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Product Review: Stormtech Men’s Patrol Softshell – XB-3

It’s not every day I get the opportunity to try/test out high-end kit. Recently I was lucky enough to win a technical jacket from one of our garment suppliers. Luck was on my side that day/week. 

So let me unpack this…. Stormtech is probably a name most people haven’t heard of. However, the specification and the performance matches some of the high end outdoor technical kit you would send time “browsing” in any of the Ambleside gear shops on a wet afternoon in the Lake District.

So I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Stormtech Patrol XB-3 Softshell Jacket. With a retail price of £170.00 (plain jacket, no personalised branding applied)

It’s highly technical and functional softshell which is specified and designed for the outdoors. Stormtech, which is a Canadian company has seriously designed this for versatility in variable weather (which I am aware they get there!). With fully sealed seams, waterproof zippers and an excellent waterproof resistance – technically it’s excellent. Design-wise, there are some nice trim and features such as dual chest pockets for stowing your valuables, yes it does fit an iPhone XR max in the chest pocket.

I was testing it in a week where the weather in Yorkshire was very wintery. This jacket is comfortable and does a great job of blocking wind and moisture. The water repellence was good, with modest precipitation beading on the surface. Some Softshell jackets whilst light showerproof, don’t bead as this one did. The shell system does need layering for added warmth – however, ask anyone with some background in outdoors, and they’ll recommend layering. The softshell material is heavy-duty enough to be used as a ski jacket, breathable enough to workout in, and comfortable enough for day to day wear – which I have worn it every day in the last week with this review in mind. 

With a background in the Outdoors, thanks to Scouting and also doing a Mountain Leadership course a few decades back, I always look at the technical details. The seams are sealed so the inside of the jacket, equally I have come across some sealed seams which are basic, Stormtech’s are a credit to them. Before I even looked at the technical specification of the jacket, you could tell, it was waterproofed to a good degree. (Water Resistance 10,000mm, Breathability 3,000g/m2)

Point to note, fit, I am a broad-shouldered person with longer than average arms, the large fitted me well for the shoulders and arms, with plenty of movement around the waist. So credit to the sizing of the garment, spot on.

Only only design point I would possibly suggest improvement on; The range provided by the UK distributors is very focussed on black with modest colour trim. Which, when dog walking in the evening in a dark Yorkshire, doesn’t do anything for your visibility. Even if it was flashes of reflective trim, it would add both for urban and outdoor use.

Verdict, if you are outdoors a lot, then yes I can say, specify something like this jacket, as you will reap the benefits from it. If you value your technical specifications and are a gear snob, then give it a try, you will be surprised, there is good gear out there, without the flashy branding. Valid point as per anything, you pay for what you get. Thanks to one of our garment distributors for letting me give it a go!

The lost art of repro

Our Stuart unpacks some of the traditional knowledge when applied to digital print, really packs some punch in creating stunning results.

In an age not that long ago, there was a rare breed of skilled craftsman called Repro Technicians. Usually found in something called Repro Houses, or Prepress departments in reputable print businesses. They had a unique skill set, high-level understanding of colour, making the printed image sharp, understanding the magic of half-tone screens and many more mystical things print-related. They were masters of ensuring that that was given to the press operators allowed them to produce top-notch results on press. A classic case of quality materials provided is indicative of quality out.

As technology evolved, Repro Technicians also did evolve. Grasping colour scanning, this was substantially more than your desktop scanner. With equipment which was tuned with fine optical lenses and sophisticated electronics, this produced results which were often tailored to “High-End Repro”. This entailed ensuring good reproduction in the shadows and highlights, correct colour balancing, bringing out detail in mid-tones, sharpening and lots more finessing of quality photographic images to deliver exceptional results. This knowledge is still applicable even in a totally digital environment.

A recent example has been using location pictures from a Royalty Free library. The quality is very mixed due to the content creators being of mixed professional background. Taking some of our high-end scanning and retouching knowledge. A first point can be looking at the details in the horizon line, the point of focus is the edge of the water, so the trees and bushes need to be more defined. The building is rather flat, it is the point of focus of the composition, highlights and mid-tones addressed. The crane on the horizon also lacks the right impression, so removed. Skies evoke so much storytelling, so ensuring an aspirational blue and clouds with contrast and shape, flat of lack-lustre don’t help. Final point, the water needs to reflect the tone of the sky, equally a dirty grey provides no aspiration.

There isn’t a week that goes by, where some of this knowledge is discretely applied to our work. Stuart’s professional development was in this very area; Repro. Ensuring the colour is balanced, points of focus are sharp, retouching is applied to maximise the result. Getting the artwork and imagery right before you print, can really maximise the end result, what goes in, comes out. So why scrimp on your artwork and imaging?

Customer is king, so why do so many businesses forget about the customer experience?

Over the last decade, I’ve watched the business world go very polar in the extremes of customer service. Every time I talk to fellow business owners at any form of networking or subsequent 1-1, the one resounding point is service. Something which the small business world seems to have caught a massive leap over the big box shifting internet sheds.

The simple phrase people like people is at the heart of the small business, we trade with people we like, equally with people of similar values. People understand each other and flex accordingly to meet each other desires. Even Maslow touches upon this in his hierarchy of needs. So the un-educated who drive their transactions only on simplistic reasoning of price, miss the core premises of the underlying intrinsic premise of support, service and satisfaction – I struggle to find an online example which does this truly well.

One point which truly shocked me, was when a professional service provider, a one-man band, said, I need your documents uploading to the portal. This word, portal defines to me bad customer experience, you’re just another number, ticket, automated action, all of which are synonymous with big we don’t value you, internet online businesses.

Go back to my grandparents, they experienced great customer service, and they felt that their hard-earned money was appreciated in their local communities. What makes me say this, they knew their butcher, who would advise and treat them as individuals, they would go in the Co-op and they would be known, their “divvy” would bring them back to spend again as they had a relationship / tie with the organisation/business.

Even if I look back a few decades, in the print business, we had substantially more tied/committed business, purely down to the management of relationships. Interestingly we won business recently, producing a calendar, purely on the ground of how we handled the enquiry, provided answers, questioned their needs. All of this is not an online process-driven, but an individual pathway, from experience and a desire to deliver. The customer said he was put off by the levels of automation. 

The larger the business the greater the need for automation, which is great, but it strips away service and added value that brilliant staff often provided. After all, Richard Branson is renowned for using the phrase look after your staff and they will look after your customers. Which is bang on true. However, we are talking about individuals here, and unfortunately not clone-able. I’ve seen it in many medium-large businesses, who say everyone is replaceable, however, some people require multiple people to step into special shoes of skilled practitioners of customer service.

Capping it off, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. 2020 has shown us that service and support do drive good business, perhaps if you believe in a better pedigree of service, you know where to go.

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