Unlike the characters in The Sound of Music, my favourite things do not include ‘raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens’ but there are a few things that I have been consuming, wearing, playing with or working with this year that I wanted to briefly mention. This is not an exhaustive list, but it covers some of the best stuff for me in 2016.
Running and cycling
Iffley Road & Soar Running: fantastic new independent running apparel brands. There are an increasing number of small brands making a mark in the running world. These two are very different from one another, but both have the indie spirit and I really admire that. Not only do they have a great story to tell, the products are great too. I’m very excited that we are now seeing new brands emerge and I hope that in 2017 that trend continues to gather momentum.
ashmei: really amazing cycling and running apparel. I have long been a fan of ashmei. Since I started cycling a lot more, I have come to realise the value of top quality kit and this is top quality kit. Every detail has been thought about and the material and construction are second to none. The bib-shorts are nothing short of miraculous and the merino wool jersey is a wonderful garment. Now that the winter is closing in, the soft-shell jacket has become my go-to item for cold, sunny early morning rides.
361 Degrees: a running brand challenging perceptions. I’ve only just got my hands on a pair of their shoes, but first impressions are that they are a solid pair of everyday trainers. I run on pavement, paths and some trails in north London and these are pretty well ready to take ‘em all on. This brand has grown in the Far East and is now coming to Europe. Forget what you think you know about Chinese products – these deserve to be given a go.
District Vision: thoughtful, stylish, functional running tools for the eyes. I met one of the team behind District Vision recently and I immediately felt that this brand has the right approach to business, to running and to people. The products are spot-on – they look great and perform really well – but more than that, there is an amazing story behind them.
Ciele: caps that are great for running and that you’ll never want to take off. I’ve been a huge fan of Ciele since I discovered them a couple of years ago. The design and the way that the small team behind the brand innovates, really excites me. These are running caps that are perfect for pretty much everything. I’ve also heard that there are pretty exciting collaborations coming soon.
Stance: the only socks you will ever need. Born in California and now taking over the world, Stance is everything you need for your feet. The running socks perform brilliantly with the added bonus that they look great. There are outdoors and cycling socks in the pipeline. I literally wouldn’t wear anything else now.
Focus Bikes: my first proper road bike still going strong. Rediscovering my Focus Cayo has been brilliant. It is getting on for eight years old now. I bought it when the Ride To Work scheme was announced and this was 1p under the £1,000 upper limit. It was described as an absolute bargain by cyclists in the know and now that I have started cycling really regularly I am discovering that it really is a great bike for someone getting into the sport. I’m so happy that it is getting a few rides out each week now.
Inov-8 Trail Talon 250: shoes built for wet conditions. A great shoe for muddy conditions from the masters of grip. Light, minimalist, flexible. And it looks good too!
Running Beyond by Ian Corless: a book that informs and inspires in equal measure. Ian is someone that I really admire – for his art as a photographer, his love of the sport and his attitude to life. He has worked incredibly hard to get his book published and it really is a master-piece.
Apple MacBook Pro: the work tool that I use 12 hours a day. I upgraded my tech this year and what a revelation. My old MacBook Pro was 7 years old. It was slow and there were keys that didn’t work. It was slowing me down. This new one is a really great tool that is light enough and with a good enough battery for me to take it everywhere.
iPhone 6S: the piece of tech that I would be completely lost without. I was given the chance to upgraded my iPhone earlier this year (thank you for that Apple) from an old iPhone 4 and the difference is incredible. I live with my phone in my hand – it is essential for work and I also love using the camera for photos (especially Instagram) and video. To think about what mobile phones were 10 years ago really blows my mind!
The Stress Report by the team behind the Do Lectures: a timely reminder that as our work and lives intersect, there needs to be balance. This is a report that everyone who cares about the work they do should read. It is sometimes said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well I believe that businesses can be that village – business owners have responsibilities to the people who work together and this report should form part of the blueprint for how to build something that matters.
Radiomeuh: sounds for the office. This digital radio station has no ads and very little other than the perfect blend of (mainly) chilled music. This is the perfect backdrop for a business where deep work is essential. Talking of which …
Deep Work by Cal Newport: the book that will convince you of the value of concentration. This book probably had the most profound impact on my thinking this year. I am massively prone to distractions (I don’t think I am alone in that – for example, some of the people I work with on a daily basis are the same). Distraction comes with the territory of being the CEO and all that entails, the person ultimately responsible for client happiness and the head of sales. But I realise that I cannot let my inbox become my ‘to do’ list. I cannot allow social media to suck up all the available time. The business needs me to concentrate and Cal Newport explains not just why, but how.
The Heretic: a mentor in my inbox. I can’t remember how I found out about Pascal Finette, but his emails about entrepreneurship and running a start-up are at times funny, thought provoking, challenging and insightful. And he has replied to many of my comments on what he has written He makes me realise that I am not alone on this journey.
Outside of work
British Journal of Photography: the best magazine I have found about the thing I love doing almost as much as work. I love magazines and I love photography. On that basis alone, this is a great title for me. It was established in 1854 and recently reinvented, so there is a great mix of history and modernity. Between the covers, there is always masses of inspiration, articles about great artists, technical advice and product focus pieces. This is the magazine that gets me fired up to make photographs. Speaking of which …
Fuji X-Pro1: my camera that I never leave home without. Since I started making photos again after a break of 20+ years, this was the camera that I really coveted. I love street photography and this is pretty much as close to a traditional range-finder as I could get my hands on. I use it with prime lenses, I love the fact that I can control all the settings manually and because of the amazing build-quality it has taken a battering and still takes great photos. The picture quality is great and it is easy to carry around. All in all, the perfect camera for me.
Hiut Denim: exceptional jeans with an exceptional story behind them. I am really interested in the whole idea of ‘brand’ and this is one of my favourite brands in the world. Created by the same team as the Do Lectures (the people who were originally behind Howies) their mission is to bring jeans making back to Cardigan in south-west Wales. Great product and a brilliant ethos. What is not to love?
Alpkit: the stuff that makes going outside an even greater pleasure. This is another brand that I really admire. The enthusiasm from the people I have met there along with the great products they make and their approach to pricing means that I really hope Alpkit continues to grow and succeed.
Brewdog’s Nanny State: an alcohol-free beer from a brand that re-launched an industry. A friend of mine said a few years ago that “we are all beer snobs now” and I think that is true to some degree. The great thing is that we can be interested in beer these days. Microbreweries and specialist retailers have allowed us to discover new beers from small producers which means that we can start to treat beer like we have long treated wine. However running a business along with other pressures means that this year I have cut my alcohol consumption to almost nothing (and for several months to absolutely nothing). So when I discovered an alcohol free beer that tastes great, I was delighted. The same has not been the case for red wine!
Meridian Crunchy Peanut Butter: crushed peanuts and nothing else. Amazing on toast. I have always been a fan of peanut butter but was put off a bit by some of the stuff that brands added (especially palm oil). So when I discovered Meridian’s range I was over the moon. It is literally a 1kg tub of crushed peanuts and nothing else.
This list is just a way of mentioning a few of the brands and products that have been part of 2016 for me. I am not overly attached to things, but I do think that a well made product or a brand with real soul is great and can make life a little more interesting. What have been your favourite things from 2016? Let me know in the comments or you can tweet me – @simon_freeman