words:: Ben Osborne cover photo: Adam Clark
Shimoda first caught our eye when we heard about some of our favourite contributors such as Mason Mashon, Scott Serfas, and Mattias Frederiksson were using the bags, and since then the brand has grown in notoriety for it’s well-constructed, purpose-built backpacks made with the adventure photographer in mind.
So, we figured we should sit down and chat with the man who started it all, Ian Millar. After spending years in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, Ian now resides in Japan where he gets after it in the mountains and doesn’t hesitate at the opportunity to head back to the Coast Range for a good ol’ fashioned adventure.
Fresh off the release of their newest line of packs, the Action X (now available on Kickstarter), Ian had plenty to tell us about where the brand came from, where it is headed, and more. —ML
Mountain Life: Where does the name Shimoda come from? Why Shimoda?
Ian: The short answer is it’s a surf community on the Pacific Coast of Japan. The longer answer is when I left my previous job I had time to do a little exploring in Japan (where I live) and headed down there. While I was there, I first started talking with the owner of the group who would end up funding Shimoda and my vision. Everything about that trip was amazing from the land to the sea and the people I met and spent time with. A lot of good memories were generated.
You’re background is in snowboarding—what drove you to get into the backpack business?
I have been snowboarding since I was 14 – I am 46 now. When I moved to Whistler I evolved into a backcountry snowboarder. One evening I was snowshoeing back to Himmelsbach Hut with my board on my back, and turned around to see a full moon rising over Mount Fissile and my 3 friends. I took a picture of the moment, and that print pushed me in to photography (it’s still in my living room). Once I got a decent camera I basically packed it on every mission and started to realize a better solution was needed.
How does your background in riding help you in product design? Was it a photographer you noticed struggling in the field, was there an “aha!” moment?
It was me struggling – I used to ride with a pretty stellar crew, a couple of guys named Dave Basterrechea and Joe Lax really pushed me to places I really wasn’t comfortable being. Keeping up with them and absorbing their process and approach really upped they way I started to think about things. They introduced a level of ‘being-out-there’ that needed a better way to pack camera gear. Dave’s CFR brand is prime example of that. I constantly draw from my past and present when developing product (or just living life) – whether actual ideas or just the mindset needed to follow through with risk.
Once I got a decent camera I basically packed it on every mission and started to realize a better solution was needed.
What separates Shimoda from other pack companies?
Our bags are born in the mountains, the ideas come from spending a lot of time wandering, watching others and listening to the feedback of all the people with work with and our customers. I am lucky to have grown into a position where I have been a ‘mountain guy’ for over 25 years but also a ‘design and factory guy’ for half of that time. A lot of people don’t realize that most factories work on efficiency and costing, they will always make a product the most affordable and most efficient way they know. This doesn’t necessarily work for a product that needs to be mountain tough and relied on in tough times. In my opinion, a developer also needs to be a designer and embedded end-user. That person should be at the factory making sure design details are never compromised in the name of efficiency and costing. This includes friendly battles with the pattern makers, the heads of productions and even my own self. It’s a huge part of Shimoda – I see the bags through every step of the process and make sure key elements are never compromised in the name of saving a buck.
Favourite feature on the new ActionX line?
About 5 years ago I had a lot more time and ran a lot in the mountains – when running vests started coming out I fell in love with the design ideas and adapted some of them to camera bag design. I have always focused bag design on ease of use with a greater focus on fueling up rather than simply accessing camera gear. When your in the mountains for long periods of time and experience fatigue, the simplest tasks become a burden. So, I created a harness that helped save energy- with the idea you will have more strength and patience to focus on photography and getting back home. Our latest shoulder straps have a padded mobile phone pocket on one strap and on the other a large expandable zipper pocket that holds either a water bottle, a 2-way radio, bear spray, a bunch of food, sun glasses etc… the stuff you need often when your out wandering. The straps are also adjustable in torso height and can even be replaced with women specific designs. As frequent user of Action X, the straps are easily my favorite part of the bag – the pockets get used a lot.