ARTILECT Design Director and Board Enthusiast, Erica Tess, a Boulder native, fuels her design process by putting experience and the environment as a top priority, leading her design philosophy. And as the days push forward and ARTILECT continues to take shape, it will always be the experiences in life, sport, and design that push Tess and her designs to the next level.
In the early years, Tess was passionate about snowboarding, art, and, as she describes it, “the nerdy 2000’s punk-ish/skate scene.”
The gateway to the Rockies through the trails of the Flatirons is where we find Boulder, Co and a community built on finding adventure and designing the gear to keep you out in nature’s playground doing what you love. One of the many companies leading the way is the newly founded ARTILECT driven in part by the design of Erica Tess.
Tess, who grew up in Boulder, is no doubt the embodiment of adventurous culture fueled by a passion to get out into the mountains. In the early years, Tess was passionate about snowboarding, art, and, as she describes it, “the nerdy 2000’s punk-ish/skate scene.”
“I was laughed off the skateboard at age 10,” Tess says, so she shifted her energy into snowboarding. “I reintroduced myself to skateboarding in my late 20’s, after I didn’t care anymore, now I’m just really bad.”
Wanting the best the design world had to offer, she left Boulder for The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and to experience the big city. Adding to her school work and inherent design growth, Tess had multiple design internships across a variety of industries. She interned in high fashion, housewares, at an NY-based snowboard company, and worked retail at Patagonia.
While at Patagonia, Tess ran into a group of industrial design majors from the Pratt Institute that were gearing up for a field trip to Ecuador and Cotopaxi to better their understanding of the design demands for tents, backpacks, and jackets in the high alpine. Needless to say, Tess wanted a piece of the action and she latched onto this group of designers leading to the hybrid of her “function first” mindset brewed from her fashion schooling and the introduction to user focussed design.
Tess says she owes a lot to Pilgrim Surf Supply and the East Coast surf culture. “Pilgrim is a big part of my design story, and the surf culture and community shaped a lot of who I’ve come to be. I was their first apparel designer as well as a woman on the retail floor. “If I had a big break, that was it, because I was still in school and winging it. Surfing is big for me, and I owe my exposure to it and to the community and culture to Pilgrim and the people who helped build it.”
Saying goodbye to the East coast, Tess landed a gig with The North Face. At TNF she worked on the design of the women’s freeride collection, where she got to add her spin, which proved to be a huge opportunity and stepping stone for her career. And ultimately she spearheaded the unisex, sustainable product line more formally coined DRT (Durable Repairable Timeless). She focussed on the pairing of materials and functionality that would stand the test of time as the most durable and repairable by studying and identifying the fail points and including a one of a kind patch kit. And a dream for just about anyone, Tess joined the design team for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Freeski Team as a precursor to TNF Steep Line and ”Team Kit”, celebrating the inclusion of 5 women on the TNF snowboard team. As she grew up and continued to be a threat on the board, she’s been known to totally geek out on women’s snowboarding and the opportunity with TNF was a once in a lifetime experience. And furthering a job well done, her line was released alongside TNF’s film FACETS… a first of its kind, all women’s snowboard film.
“We’re industrial design majors, designing gear.” - “That’s something you can do?”
Tess’s success comes from her life experiences and growing up in the outdoors first culture. She was and is an athlete having played sports all through high school, competed in snowboard events at the local Eldora Resort, and most importantly when the gear didn’t meet her standards, she made it better. Her passion to deliver the best while taking note of the disrespect women’s apparel has received over the years has brought her to where she is today and left the “shrink it and pink it” mentality in the distance that unfortunately, so many brands have used to introduce a women’s line.
Today, it’s all about building a brand from the ground up while designing the best possible gear, with equal attention to both women’s and men’s lines. Tess and ARTILECT co-founder Trent Bush share the joke about “grow it and bro it” (as opposed to shrink-it-and-pink-it), but ultimately it’s about innovating at every step.
“Trent and I really put our heads together and find cool things that we have both come up with. Sometimes this leads to the “grow it and bro it” approach - but it’s totally equal - men’s design is informed by the women’s and visa-versa. At the end of the day it’s not about who did it better, but how to land on the best design for the needs of the consumer.
Her creative and design process put experience and the environment as a top priority and lead her design philosophy. And as the days push forward and ARTILECT continues to take shape, it will always be the experiences in life, sport, and design that push Tess and her designs to the next level.
Look for her big smile in and around Boulder or even opening the door from a camper backed up to a snow pile in some backcountry spot. And when you get out there, take the path less traveled, or sink into your couch for some action sports viewing, it could very well be Tess’s apparel designs catching your eye.