Pathfinder 3: The Gardener

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Many say that the suppliers of hard goods need to step up when it comes to sustainability. But Jake Lah could claim that his company DAC started doing this over 30 years ago, in South Korea.

“I just wanted to protect my people and create a more green atmosphere for them.”

If you ask Jake Lah, CEO and founder, this is the down-to-earth reason why DAC today is one of the pioneering companies within the hard goods segment of the outdoor industry. The Korean manufacturer of aluminum tubes has around 130 employees and is providing brands like Vaude, Hilleberg and Marmot with poles for their tents. The head office and factory are still based in Incheon, South Korea, where Jake started DAC in 1988.

“Like at most industrial sites, the surroundings were all grey, with no nature in sight. To start with, I made a small garden outside the factory and planted five apple trees. At the beginning, the few employees I had didn’t understand why. But they soon began to appreciate it.”

More trees and flowers were planted. But Jake soon realized that the interiors of the factory also needed to become much better, if his people, as he calls the company employees, would feel good at work. “In the early nineties, making aluminum poles was a dirty process,” Jake recalls.

The factory floor was greasy with oil that was dripping from pipes, and yellowish fumes rose from the boiling tanks used to make the aluminum surface bright. Jake was still fighting to make the company profitable, and his employees volunteered to help making their workspace cleaner.

“They were fantastic. We were searching for every source of leakage of fluids and dirt. After three years, it was so clean that we could have lunch together on the factory floor.”

The next project took eight years: to protect the workforce from the risk of toxic air. At the time, there were no better methods available. So Jake and his team set out to invent their own processes. After a long period of trial and error, DAC found a way to eliminate nitric acid and phosphoric acid from their anodizing process. Also, the cleaning solutions before the heat treatment were radically improved.

“When the air inside our factory got so much better, it was such a relief,” says Jake.

Before their time

This methodical way of cleaning up every step of the production led to DAC becoming a stateof- the-art business around fifteen years ago with respect to sustainability in its segment. But the problem was that hardly anyone outside the company was interested. Compared to other industries, most outdoor companies were rather late to start working systematically with their supply chains. And when they started, the focus was – and still is – mainly on textile production.

“Some of our clients like REI, Hilleberg and Vaude, really appreciated what we were doing. But we could for instance not be certified by Bluesign, since they were only looking at chemical management in the textile industry.”

And perhaps Jake’s rather humble way of communicating is another reason that DAC’s efforts still today are not so well known.

“We concentrate on our work instead of going out and shout about it.”

When DAC soon opens another manufacturing site in Vietman, they will bring this philosophy with them. The water coming out of the factory’s sewage system will be drinkable and trees, plants and flowers will surround all buildings.

 

Photo: Stéphane Robin

Corey Buhay
info@norragency.com