The Road to 2012 OR: Wrap-up in Thailand

Hello everyone,

This is my last week of working through the designs in Thailand before I head back to the States for some full-time (all fun) product testing.  I’m feeling a great sense of accomplishment as the 2012 Outdoor Retailer product line is coming together.  From fabric components to design and processes, I did plenty of experimenting and even more discovering at every level. Like a complex puzzle, the culminations of finished products have started to create a picture – a masterpiece of my own making.

It is a hot morning and I can feel the humidity, the streets are buzzing as I try a new route to work.  I noticed a crowd amassing around a corner of the moat. Chang Mai is an ancient city structured in a square shape with a wide moat surrounding it.  Curiosity got the best of me, so I pulled over to see the attraction.

I noticed the very top of a car sticking out like a small iceberg in the middle of the moat. Somehow the driver had gone off the road and flown about 30 feet into the middle of the canal. There were two guys sitting on the roof of a barely exposed hatchback. It is truly beyond me how someone could physically land their car in such a situation. The prospect of how they were going to get this car out was not just curious to me, but 200 other people were also gathered to see the sight. An interesting dynamic began to emerge between the watchful crowd and the two guys in the unfortunate situation below, desperately trying to figure out how to fish themselves and their car out of the ancient Chang Mai moat before the whole lot ended up as ancient history.

Swimming around in the filthy water, the two guys managed to wrap the roof of the car with a random piece of webbing, get a crane, and hoist the car out of the water. As the car began to emerge, I noticed a red license plate signifying that the car was less than 24 hours off the dealer lot.  I hope they had insurance! Once the car was hoisted out of the moat and placed on the side walk, the crowd roared in cheers. It was quite a sight on the streets of Chang Mai. As persistent and handy as this culture is with the random assortment ‘stuff’ around them, I half expected the men to jump in their car and drive on to their destination like nothing happened.

This set the tone for a rather strange day at work. Within an hour of being there I came across a major issue. I had run out of a rather important type of shock cord, and there was none to be found in the factory.  Sure, if I’d had another week, I could have some shipped in. But I don’t have another week; I need to complete these designs and get home. There is an aching feeling inside my chest. I miss my family. I have been here for three weeks, and I have one more week to finish it all.

One of the operators noticed my plight. “Go to the market,” she said, “You can get anything at the market.” The market?  I need a specific type of shock cord – not fish!  I thought, doubting her suggestion whole-heartedly.

She smiled and said, “You haven’t been to the market here.” I agreed and asked her to come with me.  If two guys half drowning in the sewage moat surrounding the city can get their hands on a piece of webbing strong enough to be of service when lifting a car filled with water out of a moat 30 feet below, find a crane (for gosh sakes), and manage to get their car back on the road before I could even get to work that day, I suppose all things are possible.

Now I have been to a lot of markets, but I was not prepared for this. It was a complex maze of venders packed just far enough apart for one body at a time to fit through them. The array of venders spread through multiple buildings and spilled into the streets.  Not only was it an easy place to get lost, but finding what you need is an art form. Areas were sectioned out by product types that would only make sense to a local. Colors and people splashed in every direction as shoppers moseyed in an orderly fashion. This was sourcing Thai style. The woman from the factory was right: you can find anything there.  I was captivated by the chaotic order of it all.

We weaved in to a small shop that was packed so tightly with inventory there was hardly any room to move around. I was astounded by how much they had.  It was a little bit of everything.  Threads, buttons, buckles, feathers and every random small thing you could possibly need for basically anything imaginable lined the walls. It was like a colorful array of candy displayed in the smallest possible area. Staring around the room with a shocked and confused expression, I obviously needed help finding something. I watched as the shop keeper squeezed between the boxes of inventory to help me. After about 15 minutes of rifling, explaining and cultural small talk, there was a spool of my shock cord.

Thailand is a different culture with different sets of rules and a different way of getting things done.  I often find myself in situations here that I pronounce as “only in Thailand” incidents. With all the challenges that surround me in this country, I find it to be a ripe place to spill my creativity.

Goodbye for now, Thailand.  Thank you for the inspiration.  Hello, USA.  Hello product testing!

Stay fluid,

Rick Franken


The Road to 2012 OR: Travels of a Global Brand

Hello everyone,

Rick Franken, founder and designer of Bomber Gear here. Bomber Gear is a global brand on the rise, which makes me a global traveler in the off-season, searching the globe for the best products and practices out there to keep my products on the cutting edge. This is the first in a series of journal entries that will take you through the Bomber Gear journey to 2012 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. It’s going to be a good one. First stop, my homeland: The Kingdom of Thailand.

I landed in the Bangkok airport Friday morning, and on my way to where I was going, I witnessed a unique site that I choose to believe is a sign of the things to come in the 2012 Bomber Gear journey. I drove by forty monks walking barefoot in a line along the motorway. Having grown up here and spent a lot of time traveling the country, I was delighted to witness such a thing. I admittedly pulled over and took a few pictures. As I did, I noticed the people around me giving the first monk in the line a bit of money (for good luck, they say). I felt obligated, as monks live off donations, to follow suit. And after all, believing in a little luck can’t hurt, right? I proceeded to pull out a 100 bhat and stuffed it into the leading monk’s bag as I had seen others do. He then reached out and touched me. It took me off guard – monks rarely touch people; particularly head monks leading a migrating group of 40 other monks. A sign of good things to come? I would have to say so. Four solid weeks of submersed designing begins.

I will be spending the next four weeks at a factory in Thailand creating the product line for the 2012 Outdoor Retailer Summer Show. I have been working with this factory for fifteen years now, and it has been an amazing relationship. As founder and designer of Bomber Gear, I choose to involve myself in every step of the process, from design to production systems. When creating durable, quality products, strict guidelines from the design to the production procedures are in order. By being here and working with the factory this closely, I am able to control much of the environment to ensure quality products that I’m proud to call mine. I speak the language, I work directly with the operators, and I am able to personally take my ideas from concept to prototypes.

This is always an interesting time for me in the grand routine of events that cycle through my life and thus through the brand every year. This is the creation stage. The part of my design process when my art takes form; when my ideas become reality. I would imagine it’s how an artist feels just before he touches paint to a canvas. Better yet, it’s the rush I feel just before the last stroke off of a waterfall. I am excited and ready to make it all happen.

More to come on the Bomber Gear journey to 2012 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market…

Stay fluid,

Rick Franken