Wild Ingenuity™: Robert ‘Bernie’ Bernthal of Beringia

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The latest feature in Vanish’s Wild Ingenuity™ Interview series is here! This week we shine the spotlight on our exclusive conversation with Robert ‘Bernie’ Bernthal, the founder of the Bozeman, Montana x Tokyo, Japan-based technical outerwear company, Beringia.

Launched in the Fall of 2019, Beringia is a ‘development-driven brand that draws equally from design ideation, technical innovation, and advanced fiber and fabric engineering’. Prior to successfully launching Beringia, Bernie co-founded Duckworth, the only 100% Made-in-USA Merino wool clothing company, and has also played major roles in providing Brand and Marketing direction for outdoor powerhouses K2 and the SWATCH group, to name a few.

While Bernthal’s work experience is certainly commendable, he’ll be the first to tell you his story and Beringia’s span WELL beyond the confines of any office. As you’ll find out in this interview, Bernie is a true pioneer of the outdoor industry whose passion for nature and outdoor recreation has taken him on a multitude of worldly adventures over many decades. Through these experiences and shared passions of skiing, surfing, mountain climbing, and mother nature, Bernie’s formed friendships with like-minded folk – from across Europe to Japan – that have helped him propel Beringia into a reality.

We’ll leave it there and let Bernie takeover in sharing his perspective on Nature-Culture-Future…Strap in and get ready to enjoy the latest Wild Ingenuity™ adventure!

1979 – Bernie with his ’79 Verbier on an early visit to ski/mountain bum world // Photo provided by Robert ‘Bernie’ Bernthal

Tell us a bit about yourself, your company/scope of work, and how nature is woven into your product strategy…

Bernie: I left NY at 18 (1978) to move to France to play soccer in the French Professional league, I came back to the US and played 3 more years before realizing that we spent our time in the grimmest, darkest places. When I saw the Alps, it was over, I had to be up in those mountains and live the outdoor (nature) life of doing rad shit in the outdoors. This was the early 80’s so I guess we kinda turned the outdoor/nature calling into the “outdoor industry”. We did it at a time when you could ski powder and live cheap. We imported and sold and marketed the best US-made Outdoor gear in the Alps – Switzerland, it was a way to pay the bills and get free gear for our adventures…

1978 – Limoges FC – first American pro in the French Pro League // Photo provided by Robert ‘Bernie’ Bernthal
1984 – Chamonix – fist Telemark decent of Couloir Barbey // Photo: Bob Mazarei

NATURE (continued)

Bernie: As Americans, we grow up surrounded by incredible “brands”, and growing up in the 70’s – 80’s we had amazing music and art to flank our sports…it became a culture. Chasing powder, climbing, surf, and music was what we did and it has become an industry. It’s fucken incredible and we are insanely lucky to live a life and make a living doing it. The sports/ activities that are done in connection with nature take you to a deeper place, “archaic techniques of ecstasy” / in the zone. It’s no wonder that people in these crazy times are desperately trying to get to something real. Every brand we have created and work with has to be real, no posers, they have to credible and back their shit up. Once the companies/brands lose their soul and their reason to exist, other than making money, it’s over.

We founded Beringia with our Japanese partners because they make incredibly good gear, functional beauty and we share a common passion for design connected to the mountains and oceans where we live and play. Over the years we grew our expertise in textile function and particularly wool. Our recent projects with the ancient wool/textile region of Bihsu, Japan is leading to some breakthroughs that make us really happy and proud. Sustainable – Regenerated fine wool textiles made by hand, very perfect, and without the use of many harmful chemicals the commodity brands use.

2011 – Backcountry ski touring in Nelson BC. Skier: Robert ‘Bernie’ Bernthal // Photo provided by Robert ‘Bernie’ Bernthal
2004 – Surfing clean winter swell in SoCal // Photo provided by Robert ‘Bernie’ Bernthal
1997 – Swatch times – Paying off the Police in Florence Italy // Photo provided by Robert ‘Bernie’ Bernthal

Where do you go for inspiration and what out there in current culture is creating the best or most interesting vibes to motivate you?

Bernie: Really good design. Anything made with wool, the process to the final product. Kinda obvious and vanilla. The Japanese outdoor/street/fashion/textile scene is a pretty cool collision of styles that is producing an interesting aesthetic.

Rich results on Google's SERP for 'Bishu Japan'
A Bishu Craftsman at work
Rich results on Google's SERP for 'Bishu Beringia'
Beringia’s Master of Bishu Regenerated Wool Fabric
Rich results on Google's SERP for 'Bishu Beringia'
The Ultimate Wool Shirt – Beringia’s Fallaron Shirt // Master of Bishu Collection

What does the future look like for your work and what’s on your mind as you look forward?

Bernie: Great timing to ask this question. I will never stop working and will always be looking to bring newness and change. I want to disrupt the commodity brands, find new, international, interesting like-minded people and brands to do cool stuff with to keep us young and active. It’s also inspiring to see the trending collision of sorts on the way between outdoor, technical, and fashion industries.

Follow Beringia on Instagram // learn more about Beringia’s Master of Bishu Collection here

Our many thanks to Bernie for offering his time, wisdom, and experience towards this piece!