Source was the result of a world trip. Yoram "Yoki" Gill and his wife Danielle started their own business in 1989 with the production of travel accessories. