The Brooklyn Navy yard, where we call home, is without a doubt a host to some of the raddest businesses in New York. Sometimes its seems like every conceivable industry seems like it has a hand here. Occasionally we get the chance to peek into what our neighbors at the Yard are up to and we are always amazed. Recently we were invited to drop in on the offices of Crye Precision, absolutely one of the most unique businesses in the Yard today.
Crye was founded by Caleb Crye and Gregg Thompson shortly after they graduated from Cooper Union in 1999. They wanted to approach the unique design challenges that were presented by the US military. In particular, they were responding to a military open initiative, which called for designers to revolutionize and modernize the equipment and body armor of the soldier. In the middle of development for their first project, a redesign of the combat helmet, came the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Suddenly demand for modern military equipment spiked and Crye was in a great position to respond.
From a design perspective, these wars also presented new challenges. The mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Iraq are unique terrain. Arid deserts, lush green forests, cropland, and urban areas are situated closely together, and soldiers are sometimes forced to pass between all of these within a single day. At that time, the digital camouflage patterns that you are probably familiar with were in wide use in the field. These patterns may have been effective elsewhere, but in the terrain of the middle east, they stuck out like a sore thumb. Crye’s response was MultiCam, which was specially designed to provide effective camouflage against the widest possible range of backdrops.
The challenges of designing for the military are incredibly unique and motivating. You have to design every piece of equipment to be not only as durable and protective as humanly possible, employing every piece of materials technology available to you, but also able to be produced en masse, for a price that the military will buy into. Everything has to be made to fit huge variety of body types, carrying huge loads, without constricting movement in any way. Some items have to be made to be easily adaptable for light or heavy combat, with removable armor plates. Everything has to work seamlessly with all of the other pieces of wearable technology and weapons that are part of a modern day soldier’s daily carry.
Their office is a testament to their success. It is littered with bottles of high quality whiskey, photos, letters, and bullet-riddled helmets and combat vests: Gifts from soldiers who owe Crye equipment their lives. Over and over again Ernesto, Multicam’s Product Development Manager and our guide for the day, stressed how important these men were to their design process. Every piece of equipment they produce is constantly being poked, prodded, and tweaked based on feedback from the field. Keeping all their production close to home is extremely important for that reason. The sewing room floor for the large portion of their technical gear sits less than 100 feet from the computers on which they’re designed. This has the added benefit of allowing them really intense quality control and flexibility in their product line. The room next door houses a complete prototyping shop, with all the toys that any industrial designer would ever require. Working in the Navy Yard has been hugely important to the story and logistics of their brand, and soon they plan to move into an even larger facility in a building that is currently being completely gutted and rehabbed. They worked directly with the navy yard to specially design a section of the building to suit their needs.
WORDS: BRADLEY GEE | PHOTOS: KURT UHLENDORF