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Outdoor gear company gives students’ designs a thumbs up

Friendly Yetis designed by FHN students make their national debut

Forest Hills — The design meeting in progress in an office at Forest Hills Northern High School covered the gamut: making tweaks to the design; determining price point; considering fabric choice; outlining marketing strategy; and asking whether or not the product line should include stickers in addition to T-shirts and hoodies. 

The meeting seemed like one that the school’s athletic department might have as it rolled out a new line of school spirit gear.

The designers Ella, left, and Maddy model their finished products (courtesy)

But it wasn’t. This meeting was a virtual one, between a marketing director from TREW, an outdoor lifestyle company in Oregon, and Gone Boarding students and educators in Forest Hills. And the session wasn’t just a mock interview, a mere practice run for students to get experience learning what goes into marketing a product. 

Instead, seniors Ella Gorski and Maddy Skym were giving input into the next steps of a process for using a design they created for an actual line of TREW clothing, which debuted May 9. Their playful snow-monster designs were chosen by TREW from 30 submitted in a class competition.

They have a big stake in the decisions; after production costs, they will split the proceeds with a Gone Boarding Scholarship account, a fund to help offset the cost of annual Forest Hills class trips. 

‘We wanted our design to be inclusive of both sports (boarding and skiing).’

—  Ella Gorski, student designer

Teacher Adam Zavislak was part of the meeting, too. He said that the students worked on this project in his marketing class, one of the elements of the district’s Gone Boarding program, an interdisciplinary offering available to students since 2012. He pointed out that the experience “involved a range of skills and knowledge, including graphic design. branding, marketing, and communication.” 

TREW-blue Design

TREW touts its commitments to backcountry safety, protecting the outdoors, using responsible manufacturing methods, and promoting more equitable and inclusive culture in outdoor pursuits. They are known for their durable, colorful bibs and for their “thumbs up” mentality. Everything on their site exudes a “let’s go play outside” vibe. 

‘(The clothing design experience) involved a range of skills and knowledge, including graphic design, branding, marketing, and communication.

— Gone Boarding teacher Adam Zavislak

Graham Wallace is its marketing director; he also attended Forest Hills Eastern from 2007 to 2010. He reached out about a year ago to Bill Curtis, teacher and founder of the Gone Boarding course, with some initial ideas about a design contest for students.

“I wish that I could have had the chance to take part in such an amazing program,” Wallace said. 

The students’ colorful and friendly Yeti snow monster designs embody the company’s optimistic, adventuresome and approachable spirit. It even bridges the gap between boarders and skiers, with a mutual “thumbs up” and interlocked hands between the bibbed snow monsters. 

“We wanted our design to be inclusive of both sports,” noted Ella, a member of the school’s ski race team. 

“Our designs have all of the TREW values,” Maddy said, “and I started with a doodle.” 

She and Maddy looked at the TREW website for color inspiration. Ella’s experience with previous Gone Boarding classes also helped; for Maddy, the experience was all new. Ella has been at Forest Hills Northern for all of high school; Maddy is a newer student there. 

They asked family and friends for input as the design developed, and presented it to teachers and classmates for input. One classmate thought that an early design looked too much like a hot dog, leading the designers to make changes. All of the voices and opinions worked together to improve the design, as did the nature of the contest assignment. 

“There was a spirit of competition. Without that, their design wouldn’t have been as good,” Curtis explained.

TREW, too, was good at listening, Maddy said: “It’s nice that they are so responsive.” When she asked Wallace if they should refine the design a bit, he responded that he liked the hand-drawn aesthetic as it was, and thought it had a bespoke look.

Tackling the Task with Teamwork 

Graphic design was just one part of the assignment. Students also had to develop a marketing plan, present their ideas and create mock-ups for products. Maddy and Ella hadn’t started the assignment as a team. But after each realized the scale of what they were going to do, they decided to join forces. 

Forest Hills’ integrated curriculum received high marks from Wallace, for the unique experience it provides and the opportunity to break into an industry that can be difficult to navigate. 

Past students, too, have won a number of design competitions

“Not only does the Gone Boarding program help students learn how to make the products, but it also dives into the business behind brand and product,” Wallace pointed out.

Zavislak echoed his point, highlighting students’ attention to detail, collaboration, creativity and problem-solving — skills that have value outside of school. 

“Creating a design that matched TREW’s identity is a key aspect of building a brand, and the ability to do this effectively is highly sought after by many employers,” he said.  

Ella and Maddy eagerly await the debut of their smiling Yeti, available for ordering between May 9-23 on TREW’s website

And while the friendly snow monsters are not named, the students did give  a nod to their teachers’ own “thumbs up” vibe when they noted that their teachers, too, were friendly-monsterish: “You are the Yeti.” 

Read more from Forest Hills: 
Alien soil grows familiar plants
Student artwork depicting Michigan’s strengths wins state competition 

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Carol Lautenbach
Carol Lautenbach
Carol Lautenbach is a reporter and columnist for School News Network. She has been a writer since second grade when her semi-autobiographical story, "The Magic Pencil," earned her a shiny Kennedy half-dollar in a metro-Detroit contest. For three wonderful decades, Carol served Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in a variety of teaching and administrative roles. In her current work as a consultant and at SNN, she continues to be part of telling the story of the great promise of public education. Carol has also written for The Alan Review, The Rapidian and Midwest Living, and is co-author of the book, “Making Schools Work: Bringing the Science of Learning to Joyful Classroom Practice.” She loves to not cook, and she keeps her bag packed for art, outdoor and writing adventures.


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