As is the case with all of the companies featured in this series, RocBloc was conceived from the union of need and circumstance. Cathy Maguire was frustrated with the amount of rubbish getting into her shoes whilst trail running in the Dandenong Mountains, west of Melbourne, Australia. She was then handed a platter of stress fractures that gave her all the time she needed to turn her frustrations into a product and RocBloc was born.
In our first post on The Cottage Renaissance, we discussed what the whole Cottage movement means and why we love it. In our second post we looked at Cactus, a relatively large small business employing a good number of Kiwis and making a broad range of products. In our third and most recent post we covered Thir, a small but ambitious little company, also from New Zealand, currently making great headwear and with grand designs to release a range of quality products.
Unintentionally, we’ve gone from one end of the Cottage industry to the other, from fairly large production to relatively tiny. As RocBloc is a side project, Ms Macquire is perfectly happy to let the orders trickle in without feeling as if she needs to take over the world. RocBloc is a one-woman garage band, supported by a sewing machine, a lot of bright fabrics and the satisfaction that comes from personally fulfilling every order. Cathy says she still gets a buzz talking to customers about how they intend to use her gaiters: whether in an upcoming race, on their home trails or on a big adventure.
But this is the whole point, isn’t it? That products and profits are not prioritised over developing sound and ethical relationships with customers? That it’s vitally important to ensure that both parties are satisfied with the transaction, rather than one cleaning up at the expense of the other? While I’m shamelessly fond of quoting Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, when it comes to questions of economics and ethics I can hardly think of more appropriate source material. In his monologue on the fundamental morality of Money, Francisco D’Anconia argues that,
“Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade—with reason, not force, as their final arbiter—it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability [.]”
Okay, so it’s almost impossible to cite Rand’s Romanticism without sounding sensational, but the point is in there somewhere. Of course I’m not suggesting that Salomon, Outdoor Research or Inov-8 are using force and threat to pressure us into buying shoddy gaiters against our better judgement. Rather, I’m arguing that a truly equitable buyer-seller relationship needs to be two-sided with both parties trading value: On one hand, a representation of effort and time in the form of money, for the equal effort and time of another. The Cottage school of trade relies on this understanding, without which producers would quickly go out of business and customers would rarely even make it to the party; it’s just too niched. Larger manufactures tend to drift away from this foundation as they grow, shipping production offshore and steadily delegating increasingly smaller areas of responsibility to ever growing numbers of employees or contractors.
Okay, back to reality. I’ve personally used RocBloc for a lot of training runs and in a number of Ultra Trail Races. I bought a pair after I heard about them at a Trails+ race in 2012 and not much has changed since then – after all, what’s there to change? The attraction of a set of RocBloc gaiters is in their simplicity; the only option you have is colour/pattern. Sure, they could do with some reinforcement where the lace-ring is connected to the gaiter and some additional Velcro on the sides might help keep even more grit out but RocBloc gaiters are a great product handmade by a person we can talk to and relate with.
While there are loose plans to produce both taller gaiters designed for Sand Running and Running Skirts, whether these will come to be or not is unsure. Does it matter? No. Not really. Miss Macquire’s product is the running gaiter and unless footwear hits the market with included gaiters we’re likely to continue to need some way to keep the trail out of our shoes whereas every athletic-wear company I can think of, from Nike to GoLite, The North Face to 2XU, Salomon to Lulu Lemon produce running-friendly skirts. Sure longer gaiters would be a treat (Snow Running, anyone?), but we’ll get by in the mean time.