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Alumnus’ Success in Outdoor Industry Happens by Design

September 19, 2016

As a boy, he drew cars and airplanes in his mother’s recipe books. He disassembled and then reassembled things in his father’s workshop. He hoarded gray Legos from various sets so he could build a fleet of little helicopters. Matt Paduano was a self-described tinkerer who understood from childhood that he needed to create and build things in order to truly be happy.

Decades later, nothing has changed, which must please customers of The North Face who benefit from Paduano’s design expertise. He has worked for the outdoor apparel and equipment manufacturer for six years. Earlier this year, he helped conceptualize and brought to market a unique and innovative design called the access pack, which meets every backpack need of the on-the-go professional; he even wrote and art-directed the product’s promotional video.

“My main responsibility is to ensure consistency in design, merchandising and sales,” says Paduano, DAAP ’97, who started with The North Face designing backpacks as well as select apparel and equipment. He recently became creative director of the company’s Mountain Culture division, which makes him much more of a steward of The North Face brand.

“I had been a ‘product guy.’ Now I work with our business partners to make sure everything that is consumer-facing aligns with our creative direction. I’m building relationships and trying to figure out the best working dynamics that will serve our customers and our brand.”

UC Experience a Launching Pad

Paduano’s hike up the outdoor industry’s professional mountain started with his hometown university. Early on he knew UC’s and the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning’s reputation for design excellence, and came to realize the immense value of its co-op program as a career springboard.

“I attribute a lot of my success to the great education I received,” he says, “especially co-op, which helped prepare me for the transition from college to being a professional.”

He gained experience at co-op stints with Huffy Bicycles in Dayton, Hasbro Toys in Cincinnati, and Lexmark in Lexington, then impressed a recruiter from Hi-Tec Sports, a Modesto, Calif.-based footwear company. He really took to designing footwear — and to living on the West Coast among others who exuded a laid-back approach yet a contagious passion for living life. While at Hi-Tec Sports, he initiated the company’s first intern program and placed three UC students in internships.

“It was a big opportunity for me to kind of pay it forward in a way, and I liked being able to mentor other young designers, even early in my career.”

Three years later, Paduano took a job with Columbia Sportswear. Six successful years with the Portland, Ore., outdoor apparel maker included designing several top revenue-generating products and helping the business post season-over-season, double-digit growth. That eventually led to a position as the sole equipment designer for Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Marmot.

“Backpacks, gloves, some styling work on tents and sleeping bags — things like that,” he says. “For the designer, footwear’s shape is predetermined, so I had previously felt a bit limited in how I could express myself. But I came to love the freedom of working with equipment design.”

A Culture That Brings Out the Best

Underscoring Paduano’s career are his personal guiding principles, including dedication to free-flowing communication and the belief that teams become successful when they recognize the value of each person and leverage their particular strengths to solve problems.

“That approach is important when mentoring designers because it’s inclusive and empowering,” he says. “It’s about the team and the people. We need to understand how someone wants to grow so we can help them get there.”

“Helping people get there” is also baked into the corporate culture at The North Face where, Paduano says, life is awesome.

“I’m surrounded by people who are passionate and want to make the coolest stuff we can — that’s what drives us all,” he says of the vibe that seems to permeate his industry. Indeed, from the LEED-platinum campus to the classes in the company gym and cooking lessons in the café, the “work hard, play hard” environment makes employees want to excitedly get up each day and come to the company’s offices beside San Francisco Bay to make more new cool stuff. Oh, and exotic travel opportunities pop up occasionally, too.

“I’ve been in Asia prepping prototypes, and in the Swiss Alps testing production packs,” Paduano says. “I’ve truly been blessed.”

By Keith Stichtenoth
Special Assistant,
Executive Communication

Email Keith
or call 513-556-3296

Lessons Learned

Matt Paduano, DAAP ’97, a creative director with The North Face, cites three tips and takeaways from his ascent in the outdoor industry:

  • “Take acting lessons, or find a similar method to help you tell better stories. Seriously, I’ve done that now and then over the years. Design is about communication, which calls for good storytelling. We’re not really saying, ‘Hey, here’s a product and here’s what it does.’ It’s more about giving the complete story — that’s the most powerful tool we have to bring a concept to life.”

  • “Along with that, designers sometimes want to ‘hide behind our work’ — to just put our designs in front of people and have them understand and appreciate what we’ve done. But being able to visually communicate is only part of it. You have to bring the audience along so they can wrap their minds around the concept.”

  • “Make a career out of doing what you love. You spend too much of your life doing your work for it to not feed your passion.”

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