Hard as it may be to believe, Arc’teryx almost never came to be. In 1989, David Lane founded Rock Solid Manufacturing in Vancouver, Canada. Lane was an avid climber and outdoorsman, passions facilitated by British Columbia’s natural beauty and Vancouver’s proximity to the Rocky Mountains. Despite the perfect conditions for climbing, he were frustrated by the lack of quality equipment available to them. So, he did that what others facing the same dilemma—Yvon Chouinard with
Patagonia, and Douglas and Susie Tompkins with The North Face—had done in the past: He decided that he would make the gear and apparel he felt was missing. Thus was born Rock Solid Manufacturing.
While Rock Solid may have been representative of the type of gear that Lane set out to create—while nodding to the mountaineering it was made for—it lacked panache. In 1990, Lane brought Jeremy Guard, a fellow climber, into the fold and in 1991 the pair renamed the company Arc’teryx, a nod to the
Archaeopteryx lithographica, the first reptile to develop feathers for flight—the first bird, in other words—and the brand’s instantly recognizable logo is a depiction of the Berlin specimen of the Archaeopteryx.
By shifting to Arc’teryx, Guard and Lane were sending a message: The Archaeopteryx was a revolutionary creature and Arc’teryx would set out to revolutionize the world of performance outerwear. Throughout the ’90s, the brand unveiled a series of innovations that helped entrench Arc’teryx as a force within the performance wear market. In 1992, a year after becoming Arc’teryx, the brand released the first thermomolded foam climbing harness; while the fashion implications of that invention were limited, it played a crucial role in Arc’teryx’s positioning within the market.
Arc’teryx had obtained a license from W. L. Gore & Associates, the medical supplies manufacturer,
to use Gore-Tex fabric in 1995. Over the next few years the company began the process of developing the Alpha SV, which was to be a revolutionary waterproof ice climbing jacket.
The SV stands for “Severe Use”, meaning the most demanding conditions. Arc’teryx nomenclature is a complicated beast and the abbreviations that follow garment names often nod to the weather they are designed to withstand. AR stands for “All-Round”, MX for “Mixed Use”, LT for “Lightweight” and SL for “Super Lightweight.”
The Alpha SV proved to be as revolutionary as Arc’teryx wanted—the shell jacket has arguably become
the reference in the industry over the last two decades and helped turn Arc’teryx into one of the most well-respected purveyors of outerwear in the world, not just a manufacturer of mountaineering hardware.