Hill City Finds Room in a Crowded Space

How the brand set out to make clothing for men based on their real-time feedback

Gap is introducing a new line of men’s basics today: Hill City. The under-their-umbrella brand is helmed by a team of in-house creatives including Noah Palmer, a former professional soccer player, new dad and brand director. Aimed at being the answer to the daily quarrels of outfit change after outfit change, Hill City is making a collection of high-performance clothing that looks acceptable in nearly any setting.

No matter how high-quality their designs may be or how “for the modern man” their efforts are, venturing into a space as crowded as this one seems ambitious at best, foolish at worst. Plenty of brands have dedicated entire campaigns—in some instances, their brand itself—to making versatile wear that fits everywhere. The veterans of this style are obvious. And newcomers must fight to express their difference—to prove to customers that their line of shorts, sweat-wicking tees and stretch-woven chinos are best.

When talking with Palmer, he’s honest about Hill City’s designs. He knows where they’ve pulled from—regarding what they’d like to emulate and what they’d like to avoid and why they’re making any given product.

“It all came from a series of wishes. Well it’s this, but I wish it had this. I wish this had this,” he says. Palmer and his team begin with something they wear everyday and look at how they can improve it. The team found a discrepancy between what they wear and how it performs for what they do.

“If you’re going on a hike,” he explains, “you shouldn’t have to look like a different version of yourself.” And they think consumers feel the same way.  Other brands either cater to a niche market or the sweeping majority. But, Hill City wanted to make clothes they knew their customer needed. It’s evident in their brand identity. “It’s this notion of having less stuff. Having better stuff that’s more versatile,” Palmer adds.

So in the past year or so, from when Hill City was conceptualized to its launch, a cast of wear testers, designers, friends and family wore the early iterations of the line, gave feedback and shared their input. As feedback came in, the Hill City team realized that their internal ideas only stretched so far; that the feedback of others—real people wearing these products on a daily basis—became the most valuable.

The products speak to this. Their “Everyday Pant” ($128), for instance, is slim-fitting, durable and features a patented integrated stretch waistband and hidden zipper pocket. The “Thermal Light Shirt Jacket” ($158) is a near weightless jacket with a stretch nylon shell and Primaloft Active Gold Plus insulation. A “Reversible Hooded Puffer Jacket” ($188) is a standout in their collection—it’s made from lightweight recycled fabric that’s water-repellant and has dual textures (and in turn, functions) rather than colors. These products started at as general ideas but were made better with time.

In conjunction with the brand’s unveiling today, Hill City will make their wear-tester program publicly available. “Anyone can sign up,” Palmer says. “As long as you’re giving us good feedback, we’ll keep sending you stuff.” But Palmer is after diversity. The broader the field of testers, the stronger, and more in-depth, the feedback.

“There will be a chat bot on Facebook Messenger where you can send feedback any time,” he says. “It’s subscription-based, but more than anything we want to create a big community where you can tell us what you want. We want men to come back to us for something they loved and the new stuff, too.”

Images courtesy of Hill City / Gap