We were very sad to learn of the recent death of PHD and Mountain Equipment founder Peter Hutchinson at the age of 81. He was a genuine outdoors industry innovator who bucked the globalisation trend when he founded PH Designs back in 1998, and committed to manufacturing top-notch outdoor insulated clothing and equipment in the UK at a time when pretty much everyone else was shifting production to the far east.
I was fortunate enough to meet and spend a few hours chatting to Peter about his life and work a few years ago at the PHD factory in Staybridge – aka Stalyvegas – on the outskirts of sunny Manchester, not far from where the Mountain Equipment story began back in the 1960s.
Down from the Scottish islands where he lived in his later years, Peter was a quietly spoken man with wealth of stories about his early years when he began making down clothing and sleeping bags for his climbing mates and lived in a wooden hut above Hyde before he founded Mountain Equipment in the 1970s and grew it into a proper outdoors brand.
What was also striking was the extraordinary depth of his knowledge about down and insulation generally and his continuing involvement in pushing the boundaries with lighter and more effective fabrics and higher quality down – PHD is one of the very few brands using 1000-fillpower goose down for its K-series clothing and bags.
It was also slightly anomalous to find those cutting-edge technologies being honed in a small factory that could have been straight out of Coronation Street, staffed by local workers with decades of machining expertise and housed in a Victorian mill.
But that was really the story, at a time when pretty much everything outdoors is being made overseas, Peter’s desire to innovate, to work closely with climbers and mountaineers to produce customised clothing and equipment. And don’t get the idea that PHD is stuck in the past; its online design tools allow you to customise clothing and equipment from your desktop and buy it direct from the manufacturer.
It’s an absolute credit to Peter and the team at PHD that they’re still producing insulated clothing and equipment that’s as good or better than anything else in the world and a fitting legacy for one of the true originals of the UK outdoor industry. RIP Peter, it was a privilege to have met you.