That article was a very welcome breath of fresh air. Agree with the above posters re the points found interesting, plus many more. One thing I missed was that fact that most of the big companies today were cottage yesterday. I used to go to the old northface shop, the old sierra designs shop in emeryville, by the water tower, where their warranty repair was in the back room. Took my by then 15 year old or so sleeping bag to them to get it restuffed on the bottom, they sliced it open while I waited and filled the bottom back up with down, for free. Lifetime warranty meant lifetime.
I particularly liked that Ron is fully aware that the cottage industry of today depends totally on the radically complex structure of the internet to function,. and it was nice to see someone appreciate the irony in depending so heavily on such a heavy structure to achieve such a light goal.
So I see this cottage thing as more of a cycle, the big companies start small, become big, and at worse, incorporate, which pushes you to the shareholder value maximization requirement, a legal thing, which pushes you to the adding features thing, to boost yearly sales, to create growth, revenues, new models, all that, and to making stuff heavier because light stuff just isn't as durable and careless treatment tolerable. Opening the door to the next generation, which is now starting to age a bit.
Very nice retrospective of the process, but it didn't start with ray jardine, he just started this last iteration. But ray's entire point was to NOT buy your gear at all, but to make it, to free yourself from the entire consumerist mentality. That point was not subtle in his book I read, don't remember which one it was. Very much in the same sense of using free software to free yourself from using proprietary software in the computer world. Bit of a pain, but it does actually work. And that point only got more strong when he got disgusted with golite, from what I gather. Not that I agree with his thru hiker focus on weight over everything and anything else, mind you, I don't. But he definitely made people reconsider their behaviors, first time I came across his book, by chance, in the library, I was kicking myself as I read it, I'd always been thinking of how to improve my gear but had never taken the real step, like learning to sew.
To me the entire original article re stagnation and all that was a total non-starter, all the cottage guys do is refine and polish and bring craft back into mass production, and that is not a small thing, it's a great value in and of its self. Craft, care, is a big deal, and the constant refinements I see coming out from all of them show that craft and care as an ongoing process. Apparently it's not enough to keep Ryan interested, but the point of gear is to take you into nature, not to give fodder to gear reviews and gear focused web sites. If constant innovation is reuqired, that means the gear sucks and doesn't work, but that's not the case, the gear has always worked, and the refinements make it nicer to use, lighter, stronger, whatever the parameter is that matters to you. Bike bags, for example, focus on durabilty and waterproofness, weight barely matters, especially not to messengers and people using city bikes for transport. Lots of innovation there too, was just checking out their latest stuff, and lots of cottage guys there as well, including my old friend who does Zo bags.
I particularly like watching how Joe at zpacks and Henry at tarptents keep refining and evolving their concepts, testing, new development, etc. I always see what I can imitate from especially joe re how he has approached and solved some issue (in the sense of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, not of ripping them off). These are just the guys that ring my particular bell, I don't even want to use or emulate their gear often, but I really like how they think and solve their problems, just like others like how smd, mld, etc, do their stuff. I see no stagnation at all, just constant tweaking and refinements, ongoing. Not ignoring mld or those others, just looking at the ones that draw my particular eye. Taking one of my personal favorites, the dyneema 2mm + lineloc3 cord from lawson, and the 1.5 and 1.25 mm yellow/black cord from zpacks. That stuff is good, it's quality, what exactly needs to be advanced on it? Maybe the dacron shielding will be improved a touch, but that won't warrrant a new review, but it is a refinement.
The only thing I can think of in my decades that I really considered a huge improvement was the msr stoves, xgk and whisperlite. And even those were really just refinements of the earlier primus primed/kerosene type stoves, ie, much lighter and easier to use, but not fundamentally different in how they work.