Arc’teryx graphic designer Vincent Cook was granted freedom when designing the Arc’teryx morale patches. The 20 patches he created—each specific to a locale—for the outdoor equipment retailer allowed him up to express the brand through a city in unexpected ways.
“It was meant to be a little bit more humorous, tongue-in-cheek, ironic, or a cool cultural vibe,” he says of the program that launched in 2018 and has only grown in popularity. “We did try to vary the patches in terms of shape and colors and sometimes we would go deep into color, sometimes the shape is the main thing, and other times the graphic defined the shape.”
Throughout it all, Arc’teryx created completely individualized branding for brand stores, giving local consumers a unique tie to their community and giving the brand a fresh way to flex its design know-how.
Based in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, the high-end outdoor retailer known for its extensive line of classically designed weatherproof outerwear, equipment and, now, lifestyle wear, decided to create a line of patches to celebrate local communities by giving consumers a patch every time they rented a piece of gear from the brand as part of a new “gear library” effort.
Cook then created 19 Arc’teryx morale patches for each of the brand’s stores and a 20th to tie to the head office. “Definitely the idea was they would all be unique, and they would be specific to the store, to the geography,” Cook says.
To kick off the project, Cook met with all the store’s community marketing managers in the Vancouver head office. He created a short question and answer for the managers, ranging from top local activities that align with the brand to a more general cultural survey of the city, hoping to gain insight into both the communities and any “inside cool things” that store experiences.
“There are a few designs that when you are looking from outside the city, you say ‘Oh, I don’t know what that means,” says Stephanie Jamieson, Arc’teryx retail marketing manager. “But when in Toronto and you see the fish, that means everything to the city.” Arc’teryx was also able to use its global and social channels to continue the discussion of why some patches looked a certain way, offering a “nice moment to ask questions about our other communities.”
From Vancouver to New York and Portland to Toronto, Cook had plenty of insight to work with. When it came to design, he used both morale patches from the military—not officially sanctioned, but generally allowed because they did work to boost morale—and patches from ski resorts.
A Patch for What?
At first his designs had plenty of freedom, because the project started without a clear path of how Arc’teryx planned to apply them. So, he first envisioned them woven with an edge and Velcro backing.
“I approached them from more a T-shirt graphic point of view,” he says. “We were really trying to nail the graphic and the message of the graphic first and then make sure it works within the constraints of a patch. I knew you wouldn’t get the same on the patch as the screen, but I love the weird analog distortion with patches. That is one of the quirks that make them lovable.”
Jamieson says they evolved the patches to create a retail experience at stores, creating both a traditional patch and a heat-press option conducive to applying to Arc’teryx’s most popular products without much equipment.
Everything started with the intel from each store. Using a few key words, Cook worked to see how those words could translate visually and then he started sketching in a book. The designs eventually made their way to the computer and “then it was just a bunch of pushing pixels around to get it done,” he says.
Throughout the project, Cook says a few specific Arc’teryx morale patches remained close to his heart, such as the Tokyo, Japan, patch because he had done a lot of work there, and they had so many things to say from a culture point of view. “I really wanted to do our Canadian stores proud, especially Whistler and Vancouver,” he says. “They all ended up different.”
Cook used an inverted triangle in red, orange, and brown with the moniker “Canadian Mountain Workshop” atop a maple leaf and Arc’teryx mark for the downtown Vancouver patch, but for the Kitsilano store in Vancouver he tied to the Greenpeace “Save Them” moniker since Greenpeace started in the Kitsilano area of Vancouver. “It has this legacy and cool heritage,” he says. “It is a nice reference.”
Jamieson says folks in the office gravitate toward different Arc’teryx morale patches based on personal preferences. The Los Angeles design was popular for its color, while the mole rat from Edmonton provided a funny story. “We could get backlash for this,” she says, “but we decided to do it anyway. The excitement was good, and we ran it past the local team before we put anything out.”
Connection and Continuation
During that process, Jamieson says, it allowed the head office to connect closer to the local teams. The Whistler patch needed updating to the area documented on the patch, and the Seattle team wanted a more refined fish to better represent the city. Along the way the process required a few color edits because of limited thread color availability, but Cook says it all worked out.
While the patches are available at the brand stores, the customization of placing them on apparel only happens during special events. With the patch popularity, Arc’teryx is now creating new patches as a way to raise money and awareness for causes. For example, at the reopening of its New York store the band did a patch for National Parks in the U.S., only available at the reopening event at the Soho store and by donation. It raised $3,000 in one day for the cause.
Expect Arc’teryx to continue to put out new patches as a way to drive awareness for causes and when the time is right to update with additional store patches. “We will put them out in the marketplace when we feel comfortable,” Jamieson says.
Throughout it all, Cook remains committed to keeping each patch unique, individualized, but still fully Arc’teryx. “He is super talented,” Jamieson says. “It takes a huge amount of talent to get this end result.”
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.