Cutting class to build the outdoor equipment that would take him into the hills—Nathan Kukathas began creating backpacks and climbing equipment while he was in high school. He roped in a couple of mates and turned his parents’ garage into a design-build space.
When the school threatened to kick him out for his absences, Nathan’s concern wasn’t for missing valuable lessons, it was that he would lose access to his primary customers—the other kids at school!
His career has led him to work with industry-leading brands around the world, including Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, Sea to Summit, and RYU Apparel, but it’s not surprising that Nathan has wound up choosing Squamish.
His love for both the mountains and the small but strong design scene here make Squamish an ideal place to realize inspiration and to continue down his path as a designer.
He has recently launched a brand of his own, with a second on the way.
Grade VII Climbing Equipment, which kicked off in June of this year, makes specialty climbing equipment: hanging tents for multi-day climbs, backpacks and sleeping bags.
Meanwhile, Cardamon is about to run production on its first item, a minimalist wallet.
Nathan, originally from Australia, first found his way to this part of the world in 2001. “I was in Whistler and I realized quickly that I’m going to want to live here, so I spent the next several years returning for at least six months at a time.”
In addition to continuing his work as a designer during this period, Nathan reached heights with his climbing: he became an Assistant Rock Guide with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, climbed in the Karakoram and on Baffin Island.
Now settled in Squamish, Nathan works from the Design House Collective, a quaint studio space on 3rd Avenue, backing onto the Estuary.
He describes his studio as a turnkey design solution, finding solutions for difficult problems faced by other companies in the outdoor industry.
Nathan explains one of the jobs he did with Black Diamond recreating a production line for slings and harnesses.
“We looked at it from a combination of engineering and design. In the end, we were able to produce the sewn slings with a tighter tolerance and accuracy.”
Nathan is a perfectionist. The Cardamon wallet prototype he has been carrying in his back pocket for four years still looks brand new. This is a testament to the rigour and diligence he places on material selection and product testing.
“We’ve tested them in the Vitamix blender,” he says. “In this case, we wanted to build something that would truly last forever. Imagine if everything in your life was built that way?”
For Nathan, design begins with the material. The question, “What kind of material would inherently build a better product?” is foundational for him.
“It’s looking at the material strengths, its waterproofness, breathability, its durability. How does this perform in the field and its day-to-day use?”
Nathan applies this forward-thinking approach to the fabrication of his products, too.
“A lot of parts for Grade VII and for all of Cardamon are coming from Taiwan,” Nathan elaborates on the process of selecting and hiring sewers and training them on the distinct techniques used in building Cardamon and Grade VII.
The products are fabricated overseas, but the roots of the designs remain in Squamish. Nathan observes that there is a strengthening design community here.
“Now there are quite a few people in Squamish who are designers—some of the best in the world—who live and work here. I think as we grow, Squamish may become, at least on the recreational side of things, more of a destination to be a designer. It’s a crazily talented pool.”
“I’m really enjoying being here in this space,” he says of the studio, “but I also enjoy walking down to the Estuary to take a look out at the water and feel inspired.”
Grade VII soft launched this summer and has been met with much anticipation in the climbing community.