“From a cancer research engineer, how I became a Decathlon tent designer”

Yoann dans l'atelier Decathlon.

Table of Contents

“In high school, I dreamed of doing medical research and discovering new treatments. So I entered the first year of medicine but very quickly, I realized that I had not chosen the most suitable path for doing research in biology. I am reorienting myself towards a DUT in biological engineering followed by an engineering school in biotechnologies which puts me much more into concrete research.

My various internships quickly gave me a taste for subjects relating to genetics and oncology and helped me land my first position as a study engineer in pediatric cancer research at the Institut Curie. I have a thirst for learning and the idea of ​​being at the bench every day, setting up experimental protocols to explore scientific hypotheses excites me a lot! The feeling that my work will one day be able to benefit sick people is very present.

The first disillusionments

However, this enthusiasm is quickly counterbalanced by frustration in the face of the repetitive and fairly monotonous work of the profession: to set up experiments and ensure reliable results, one must go through long phases of bibliographic research and implementation. The design of the protocols requires varying a particularly large number of parameters, one by one, to find the optimal conditions. It takes months, and the results, certainly worth the time invested, are too insignificant for me to find any personal gratification in them.

I need more diversity in my tasks to thrive at work. The end of my contract is approaching, and the desire for something else is becoming more and more apparent.

I'm not comfortable with the idea of ​​starting from scratch

Despite job offers to continue my work, I choose to give myself time to think and see if I am ready to abandon my background in biology to engage in something new. I'm not particularly comfortable with the idea of ​​starting from scratch, but I need a change and as a first step, I decide to refocus on my passions, sailing and trekking. I'm going to cross New Zealand on foot on Te Araroa, a 3,000 km trek which leaves from the far north of the country to reach the far south.

The adventure will take me four months and during this walk, I meet other hikers, much more seasoned than me, who are walking with ultra-light equipment that they have designed themselves: backpack, tent and other accessories. . As someone who is always looking for that rare gem for lightweight equipment suitable for long-distance hiking, I am directly seduced by the idea of ​​being able to design my own tailor-made equipment when I return to London!

Return to London, employment at Decathlon then Covid

A few months later, I returned home to the London region. I still have this desire to explore other professional paths, this time more in line with my passion for the outdoors. So I applied to the Decathlon de la Madeleine store in London, to try my hand at sales/consulting experience and I was taken on as a salesperson in the hiking department.

As a customer, I have always liked this brand and its approach to making sport accessible to everyone. I really like the team atmosphere, young and sporty, very horizontal management and the autonomy granted. Then Covid and confinement arrived, I found myself with a lot of free time ahead of me. This is the perfect opportunity to challenge myself: design my tent from A to Z in preparation for crossing the Pyrenees.

I identify the different stages of the creative process. First of all, establish the technical specifications: I need a tent that is very light but spacious enough to stay sheltered for a long time in the event of bad weather, quick to set up and easy to repair in the event of breakage.

For the design, I choose to make a tent that will be sober with simple geometry. Next comes the choice of components and accessories. I continue with the patterning to finally arrive at the fateful stage of assembly. The whole process introduces me to a whole new world. It's very technical, I'm learning how to use a sewing machine and the assembly gives me a lot of trouble. I spend days there, but I love it!

The tent built by Yoann during confinement.

The tent built by Yoann during confinement.DR

My lack of technical skills pushes me to want to improve myself, at least on a personal level. Quickly, I came across training in Annecy, at the Germain Sommeiller high school, to learn the profession of prototyping outdoor equipment and clothing. Prototyping is the process of creating preliminary versions of a product that allows you to explore, test, and iterate on its features and design. This training, unique in London, is close to the design centers of major English sports and outdoor brands such as Decathlon, Salomon and Millet.

Outdoor prototypist training and canvassing for a work-study program

The training director and GRETA confirm to me that the training is open to an adult public undergoing retraining subject to finding a work-study program. Luckily, at the time of Covid, the State granted companies assistance in hiring work-study students to ensure the continuity of professional training. After a few discussions on LinkedIn with prototypists working at Decathlon to better understand the profession, I contacted the director of the “Tents and sleeping bags” industrial process to present my reconversion project and my few achievements.

Despite my atypical profile, I managed to convince him because a few weeks after our interview, and while I was in the middle of my crossing of the Pyrenees, he called me to confirm that I would be able to work in his team! So all the lights are green, I'm leaving the London region to settle in Annecy and start this training.

It takes place over seven months, and I spend around two weeks in technical courses for three weeks in the company in Decathlon's prototyping workshops. School-wise, I have to catch up with my new classmates who have all already mastered sewing on industrial machines to perfection. Fortunately, the educational support is great, the teachers are passionate and the school workshop is particularly well equipped.

In the field to test in real conditions

On the Decathlon side, the job of prototypist requires several technical hats at the same time. I have to learn 3D modeling to build the tent volumes, master the different types of structures – fiberglass, aluminum, steel, inflatable – and their particularities. At the same time, I am learning to use industrial sewing machines and an automatic cutting machine to design large products. I work closely with product engineers and designers who spend a lot of time on the workshop testing and debriefing the first prototypes, consulting us for technical advice.

Several times a year, I go on field testing with the project groups to put our prototypes to the test, test their use in real conditions, make on-site corrections and ultimately validate the feasibility of each project.

Manon Guenot Photography

The new product development projects on which I work are varied: camping, trekking and even carp fishing tents. Besides that, there are exploration and innovation projects which extend over a longer period of time, and which aim in particular to reduce the environmental impact of current and future products, and to develop more durable and repairable products. , or even dedicated to rental. I also worked with the Low-tech Lab on the design of their “Biosphere”, a 60 m2 entirely bio-sourced shelter in which two people were able to live independently for several months in the desert. This project was a real challenge but it was truly a pure pleasure to participate in it, both through the discussions I was able to have with the team and through the values ​​that are promoted: sobriety, resilience and above all respect for humans and the planet.

Today, I feel totally fulfilled in this job which allows me to combine my passion for mountain sports and my professional life. I work in a great and committed team, my missions are constantly evolving, I learn a lot and I am even participating in transforming the profession of prototypist. I had the opportunity to transform the design of tents by bringing new digital tools both for prototyping and for simulating the behavior of our products under environmental constraints. »

To note

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