Canada’s Indigenous Culture Inspires New Arc’teryx Outdoor Collection That Connects Culture and Technical Design

Since its founding in 1989, Arc’teryx has embraced the outdoors and created highly technical apparel for the exploration of the rugged terrain around its headquarters in North Vancouver, British Columbia, and elsewhere.

But the Salish Sea coastline where Arc’teryx was created is also the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. And now, as a way to highlight Indigenous design and storytelling, Arc’teryx has teamed with a local designer to create a capsule collection inspired by these nations, accompanied by a new campaign called Walk Gently.

Katie Becker, Arc’teryx’s chief creative officer, said that after some especially sordid details of Canada’s residential schools — a network of mandatory boarding schools created to remove Indigenous children from their communities and assimilate them into the Canadian culture of the time — was in the news again in 2021, the company wanted to take a stand. Three years ago, thousands of unmarked graves were found on the grounds of these schools that operated from the 1880s to the 1990s, and in 2022, Canada’s House of Commons officially recognized the residential school system as cultural genocide.

“We wanted to do something,” Becker said. “We live in this community and we wanted to give back.”

She started talking to different people in the community and was introduced to Cole Sparrow-Crawford, a member of the Musqueam nation. They planned to meet for coffee but Becker said they were still talking 2.5 hours later and she knew she’d found the right person to bring her ideas to life.

“I was very curious to see what her intention was,” Sparrow-Crawford said. “My culture is not given the opportunity to speak for itself.”

Becker invited the young designer to Arc’teryx’s design center where he worked with the team to create pieces that would speak to Canada’s Indigenous culture while remaining true to Arc’teryx’s technical expertise.

Walk Gently collection from Arc'teryx.

Real canoers from the region were used in the shoot.

courtesy of Arc’teryx

The result is a seven-piece collection of gender-neutral apparel, footwear and packs based on the colors, patterns and stories from the Coast Salish community and its traditions of fishing, canoeing and harvesting. Pieces from the collection incorporate Coast Salish weaving and ancestral design patterns that illustrate their long-standing connection to the land and sea.

“The collection is inspired by the spring and summer traditions on the Coast Salish territory and deeply reflects the connection my people have with our land,” Cole Sparrow-Crawford said. “As a Coast Salish, Musqueam person, these cultures are embedded in our lives and in the traditions passed on through generations. Walk Gently is an opportunity to connect inspiration from my culture with the world of technical design, and to honor all the individuals that have worked so tirelessly for us to be in this place today.”

Sparrow-Crawford already had a background in design when he and Becker met. After high school, he entered the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia — the first person from his nation to receive a scholarship to pursue his studies.

“But it was short-lived,” he said. He knew that working in business was not his calling and opted instead to embrace his love of the arts. He created a portfolio with a local design school in Vancouver called The Cutting Room and that portfolio led Parsons in New York to offer him a scholarship as well. Although he enjoyed his time in the city, he decided to move back to Vancouver and work with the weavers and harvesters in his community.

“I was always looking for my own road and how I could move my culture and my designs forward,” he said. “And I’ve always been inspired by those ancestors who have paved the way.”

He had success locally — he designed a logo for the Vancouver Canucks of an Orka emerging from broken ice that included Salish weaving designs — and when approached by Arc’teryx, he jumped at the chance.

“Katie gave me the space to create something that would represent me and my people,” he said. “Initially, it was just a small capsule but it became larger.”

Walk Gently by Arc'teryx

The Walk Gently blanket was based on early cultural references.

Courtesy of Arc’teryx

The end result is a Beta lightweight jacket ($350 retail) with a pattern inspired by salmon skin; a relaxed fit Eislen cargo short ($200) inspired by the cedar harvested to create canoes; a Copal short-sleeve T-shirt ($150) with a print that portrays light coming through the forest; an Alpha FL 30 backpack ($350) with a design that represents the tradition of the cedar harvest and the weaving of harvested materials; a Sinsolo sun hat also inspired by the cedar harvest ($100); a Kragg shoe that features the Salish eye embedded in mesh as well as traditional design elements and coast mountain landscapes ($200), and a blanket featuring patterns used in the territory for centuries ($450).

“Each product walks with different meaning, whether it’s fishing, canoeing or walking the forests,” Sparrow-Crawford said.

The profits from this collection will support Indigenous Women’s Outdoors, an organization that promotes the empowerment and well-being of Indigenous women and girls.

To promote the Walk Gently collection, Cole’s sister Faith Sparrow-Crawford, founder of Host Consulting, codirected a film and behind-the-scene video that were filmed on the lands of the three nations.

Beyond the initial collection, Walk Gently will serve as a platform in the future to share the work of Indigenous artists and designers using their own voices and perspectives, the company said.

“It started as a collection but grew into a platform,” Becker said. “Our hope is that when people wear the products, they connect with the designs and join us on this journey of understanding what it means to live in relationship with the land and our hosts. We are honored to partner with Cole and the Coast Salish community to bring Indigenous voices and artistry to the forefront of the outdoor industry.”

The Walk Gently collection will be available in select stores in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, Norway, China and Japan beginning July 10, and online in Canada beginning July 17.

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