words :: Ned Morgan.
Mustang Survival’s sailing collections are designed to stand up in the most punishing offshore environments on our planet. Out there, a prolonged squall—not to mention a mid-latitude cyclone—will render most civilian rainwear next to useless. And that’s exactly where Mustang Survival’s workmanship and materials prove their ultimate mettle.
So what does outfitting the world’s top sailors—including the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team, an official challenger for the next America’s Cup—look like?
We asked Mustang Survival’s Design Manager Sophie Laliberte and Product Line Manager Vanessa Fors about their testing and design process with the pros—and how that transfers to the general public.
Mountain Life: Can you describe the process of designing racing gear for the likes of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli?
Mustang Survival: It started with a meeting with the folks from Prada visiting our Mustang Survival Waterlife Studio in Burnaby, BC, to check out our facility but also discuss the possibility of entering into a sponsorship agreement. They had heard about us through sailors on the team they were putting together. I guess ever since we developed the EP Ocean Racing Collection with the sailors from the Comanche [a record-breaking racing yacht], word spread like wildfire.
Our EP Ocean Racing Collection was worn unofficially in the last Volvo Ocean Race where word travelled from boat to boat that we had stock and the sailors were buying the gear to wear when they were not in front of the cameras. (We were not Volvo Ocean Race sponsors so the teams would get in real trouble if the sponsor brands found out.) But they wanted our gear because they trusted it to keep them dry and warm in the rough elements.
When the team from Milan arrived, we showed them our recreational collection as well and they were visibly impressed with the workmanship and the refined details. They were turning the Callan short inside out and complimented us on our quality—a proud moment for us to get complimented by the likes of this luxury brand that holds so much respect on a global scale. Once they saw our quality assurance methods, it must have given them the confidence to trust us with their technical gear. Once it became official that we were moving forward with the partnership, our design team worked with the Prada design team to finalize the details.
Since some of the team had already experienced our EP Ocean Racing Collection (previously they were on the Comanche), we were able to get right down to brass tacks. Every detail was reviewed and small modifications made to the preference of the sailors—for example, latex seals and some small fit modifications for the athletic Italians. Also, we had to make sure we got the colour matching just right to match the Luna Rossa grey in the Mil Spec Gore fabric and ensure the other sponsor logos were in the right spot.
We did this through weekly Zoom meetings to review drawings and discuss samples that we shipped to them. They knew which sizes to order, because at the outset we had shipped them a full size set to have their sailors and staff try on.
ML: Describe your testing process—do the teams take prototypes on races and then report back?
MS: Yes, exactly. While many racers had experience with our product, the actual Luna Rossa designs were sent to the team at each stage to get their feedback before we modified for the next round. They would use the prototypes on their training runs and put them to the test at up to 50-knot winds.
Which was a good thing because one of the edits that came from that testing was to add some adjustment to the smocks for this race at higher speeds. (By adding adjustments to the smocks, to cinch in around the lats, it helps to reduce the flapping in the wind and reduces the noise and drag.) This is a feature you may or may not see in mass production as it is really specific to racing at those high speeds. But it was a great takeaway as we consider racing-specific designs.
“If we can reduce a pain point for a pro, it will certainly help the recreational user.”
ML: How do you take all this technology and design and mass-produce it for a recreational sailor?
MS: It really helps to understand professional athletes’ needs because if we can reduce a pain point for a pro, it will certainly help the recreational user. How that works is that the pros might be using our gear for longer periods or more harsh environments. If we can solve a problem at that level, then the recreational user will benefit. We learn a lot by working with professionals. That being said, we then test and test (and test) the Recreational collection with Elite users and even pros—so that loop really gets tight.
ML: Could you talk a bit about the design process behind the Meris Collection and the lighter-weight Callan Collection?
MS: We design for environments. So we’re looking deeply at where an activity is taking place first and foremost. It really guides the designers as they set out to create new product. In protective waterproof-breathable gear for marine environments, we start with the fabric. We work closely with our fabric suppliers to develop fabric that works specifically with marine environments. We just couldn’t find an off-the-shelf solution that solved our need for durability and breathability in saltwater, or working around diesel and fish guts.
We brand our unique fabric development as Marine Spec and right now we offer three levels of breathability and burliness. The Meris Collection is an offshore collection so we use the Marine Spec BP which is a four-layer waterproof-breathable. That fourth layer offers tonnes of protection and durability while still allowing us to get an offshore jacket to just under 890 grams!
The Callan Waterproof Jacket is intended for inshore, high-output activities that require more breathability and lots of stretch. So we developed a three-layer mechanical stretch called Marine Spec MP that is super-lightweight and moves with you.
The process is to begin with the fabric, then the cut of the fabric, often with as few seams as possible in critical areas to remove the risk of any water ingress at seams. Then the refined finishing and details are what we try to build the Mustang Survival aesthetic around. The Callan Collection, by the way, won the DAME Design Award in 2019.
Our design team tries to hit the right balance that allows athletes to move without restriction, while still feeling protected and confident. If we can deliver product that users and athletes will forget they’re wearing, then we’ve done our job to keep them dry, comfortable, protected from the elements and ultimately safe.