What does it mean to be obsessive? What drives the insistence on having the very best? We sat down with Zander Nosler — the founder behind Kitsbow, to pick his brain on the origins of obsessiveness; what it takes to create the perfect mountain biking short, and the very mindset of being ‘cursed’ with wanting to get the very most out of everything you touch.
What does the word “obsessive” mean to you, and how does it apply to Kitsbow apparel?
Though I’m not sure if I’m a product nerd because I’m a product designer, or product designer because I’m a product nerd, in any craft, you meet people like myself who simply want what they’re using or making to be perfect. Maybe it started with my dad who had a woodshop where there was always a perfect tool for a job, regardless of size or purpose. In that shop, there were like 85 different types of hammers: you had one for framing, one for decking, you had a ball peen, a deadblow, the mallet, bodywork, small sledge, and so on. There was something for everything. So to me, being obsessive is a balance of both having the right tool, and finding the right tool to do each specific job that much better. The kind of “obsessive” that’s the most compelling to me is a combination of wanting something to be perfect and actually being able to find it, own it, or build it. In my case, I wanted a better mountain biking short, and that’s what our Soft Shell A/M Short is — a better fitting, and better performing tool, highly specialized for the job of all-mountain riding.
When did you realize you were ‘different?’
I knew I had a problem when I was a kid. I remember my first consciousness that a good product had something to do with someone doing a good job. I think I was maybe 15 or 16, when I got behind the wheel of my friend’s Honda, and the turn signal felt totally different than all the American cars’ turn signals. It had a very positive, intentional ‘click’ with each signaling, and it occurred to me that someone did a better job designing this turn signal than the one in my dad’s Oldsmobile. Sorry dad. All this because there was someone at Honda who obsessed over optimizing the cost-per-durability-per-feel equation. So that recognition of doing better, or finding better is what equates to the sickness — what equates to the obsessiveness. You start enjoying doing things to the nth degree — finishing the insides as well as you finish the outsides, along with finding more interesting and efficient ways to get things done.
Do you think being obsessive is a blessing or a curse?
Definitely a curse [laughs]. A lot of obsessives have suffered through the experience of buying something worse first, before knowing they need the best. I also found that the things that I touch every day, are the things worth investing in. Whether it be a computer, a chair, a mattress, kitchen knives, a bicycle, or my morning coffee, I treat all these purchases with the same weight. I remember when I got my first “nice” bike. It wasn’t uber nice, but it was just ‘that’ much nicer than an off-the-shelf option from a department store, and it made all the difference. It was a nice bike at the time — a Bridgestone MB4, which parlayed into a further appreciation for what it meant to ride a nice bike.
But ultimately what is most rewarding about it?
I remember really wanting a sweet road bike, and the only way to satisfy the desire to have one beyond my own financial means was to convince my parents to subsidize it as a construction project for me. So I got mom and dad to buy the parts and the tubing from Nova Cycles in Los Gatos, and since we already had a shop and a torch, I set to work. I first made a practice frame, then the real thing — that was it. I raced on that bike, and am still proud to have it. I later went on to have a career in product design, and have used and worked with products that I’ve designed and worked on, which is super rewarding. But clothing is a much more personal thing, and it’s even more satisfying because it’s something that I can share with my friends who also ride. It’s really amazing to have my own personal design sensibilities and subjectivity appreciated by others.
Ever think it just might be a little ridiculous?
Oh definitely. One of the dangers is that once you’ve found out about a specific category to obsess over, it’s that there’s always something a little better and deeper down the rabbit hole. And then you’re always starting to second-guess yourself, assuming that what you had was not the absolute best. I’ve done this with everything from screwdrivers to padlocks to hunting gear. But ultimately, while it’s somewhat of a vicious cycle, being obsessive lets you hone a skill for finding the things to obsess about. And luckily for me, Kitsbow allows me to continue to nurture and hone my obsessiveness with mountain biking, through the process of creating the very best riding gear.
What do you think is the most obsessive part of the Kitsbow Join the Obsessives giveaway package?
The most interesting part of all the conversations we had about putting together the package, was ‘which rabbit hole to go down,’ because there are a lot of bikes out there and every one of them has its perfect use. Ultimately, we went with Ibis because all the engineering hurdles that they went through really shine in the design intent and execution of the Ripley. Shimano as well — the XTR brakes and drivetrain are very clearly engineered by people who are truly obsessive, and want to make the riding experience as good as it can be. This carries through to the rest of the package — from the Scandinavian design savants at POC, to the optics mad scientists at Oakley and obsessive nutritionists at Osmo — all of our partners are obsessives in their respective fields, who leave no detail of their mountain biking experience overlooked.
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