Doing the Right Thing - The Challenge of Designing

April 08, 2018


    A recurring challenge in my role as a designer at KIALOA is the pressure to reduce retail pricing on our highest end carbon fiber products. The reason this is a challenge is because not all brands define a "carbon" product in the same manner. At KIALOA when we state that a product is "carbon", we mean that it is 100% carbon fiber reinforcing material. Like that 100% all beef hotdog, a KIALOA carbon paddle has no filler, no uncalled out materials such as fiberglass secretly blended into the recipe. If we use a mixture of fibers, we will tell you. This is a dilemma for us as not all brands are truthful or in control of their outsourced manufacturing. Just because the factory in China states it is 100% carbon fiber, doesn't mean it is 100% carbon fiber. Maintaining control of the supply chain should be expected of a name brand. Being truthful should be a given for a name brand. Unfortunately, this not always the case.

I have been requested to design a 100% carbon fiber SUP paddle for $299 utilizing a traditional carbon/epoxy system. I do not think I can do this. The cost of the materials and labor are too high to sustain a profitable product at this price. A properly designed paddle is also a function of prototyping and field testing, and at the highest level, redesigning to eke out that last bit of perfection. Mediocre design is cheap. The quest for perfection is anything but cheap.  Somehow, somewhere, I believe to hit the sub $299 mark utilizing a traditional carbon/epoxy system, corners would have to be cut. True carbon fiber products are the most expensive items in outdoor sports. A 100% carbon fiber frame on a mountain bike is a $2000 increase over the same bike if built in Aluminum.

         

However, we did build a fixed length all carbon Stand Up Paddle for  $299. It was called the Insanity Carbon Paddle and it came in a fixed length. But demand for this paddle showed that the customers wanted adjustability so we transformed it into what is now called the Insanity Adjustable Carbon Stand Up Paddle and brought it out in another less expensive version the Insanity Adjustable Carbon Blend Stand Up Paddle.  We named this series of SUP paddles Insanity because they are: Insanely light. Insanely durable. And Insanely inexpensive. The Insanity series uses FibrliteTM blade technology which is a continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic (CFRT). FibrliteTM is a more advance composite system than traditional carbon/epoxy. I built carbon/epoxy paddles in my parent's garage. It is not complicated. Building a FibrliteTM blade is a different animal, as one of the tools required is a $500,000 press. The upside of all the upfront cost in the FibrliteTM system is a healthier work environment, less material waste, and a highly efficient production process.  No compromise is made in design or production. The cost reduction is purely a function of labor efficiency and minimizing carbon material waste. The challenge the Insanity faces is that it looks different. It is not shiny. It is a utilitarian material. Strong, light, durable and environmentally friendly because of the 100% recycled resin matrix that binds it together. FibrliteTM has an image problem. It is not shiny and not perceived as pretty. But, it is the future of composite technology.

Should KIALOA play the game and lie about the carbon content of our paddles? The customer will never know. They will be able to brag to their friends about their hi-tech carbon paddle and no one will be the wiser. Should we compromise on our design process in which numerous prototypes are generated and the product testers make real world decisions on innovative products? Innovative design is taking chances and introducing products which need to be explained to the customer. To love a sport means to give to it. To care means to push the design process to better the customer's experience on the water. Innovative design is not sucking the intellectual property of another designer like a leech attached to a host animal.

With this in mind, I am going to suggest we follow the lead of my hero Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia Clothing.

We will not deceive the customer.

We will apply technology to solve a problem.

We will act in a manner supportive to Mother Earth.

We will educate the customer.

We will stand our ground and act with integrity and let the chips fall where they may.

Most things can be seen as positive or negative based on perspective. Riding a bike in the city is either an indication one has lost their driver's license, or a hipster eco-friendly health conscious alternative transportation method to the car. FibrliteTM dull is the new shiny.  Let's educate the industry.

The following products in the KIALOA line are made with FibrliteTM blades:

Outrigger:  Kaho'olawe Adjustable Outrigger Paddle, Keiki Kaho'olawe Adjustable Outrigger Paddle 

Dragon: Makahiki Dragon Boat Paddle

Stand Up Paddle: Women's Tiare Adjustable SUP PaddleInsanity Travel SUP Paddle, Insanity Adjustable Carbon SUP Paddle, The Insanity Adjustable Carbon Blend Stand Up PaddleInsanity Adjustable Fiberglass SUP Paddle, Keiki Adjustable SUP Paddle, and The Big Eddy Adjustable Whitewater SUP Paddle.