PHD was formed in 1998 with a staff of 10. Peter Hutchinson’s intention from the start was to run counter to the business models he had encountered all his life by planning for minimal growth and concentrating solely on quality. He believed that growth will not automatically impair quality, but it often does, a shift which is usually covered by an increased advertising budget. Over twenty years later our numbers have risen to 23 and PHD is now a Ltd company, but we can truthfully say that our twin aims have never changed.
Staying small has been part decision and part the result of the organic nature of the business. We have a great deal of knowledge and expertise in one particular area: keeping people warm in cold conditions. This runs right through PHD from background technical knowledge gathered over 50+ years to the know-how acquired in the manufacture of this specialised gear, hands-on experience which can also be measured in decades. We now use CAD to help with our pattern work, but design still starts with brain and hand. Nothing matches human knowledge and skill, a combination of assets which are not easily acquired or shared.
The way we sell our products also keeps us small. Direct to the customer only, because we don’t want intermediaries. No advertising, not because we’re shy, but we want customers to buy gear they really want without persuasion (recommendation is fine). And of course, as another natural limit to expansion some of our resources are rare, in particular our 1000 down.
So, if we don’t measure our history by growth, what do we mark it by?
A list of expeditions? You’ll find plenty mentioned throughout the website. It’s been a pleasure to be involved with these remarkable ventures, the smallest as much as the big ones, and we learned a lot from them. But making lists is an accountant’s job.
Innovations? The revolutionary Minimus sleeping bags and clothing we launched back in 1998 gave new meaning to the word ‘lightweight’ and sparked off the vast range of lightweight down gear now sold worldwide under a hundred brands. The Delta Belay and Zeta belay jackets brought new standards to this specialist area. The Hispar gear extended the idea of lightweight into the coldest conditions on earth. Our Design-Your-Own site for sleeping bags and our Custom Sized Clothing have introduced a unique customer service into the outdoor world. Our Sleep Systems framework shows how to combine our sleeping bags and insulated clothing for maximum versatility and minimum weight, and the development of our ground breaking Double Expedition Down Suit continues our history at the forefront of high-altitude expedition clothing. We could go on, but why waste time looking backwards, when we’re busy developing new gear ideas all the time?
Places and people? The factory is still in the same place where we opened up twenty years ago, and many of the people who were at the core of PHD then are still here, with the addition in 2009 of Peter Elliott who has taken over as Managing Director. Peter's presence has definitely strengthened the company without changing the ethos one whit.
A company's history is usually quoted as an exercise in promotion, a catalogue of success and expansion pointing to future promise, and at the same time a kind of character statement.
PHD is too peculiar, too small and too busy with the present to spend time compiling a record of past achievements: our history is best defined for us by the living stream of customer reports we receive. As for character, what makes PHD unique is a concept – integrity comes as close as anything, a concept that is given life by the skills and the attitude of the people who work here. It’s not really history at all, rather something which has to be renewed each day.