John Martin of Vice recently interviewed Burt Avedon (Richard’s cousin) about Willis & Geiger, the expedition gear brand started by Ben Willis at the beginning of the 20th century. Along with Abercrombie & Fitch and Filson, Willis & Geiger was one of the first outdoor-clothing companies and outfitted some of the era’s most famous explorers: Teddy Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Roald Amundsen, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Tenzing Norgay.
Mr. Avedon revived the company two years after it went out of business in 1977 and helmed it until it was liquidated in 1999. Read the whole interview here:
Burt Avedon: Let me just ask you a question: Having done some research on your publication, your audience is the antithesis of our company and our lives. Because it’s young, 18 to 35, as they say, and countercultural—are we anathema, or are we the contrast vehicle?
Neither. I think that young people right now are very interested in anything related to American heritage, especially in regard to fashion.
We haven’t found that to be the case. We find that the youth are not at all interested in things that have long histories and heritage and integrity and all that. They are interested in reading predominately what’s new and what’s contemporary.
There is a lot of that with the pace of media right now, where people are always looking to see who’s putting out the newest sneakers, but there are a few brands whose authenticity is paramount.
Yeah, but unfortunately good brands of heritage are a reflection of their original management; when they become professionally managed, they lose the spark that brought them to where they are today. I found that to be classic in the industry. Whenever they go into second- and third-generation management, they lose themselves. They no longer have the passion that was originally part of their DNA.