“This importing business sure is a can of annelids [worms].”
– Royal Robbins
Before they called the company “Royal Robbins”, there was “Mountain Paraphernalia.” In 1968, Royal and Liz Robbins started selling climbing gear under the name Mountain Paraphernalia. A few years later, they added clothing, which they called Mountain Threads. The heavy wool sweaters they imported from the Lake District of England started a long tradition of great Royal Robbins sweaters. By the 1980’s, the company was known as Royal Robbins, as it still is today.
Royal and Liz married in 1963, and in the late ’60’s, Royal was working as the assistant manager of Liz’s father’s paint store in Modesto, CA. Royal had recently designed one of Galibier’s original rock climbing boots – the RR Yosemite – so he had an in with a major footwear company.
“I was working as assistant manager at the paint store, but I wasn’t too good at it. Luckily, mountaineering at the time was hot in the U.S., so Liz…and I saw selling climbing footwear as a perfect opportunity,” said Royal in the May 1985 issue of Backpacker.
They imported Galibier boots, Edelrid ropes, Ultimate Helmets, Salewa, Peck nuts and pitons, and a host of lesser known products. He was the U.S. distributor for Mountain Magazine and stocked British climbing books.
Here’s Royal himself chiming in on SuperTopo to share details in 2009.
“Hi, everyone. Tamara alerted me that something was afoot on SuperTopo. I think a history of the business is wonderful. I love seeing those old ads. I don’t remember that we were ever sued for an equipment failure. That happened (I believe) to Yvon Chouinard and he (I understand) started Patagonia as a result. As far as I can remember, we started the clothing business because we were piggy-backing on the great success of Esprit and Doug and Susie Tompkins, who helped us get started. “Mountain Letters” was what we called our publishing and distributing business. I think we expected checks to be made out to “Mountain Paraphernalia”, or, later, to just “Robbins”. We changed the name to “Robbins Mountain Paraphernalia” and later to “Robbins Mountain Gear” to make it easier for our customers to make payments to “Robbins”. Also, there was the name recognition factor. We thought “Robbins” carried more cache (sp?)than “Mountain Paraphernalia”…
“Thanks to all of you for making the past come alive. I am not going to mention specific names for fear of leaving someone out, but you guys and gals are in my heart, so thanks again.