Last weekend whilst discussing work with my friend Alex, I was surprised to hear that he had never heard of the brand Rab. This was very surprising to me, because of the 50+ brands we sell at Webtogs, Rab ranks second only to The North Face in terms of sales – and even then it’s a close-run thing. It’s also very much the ‘it’ brand in the market at the moment, with a rapidly expanding fan-base and amazing sell-through, not to mention the fact that it’s been around as a flag bearer of the British outdoor kit industry since the 1980s. I had considered Alex to be better in-touch with outdoor brands than the average Joe, having spent countless hours trekking across Dartmoor with him in training for the Ten Tors Challenge back in our school days… I rapidly reassessed this judgement.
Since then however, it has struck me that I was perhaps wrong to expect Alex to have heard of Rab (sorry Alex). I’ve been rather wrapped up in outdoor retail for the past two and a half years; perhaps I’ve lost all concept of how widely known various outdoor brands actually are beyond outdoorsy circles?
In a country where almost everyone has heard of The North Face, it would seem that a great many people have still not heard of the great British brand Rab, largely by virtue of its smaller marketing budget and the fact that it’s not owned by a multi-billion dollar multinational (note: nothing against The North Face – they make some great products too). This is a great injustice against a brand that produces some of the highest quality, most beautifully-finished outdoor clothing and equipment in the world.
As a result, to give Rab a bit more exposure in my own small way, over the coming weeks I’ll be posting bits content about the Rab brand and some of the great products they produce. I’ll start in a logical place, with a quick brand history that explains how the Rab story began.
Rab: A Brief History
(Please read on, it’s quite interesting)
The Rab name stems from the brand’s founder, Rab Carrington (b.1947). An avid climber, Carrington went into mountaineering full-time after finishing his education at the University of Glasgow, and it is in his climbing roots that his fresh and innovative approach to outdoor gear manufacture originated. In the 1960s when it was the norm to climb big Alpine rock routes in mountaineering boots, he used his climbing shoes; a far lighter and more responsive alternative. Through studying every route, travelling fast and light with only the necessary gear, Rab Carrington achieved many noteworthy first ascents. He was one of the early pioneers of modern Alpine climbing, and a leading light of British Alpinism.
Carrington initially fell into the business of outdoor gear manufacture somewhat by accident, in 1973. En-route to an expedition in Argentina, Rab Carrington and his companions became separated from their gear, which remained stranded at Liverpool Airport due to the crippling effect of the ongoing 3-day week energy crisis on UK customs. Killing time in Buenos Aires, he fell in with a hospitable small-scale manufacturer of down clothing and sleeping bags, whom he volunteered to help, and from whom he began to learn the skills of the trade.
In 1981 using expertise gleaned from his amateur kit production and years in the mountains, Carrington set up the Rab brand proper in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Utilising all his experience of lightweight first ascents, he set about designing outdoor products of in accordance with his own principles, and uniquely high expectations. The Rab ethos of designing products to fulfill the specific needs of the user was forged in those early years, and would endure throughout the following decades.
In the mid 1980s Rab was the first manufacturer to utilise Pertex fabrics in the production of down clothing and sleeping bags: a collaboration that continues to this day. The use of such lightweight, tough and weather-resistant fabrics complemented the high quality down fills that Rab used, and continue to use in their down garments and equipment; a winning combination ensuring the ultimate in lightweight, compressible warmth. Down jackets had been bulky, heavy affairs in the 1960’s and 70’s. Thanks to Rab, in the 1980s and 90s they had evolved into far lighter, slimmer affairs, much better suited to the rigours of intense outdoor activity. This evolution continues at Rab today.
Although Carrington himself no longer owns Rab, having sold it on to Equip Outdoor Technologies Ltd in 2004 (he’s now rather old to be fair – though still climbing), Rab brand values and outstanding quality have been maintained. The Rab range now covers everything from it’s original specialty of down products, to waterproofs, soft shells, base layers and gloves, all living up to the same high standards of quality and functionality set by Rab products of the past. What’s more, though economic factors have necessitated the outsourcing of many stages of Rab manufacture to the Far East, Rab HQ remains in Sheffield, where the filling of its down products continues. This is a practice long since abandoned by Rab’s major competitors, which ensures consistent, market-leading fill quality (and quantity) in all Rab down garments.
To get a feel for some of the things Rab produce, here’s a few links to the various categories of Rab product. Check them out, if you value good quality, functional and feature-rich outdoor clothing, you’re bound to be impressed:
To back up the point I was making about people having not heard of Rab, my Webtogs colleague Mike, was talking just now to someone at Royal Mail about a missing package. The Royal Mail employee asked what the content of the package was, to which Mike replied “Rab down”.
“Rabbit down?” the Royal Mail employee replied…
Hilarity ensued. Though Mike did kindly explain to the Royal Mail employee what Rab was.
Webtogs – spreading the good word one person at a time.