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Andrew Gold | There will be no Gold in charge | First Ascent
July 2015

No more Gold at First Ascent

When Andrew Gold left First Ascent at the end of May to travel across the States, he ended an era that started when his father, Charl, founded the South African brand in 1989

For the first time since the South African outdoor brand First Ascent was founded by Charl Gold at the end of 1989, there will be no Gold in charge. Performance Brand MD Andrew Gold has done what many professionals dream of: retired while he is still young enough to enjoy it, and his family is young enough not to be affected by school terms, etc.

When you read this, Gold and family will either be in San Diego, or travelling across the States in a RV vehicle to explore Texas, Florida and the East Coast on a four-month holiday. “There are a few critical periods in life one can travel — and this is one of them,” he explains why he retired mid-career after 17 years with the First Ascent brand.

Andrew Gold has spent most of his life close to the outdoor industry. A former keen mountaineer, and now a passionate kitesurfer and mountain biking convert, he has lived the lifestyle. But, he also grew up with some prominent South African brands. Prior to starting First Ascent, his father founded the Backpacker outdoor brand in 1979. Andrew also worked for the Camp & Climb store in Claremont while at school and after school joined a Cape Union Mart store, where he still holds the record for the most down sleeping bags sold, because he had such a passion for these bags.

Selling down sleeping bags is not easy, he explains, as there is often a barrier because of the price. “It needs a bit of an education to tell customers about the benefits of down.” But then, he was living at home as a schoolboy when his father founded the First Ascent down sleeping bag brand.

Charl sold Backpacker in 1987, when the family contemplated moving to New Zealand, and when that didn’t work out, he joined a local company making down-filled duvets. Two years later he combined his experience of manufacturing sleeping bags and his knowledge of down fillings to start First Ascent.

“When I joined in 1998, sleeping bags were 95% of our business,” says Andrew. He looked forward to working with sleeping bags again, “but dad sat me down and said the clothing side has more room to grow” and asked him to concentrate on developing the clothing ranges. At that stage they had one down-filled and one fleece jacket — now First Ascent is primarily a clothing brand.

“But the entire range has grown exponentially,” says Gold. From just sleeping bags, the range has expanded to include the full outdoor spectrum, from clothing, backpacks, travel bags, footwear, etc. The outdoor industry as a whole grew as demand for product increased as outdoor clothing replaced suits and ties in the workplace.

After he joined First Ascent, Andrew Gold had obtained a diploma in production management “to understand the flow of the business and how the business worked”. He followed this with a part-time diploma in fashion design and garment technology.

“That really sparked the catalyst to expand the clothing ranges,” he says, because once he implemented what he learnt clothing production really evolved.

Between working in outdoor retail and joining First Ascent, Andrew had taken the two-year European working holiday that was so popular amongst youngsters in those days, where he worked in restaurants or ski resorts. He worked in the restaurant industry in Cape Town after he returned, before accepting his father’s offer to join the family business.

“I was raised in a family where things were never just handed to you,” he says. He never expected to work for his father “and I never realised what it actually meant to work for my dad. There is a lot of pressure in a family business, because you can’t leave it behind at the end of the day. He didn’t treat me like his son, he treated me like an employee.”

In 2002 Charl went on a sabbatical to Australia … and didn’t come back. “I got tasked with running the business,” says Andrew.

In 2007 Moresport purchased First Ascent and launched the Performance Brands Division.

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