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In Praise of Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports

In Praise of Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports
17 March 2019

It’s 1933, in the Manchester borough of Harpurhey...

On the screens, we’ve the first ‘official’ sighting of the Loch Ness Monster, ’Don Quixote’ has just burst into the realm of British cinema, James Brown (probably) makes his first ever scream, and the Harris Tweed-rocking, artisan sandal-stocking mountaineer Frederick (Fred) Ellis Brigham opens a cobbler’s in a two-up, two-down unit on Conran Street.

“The first Ellis Brigham shop, in Harpurhey, Greater Manchester

From 1945 onwards, a concise collection of heavy rubber wellies and running spikes, accompanied by hand-knitted woollen socks and unruly fabric maps of the surrounding fells dominated the product climate. In the postwar period the largely original range was extended to quality military surplus climbing equipment: snow boots flogged for as little as 2/6d (about a quid, in today’s wallet), and skis could be yours for just a small portion more.

“Sole-occupying climbing nails, introduced as part of Ellis Brigham’s in-house collection

Importantly, it met the needs of the people - who, in light of the new roaming freedoms thanks to the 1932 Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout and postwar boom, were now turning the once ‘yomping’ rambles into modern British escapism - making for a beautifully accidental exemplar of design for living.

'Bob and Ellis Brigham at Manchester’s first ski slope

In the 1950s, the Brigham clan began to search further afield for some foreign (and undoubtedly more serious) bits of gear. Returning with a smorgasbord of alpine goods, the business prospered; and for the continued duration of the 20th century stood at the forefront of technical development in first European, and then pacific north-western outdoor equipment. Metal skis? Had ‘em. Nylon climbing ropes? Practically invented them, we did.

One fabled evening in a now unfamiliar 1966 Berkeley, California, Bob Brigham attended the opening of ‘The North Face’, a new outdoor concept store. With a next level musical line-up to soundtrack the evening with Joan Baez and The Grateful Dead playing live, whilst the Hells Angels ran the door. The Brigham’s brought home The North Face forever altering the fashion of the north west. The medley of function, form, and lessened environmental impact was revolutionary. An old shop slogan, of sorts, says it all: ‘Always Something New’.

'Outsiders Store AW18

We’re still very much into that sort of thing these days. So, fast-forward. It’s 2017. Shoes are getting bigger. ‘Youthquake’ is crowned Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year. There are also dogs in avocado costumes. Your argyle jumper-donning/now style icon grandad (oh, those socks and sandals!) is telling you about the boots he’s had for thirty years, with their exceptional tape-to-cover-the-hole technology. It’s the era of fast fashion. The market has more on offer than ever, and the aspects of production concerning functionality, environmental impact and longevity are too often falling short. It’s in this year, in this climate, that Robert Brigham (grandson of the aforementioned Fred) resolves to create a new, contemporary outdoor store concept: Outsiders Store. In keeping with the morals of old, but with a new set of focuses to coincide: functionality for both outdoor and city life and catalysing a community of ramblers in Liverpool and now London.

'Outsiders Store in London and Liverpool

We hope to catch you in the fells, or, just as soon, at Joan Baez’ next gig.

Tiz Smith

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