Behind the Gear: The Original Toolbelt with Doug Sumi


Doug is the type of guy you can always go to for a good story. He's been with 686 since pretty much day one and is now the president of the company. So, when we wanted to dig a little deeper into the history of The Toolbelt, we knew exactly who to ask. 

 

So Doug, where did the idea for the Toolbelt come from?

It came from a road trip over 20 years ago. A team rider and I got done riding powder all day in Vail. We had to drive the 686 van back to LA that night and started the 16 hour drive home. Like many snowboarders during that time I rode with a full sized crescent wrench and screwdriver in my pant pockets to fix my bindings that were always getting loose. With little to no heat in the van we kept almost all our gear on. After driving for about 6-8 hours in snowboard pants and boots, I was getting uncomfortable and the tools I had left in my pockets were really irritating me. I pulled the screwdriver and wrench out, then spent the next few hours driving down the highway thinking about this problem and it came to me.  The thought started with how the prong of a buckle could be converted to a screwdriver tip and then the rest of the concept fell into place.

What came next? What was the process of making the first one?

After getting back from the road trip, I talked to Mike, the founder of 686, about my idea and he encouraged me to pursue it. We were young and dumb at the time and we believed there was nothing we couldn't do, so I started with looking up people in the phone book. Belts, leather, metal, design, etc until I found a company that said they could help me develop the belt. They really were not the right people, but they were the only ones I could find. Remember, we're talking about a time before Google. We built the first few out of plastic that was carved and glued together. We wanted to be able to see the basic shape of the buckle. Then various types of molds were used to refine the design. We struggled to find a design that was strong enough to handle the torque of screwing things together. Finally, an actual metal mold was made, costing us a lot of money that we did not have. I was really proud of what we built, but it was not nearly as refined as the design is today. 

 

Was it a no brainer to try to produce it or did you guys feel like it had a lot of risk involved?

Everything we were doing at the time was risky so we didn’t think about the risk that much. 686 was still a new brand on the market and to think we could build a brand from scratch was something that was a lot riskier than making a new belt. We were young, fresh out of college, avid snowboarders, and loving what we were doing.  We just loved seeing products that we came up with being used by other snowboarders like us.  

How may prototypes were there?

I don’t know how many - a lot. Haha. We were not engineers who could draw up the design on a computer and review a CAD. We were snowboarders with an idea, sketching designs on notepads and trying to get vendors to interpret it into a physical prototype. It’s a lot harder the way we were doing it back then and takes a lot more prototypes.  

 

Was it a lot different having this product in the line vs. the other products 686 was making at the time?

We didn’t know it when we first launched the belt, but it opened a lot of doors for us. The belt was so unique that shops that did not know the 686 brand bought the belt first from us. Then later once they could see the same innovation in our other products they started buying our jackets and pants too.

What are some of the key points in the products evolution and how do you see it reflected in the belt today?

The essence of the original design is still in the belt today. The screwdrivers, the wrenches, and the basic interaction of the buckle to the leather belt are all generally the same. The lines, finishes, materials, etc might be different, but the utility is pretty much the same.

What kind of overall Impact has the Toolbelt had on the brand?

The Toolbelt has always been a supporting item to our outerwear, but it really speaks the brand story. 686 is about purposeful design; our focus is to build products with features that people need. Features that make your day on the mountain, trail or exploring even better. Both our outerwear and the Toolbelt are intended to do that.

 

 


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