Senior Clothing Designer Kate Ennis is the driving force behind one of our most vibrant collections – the Rock Range. Combining a wealth of design experience with a love of bouldering, Kate talks us through how the range has developed.
My background in design was initially rooted in high fashion. I studied Fashion Design at university, but shortly after graduating I got into climbing and started spending more and more of my time hanging out at the crag and in vans! Gradually my interest in high fashion shifted as I become influenced by the world around me. Before long, I set up a business making my own climbing clothing, alongside building my experience working for other brands.
I joined Rab back in 2011 and I now work as a Senior Designer developing products across the entire range. We’re a small, close-knit team from quite varied backgrounds – which works really well as we always have a broad mix of viewpoints and skill sets. The other good thing about our team is that we get to take products right from the initial sketch all the way through to the final sample. Out of everything I work on, my favourite collection is the Rab Rock Range.
The Rock Range is a collection of clothing for everyday climbing: it’s rugged and durable, suitable for long days at the crag or trips to the local wall. The products in this range have a different feel to our core collection. It’s a bit more fun and colourful than the clothing designed for high altitude activities. A lot of people here tend to wear it for work, so it’s not just for climbing – it’s versatile enough to be used in everyday life! My designs are often inspired by my experiences as a climber – each product is still distinctly Rab, but as it’s evolved I’ve been able to create a unique look for the range. Fit and function are still at the heart of design, but the Rock Range has a brighter, fresher feel. It’s given me the opportunity to experiment and play with bolder colours such as vivid yellows and electric blues which I love. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see the range grow and develop over time.
Despite looking more casual, the Rock Range is still highly technical. A lot of thought goes into the fabrics, technologies and features. Just as with the Ascent Range, each piece is honed for the environment it will be used in. For example on the Asylum Jackets, we have used a very thick (70D) Pertex outer. This makes the Asylum far more durable than a conventional down jacket; and while it won’t pack down particularly small, it’s ideal for stuffing into your boulder pad without worrying about whether it’s going to get damaged. Combining this with 365g of European duck down makes for a very warm and durable jacket – perfect for winter bouldering.
At the other end of the spectrum, looking at products used in warmer conditions, like the Rampage Jacket and Crimp Tee, we use moisture-wicking fabrics like drirelease®. This is a unique blend of synthetic and natural fibres that rapidly moves moisture to the outside of the fabric where it can quickly evaporate. It also has a natural anti-odour treatment that won’t wash off, as well as a bit of spandex to provide stretch. This makes these pieces really comfortable to wear while out climbing.
Working on the Rock Range and climbing in my spare time can have its challenges, as trying to stay objective and not designing the products for myself can be hard! On the flipside, this does mean that I have the opportunity to test out early prototypes to make sure that the garments work exactly as I intended. I particularly focus on the cut of the clothes over anything else. The fit is so important, and there’s so much more to getting it right than meets the eye. It’s about looking at body shape, movement and usage. For example, making sure that the back rise of a pair of trousers is right, so it stays put even with a heel hook or high foot and that they don’t pull down at the back or restrict you when you lift your knees. We have the same considerations whether we’re designing male or female clothing. We’re always looking at who the product is intended for, what it’s for, where it’s going to be worn. We work together in the team to perfect fit – I’ll make sure I get input on the men’s products from Ben, Jonn and Chris, and likewise, they’ll get my input on the women’s products.
As well as taking inspiration from personal experience, it is fantastic to see the Rock Range being worn at the crag. Last year I attended the Women’s Trad Festival for the first time. Held in the Peak District, it’s the ideal place to speak to a lot of very psyched female climbers! It was really exciting to show them the whole range and get their feedback. Some really valuable points were made, and there was plenty of enthusiasm for the range, which is always good to hear! I also discovered ways in which we can develop the products further. For example, a lot of climbers were taking their phone up in a zipped thigh pocket and taking photographs at the top. As a boulderer, that’s not something I had considered, as my phone is always on the floor!
On top of learning about how we can further improve the products, I had the chance to climb at the festival. I’m primarily a boulderer, and my trad was a little rusty, so it was great to have two days of one-to-one instruction.
The first day was a bit wet, so we focused on practising setting up anchors and placing gear, and then the next day, we headed over to Birchen to try some nice easy stuff. I find the Women’s Trad Fest a really inspiring event – it’s completely different to anything I have been to before. Both of my instructors were great, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to hone their trad skills in a safe and fun environment! I think there is a real desire for more events like this, which is shown by how quickly tickets sold out this year.
Luckily I’ll be heading back to the festival this year to represent Rab again. I can’t wait to see how many of my designs have made it onto the rock and show the climbers what we have coming up. There’s plenty of exciting things in the pipeline, especially for the Rock Range.