As fans of the genre will note, we’re living in a time that was once considered just far-off enough for Science Fiction writers to let their mega-cities sprawl. In real life, too, the metropolises of the world are being populated by people wrapped in high-tech garments, and menacing black outfits… of course, that’s only half the techwear story. The other side works to consider functional needs of its users, creating better weather protection, and improved comfort or mobility than traditional urban style.
Alongside my review of Orbit Gear’s R221, I spoke to Yost, Orbit’s Co-Founder and Creative director. Being based in Jakarta, one of the largest cities in the world and often subject to tropical cyclones, Orbit Gear are uniquely positioned to test the demands of the modern resident.
Jed: Your designs draw inspiration from Military and Mountaineering gear, but applied to an urban setting. What changes do you need to make for commuters? How do you ensure that the technical performance from those other sectors isn’t lost?
Yost: Damn, it is hard talking about my love for the outdoors and my fascination for military gear without telling you guys the backstory. It might be a bit long. So, hang tight.
I was growing up in the rural area, around 300km outside Jakarta, with my grandparents that are farmers. I grew up being outdoor daily, like literally fishing so we would have a decent dinner, swimming in the river or even making booby traps for birds and junglefowl on the weekend.
At that time, my dad was an exploration surveyor working for National Mining Company which made him own a few outdoor gears that were actually designed to save his life in the uncertainty of Indonesia’s deep jungle.
I often fascinated over all the gear he owned. From the simple compass, rain jacket made by Helly Hansen, to the bags collection from a local outdoor brand called Alpina, to the advanced carrier from The North Face.
All of those high technology gear on their era fascinates me, and sometimes I eagerly waited for the day to get rainy, so I could wear the jacket for a walk despite the jacket fitting too big for me.
Fast forward to my college time around 2007, I moved to Jakarta. In between my busy college life and double part-time job to help me fund the college, I occasionally hiked mountains and camping to release stress, and this hobby gave me exposure on how the outdoor gear worked in real life.
Video games, airsoft gun and military world, become my other obsession at that time. I played airsoft and dressed like I was going into a real battlefield. I started to hunt for some military gear in the thrift store and sometimes bought new equipment in local military enthusiast store.
During those spells, I realized that all the outdoor and military gear I ever owned was designed for specific terrain. For example, despite being heavily raining, showing up to class with yellow-coloured outdoor jacket might be drawing too much attention, especially when you’re late, lol.
The same applied with tactical-esque cargo pants or military backpack that sometimes makes our stop at the security check longer than expected.
All of this outdoor gear I owned served me well in its intended terrain, but I spent the majority of my time and activity in the Jakarta’s urban jungle, which required different tools to survive. For example, I want to acquire the comfort of the outdoor carrier but with a dedicated laptop sleeve, few compartments to organize some gadgets and more toned down colourway to help me blend in. This simple thinking is what I refer to adapting the technicality and practicality of the mountaineering and military gear to the urban setting.
Jed: What kind of testing goes into your development process? Do you sponsor local bike-couriers to carry your bags around Jakarta and report on how well they perform in movement?
Yost: Since we intended our gear for urban deployment, thankfully testing the equipment was never complicated for us because we are based in Jakarta, which is the biggest city in Indonesia.
I have 2 phases of field testing, the first is BETA2-TESTING, where I usually do an early stage of testing by myself where I can analyze and validate the design and deciding the right materials. Once it’s settled, I will proceed to make a refined prototype and assign BETA1-TESTING where we actually assign 3 people to do a field test to gain more feedback and finalize the design, before we decided to make ALPHA Prototype and do the production.
Field testers are usually our friends and team members and we never officially engaged with bike-courier for testing. Still, we get some of the customers who also are bike-couriers and actually give us a lot of feedback and this help us better our products over time.
Jed: Was the Techwear look, as established by brands like Acronym and Guerilla Group, a solid target for you when you started driving Orbitgear in 2017, or is it something you’ve come to by exploration?
Yost: Funny thing is, no. I never really thought that our product would be caught up in this whole techwear realm. At the beginning, I just want to design carry goods that are functional, practical and has a modular feature so you can build your own carry system that fits your need. But our inclusion into the techwear-centric market indeed shortly began after we launch our debut collection and being adopted by several most influential people in the techwear realm.
