean finish a thumb loop. The factory will understand your idea so much better with a physical sample to reference.

Willingness to take risks and stand behind them – Design is all about risk. We may have market and consumer data from previous seasons to go on, but sometimes an idea comes out of left field. To really stand out you have to try something new, whether it be a color, print, fabric or style. And yes, it might fail, but it might not. It also could have that WOW factor that reels the customer in. And often you have to be the champion for those crazy ideas. Someone has to stand behind them!

GEAR:
How do you balance flattering design with the bomber functionality required by professional athletes?


ROXANNE:
I guess I don’t really see these as separate or warring ideals. Form & function complement one another and are the basis of any good design. Especially in outdoor design. As a former supervisor and mentor once said: “We do not put 'fashion pockets' on our apparel."

GEAR:
Are there considerations you take into account when designing for sustainability?

ROXANNE:
I try to choose sustainable materials for design and think about the long-term value of any item I design. I often worry that by working in an industry that is based on consumerism that I am adding to the problem rather than helping it. But I’d like to think that by working at a brand like Saga, where we make affordable and quality technical outerwear that we are a great introductory brand for consumers. That by providing an affordable alternative we’re helping get more people outside to see and experience the outdoors and push for conservation of these places.

One of my goals at Saga is to push us into better materials and practices, be it blue sign fabrics or using left-over 3L to make fanny packs or prototypes.

GEAR:
Which designers inspire you, whether from the outdoor industry or not? Are there other disciplines and personalities (in architecture, history, etc) that have influenced you in significant ways?

ROXANNE:
Dieter Rams - for his design principles, my favorite being “less, but better” or “Good design is as little design as possible”.

99% Invisible - a design podcast that focuses on products or objects you see every day and how design influenced their function. I love the name and how its goal is to expose the unseen and overlooked aspects of design.

Fashion, art, photography, music, architecture and the outdoors have all inspired my work. For example, I’ve looked to the work of Alexander Wang, Yohji Yamamoto, Zaha Hadid and Pharrel Williams for inspiration and found print and/or color ideas in the sandstone of the desert or ice on a frozen lake.

GEAR:
How has working with Saga and its athletes influenced your vision for design?

ROXANNE:
Working with the athletes at Saga has been awesome! They are all so stoked on the brand and excited to be involved in the process that it makes my job easier. I love knowing that they are not afraid to wear a crazy print or color and will give me their honest feedback on a new development.

GEAR:
What advancements in materials and technology have you excited?

ROXANNE:
MIT researchers have invented a new type of workout material that can breathe using biological cells.

I don’t have a practical use for it at Saga (yet) but it is great to see what other people are working on.

The future of wearable tech. Levi’s developed a jacket with Google that had capacitive threads with a copper core woven into the sleeve. The idea was to be able to control your phone without taking it out of the pocket. While this may have been a flop for them, it’s a great example of taking a risk and hopefully learning something from it so that we can make something better.

GEAR:
What life experiences or travel have had an impact on you? A sticky situation you've found yourself in?

ROXANNE:
My experiences in the outdoors have also shaped who I am or want to be. When looking for jobs in design “out west” I took a phone interview for BD while sitting on the floor in the airport, before a two week bike tour of eastern Europe. I received an invite for in person interview, over the phone after topping out the 1st Flatiron in Colorado. I’ve answered emails from ski lifts and done tech pack updates from my van while driving home from a long weekend in the desert. Most of my “stickiest situations” have been climbing related, whether it was a hard move with long run-out on lead above my gear or wind and rain on alpine climb. From those situations I’ve learned to remember to take a deep breath and keep moving forward.

GEAR:
What advice do you have for young people who aspire to be a designer?

ROXANNE:
Life is about making mistakes and learning from them. As a designer you will make mistakes and sometimes no one will like your work. But taking the risks to get there are always worth the lesson.

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