Just like Amazon, Apple and Google, Best Made is a business that was born in a garage. In 2009, Peter Buchanan-Smith, a graphic designer, created his own version of a sturdy axe and soon officially launched his aptly named venture that is dedicated to creating and selling the finest outdoor-inspired products that are designed to prompt city dwellers to rediscover–or discover in some cases–the joys of rustic living.
The company now operates a brick-and-mortar store in both Lower Manhattan and Los Angeles and has a robust online business. Its assortment includes both the in-house brand and third-party items that span everything from apparel and accessories to housewares, camping gear and blades and axes. Buchanan-Smith recently shared the story of his unique company’s success, its diverse fan base and explained why standing around a campfire is sometimes all that one ever really needs.
Why are urbanites suddenly so keen to embrace outdoor-themed products even if they rarely leave the city?
One of the reasons for starting this company was that I was spending so much time in front of a screen. Even an iPhone is still a tether to the indoors. It’s stating the obvious but the ultimate antidote to being indoors is being outdoors. And I think a lot of people just don’t know what to do outdoors and I think that’s where we come in. We’re inspiring and empowering people to go outdoors. It’s not like you have to go surf the biggest wave or climb Mount Everest. For us it’s just like getting to a campfire. And as easy as that is for someone like myself who grew up doing it so often that it’s second nature, it’s something that a lot of people struggle with and is so fundamental to our existence.
Who is the typical Best Made customer?
I’d say there isn’t a typical Best Made customer. I’ll be at the store and numerous times I’ll see three generations of family come in. You’ll have the grandson, the father and the grandfather all come in and it’s incredible. They are all like kids in a candy store. You’ll have a 12-year-old, a 50-year-old and a 70-year-old and they are all under this sort of spell. Aside from the generational span it’s also demographically diverse. You take someone like [chef] Francis Mallmann that we’ve worked with for a long time and then earlier this year we started working with Justin Timberlake.
What are your so-called secrets of being a successful outdoor retailer smack in the middle of the city?
I think the secret is to be inclusive as possible and to inspire people. I think there are a lot of people who are intimidated by the more technical outdoor brands. For us it just goes back to that desire to get to the campfire, especially as it relates to urbanites. We really feel that it’s important to inspire people to do that. It’s not just giving you the tours and selling you that perfect axe or that perfect jacket but inspiring you to use it and to go out there and have that really add to your life.
A lot of people just don't know what to do outdoors and I think that's where we come in.
What are your some of your favorite pieces in your in-house apparel collection?
It’s our Ventile Anorak. Ventile is not a new material. It was first deployed in WWII in the RAF. Pilots wore ventile in their planes crossing the English Channel. It’s a cotton material that has all these incredible very technical properties. When it gets wet it expands and it almost becomes as impervious to water as Gore-Tex or more synthetic fabrics. And it’s our first seam-taped garment, which in and of itself is the first big step to technical apparel.
But funnily enough you are using an old school fabric in it…
It’s old school but it’s as good as the new school. That’s something that is really interesting to me. Wool is very much like that too. We’re doing a wool base layer right now that is the foundation to any kind of outdoor adventure. All of its properties–and not just because it keeps you warm–it’s anti-microbial, it’s wicking, it’s comfortable–make it the ultimate technical garment.
What is your all-time favorite outdoor destination and urban one?
To me the ultimate outdoor destination is the farm in Canada that I was born on. You could say it’s where Best Made really came from, this idea of being outside.
And my urban destination is a no-brainer. It’s New York City. I moved here 20 years ago. There’s nowhere that I’ve found on Earth that compares at least as it relates to the connections that I’ve made here.
What inspires you?
My inspiration comes from the utility and the people who are out there and actually putting our product and other products like ours to the test for a really long time. I look to very far-reaching and eclectic points of inspiration. It could be Jacques Cousteau, the US Air Force or Ernest Hemingway or Ernest Shackleton.
In just a few words, what in a nutshell is the Best Made concept?
For me it’s four words: Elegant Utility and Timeless Technology.