Techwear enthusiasts begin to look for our gear and the demand outran our supplies capability. And when we realized it was happening, we decided to keep pushing ourselves because its some kind of fuel for us being regarded as one of the most sought-after techwear gear in the scene.
Jed: Do you have a sense of a division between techwear followers and the EDC or ‘tacticool’ crowds? Where does that line fall for you, and why?
Yost: To be honest, I think if we look at the very essence of techwear, the difference is non-existent. Both tactical and techwear focuses on function. What makes them different is the accepted perception of aesthetic approach. While the way I see, tactical / tacticool is obviously lean towards military-centric style, techwear has lean toward more progressive looks and sometimes almost look like a cosplay. But in the end, they both care more for function over form.
And speaking of the “cosplay looks” I need to point out that not all of these guys standing in the heights, wearing multiple buckles and straps, cargo pants, fake acronym bags and jackets, using #techwear we see in the social media understand the essence of techwear. They care more for form and sacrificing function, which is counter-productive to the original techwear term itself. I mean, they’re probably not wearing all of those non-functional gear on the daily except for photos. This is why I always say that the term techwear nowadays has been corrupted or reduced.
Jed: Similarly, how do you feel that technical designs and fabrics relate to mainstream streetwear? Do you see brands like yours having an influence on wider fashion? Is the average consumer better informed about materials and hardware than they were ten years ago?
Yost: I think the insertion of technical-centric design and material into streetwear, and mainstream fashion or even high fashion is inevitable. This is due to easy access to information. Social media and the internet has amplified the way information is delivered and consumed. And this is well utilized by the supplier ( fabric manufacturer/ brands ) to spread the knowledge about their products.
For example, goretex now actively utilize social media to introduce its technology to a broader audience. They work with streetwear brands to use their fabric and reach more extensive customer outside their native adopter. The audience is exposed to the waterproof breathable membrane technology, fire retardant features and all of those technologies that no one noticed before.
And the more knowledgeable the customer, the more demanding they will be. This definitely shapes how the big players in the industry will move. They turn their attention into technical design, technical fabric and progressive features to satisfy the demand. To say that techwear scene might have an impact on the fashion in general from this point of view might be accurate, but the thing is, there’s the majority of the mainstream customer who’s not even aware that techwear existed. They might see that all of these technical attributes is a new thing and just being discovered by their favourite brands.
But it is what it is, the trend might come and go, but value stays. And being technical and functional is our value, it will not be influenced by the current trend.
Jed: You’re based in a part of the world that international brands often come to for their manufacturing solutions. Is running Orbitgear as an in-house studio with small batch production a deliberate response to that? What advantages does your approach bring?
Yost: It is our solution to establishing the brand, to be honest. I mean, you were right that we have a lot of top tier manufacturer capable of providing highest grade output in the world. But it’s not accessible to the small brand like us, they won’t even bother to talk to us, let alone reduced the MOQ requirement. While approaching the smaller scale manufacturer is even harder because of they usually inconsistent in term of output quality and working ethic.
The backstory about how bag-making industry usually works in Indonesia in the scope of Small-Local Brands is that, the small brand usually outsourced the production to the home-scaled manufacturer where they often paid the bag maker per unit produced. They typically need to do 8-12 bags per days and paid only 25.000 IDR per bag ( around 1.8 USD with 14.000 IDR/ 1 USD rate ).
To be able to meet the target [ 8-12 bags/ days or 14 USD – 21 USD/ Days], the bag maker need work from Monday – Saturday between 10-12 hours which is far beyond human limit. Not to mention the inappropriate workplace conditions. All of this only to make the low-quality bags that will break after 3-6 months usage.
We do not want to follow this destructive scheme. So, establishing our own studio is the only way for us to be able to make the gear that can fulfil our standard in term of quality and how it’s made. Also, we are desperately want to make a change or at least set our own course on how we run the brand.
We set the salary, not per unit bags made like the rest, but paying them monthly around 25% above the regional salary standard. This is 25% higher than most of the Major Degree holder fresh graduate can make on their first year of working and Jakarta has the highest Regional Salary Standard.
Responses have been edited for clarity. All images provided by Orbit Gear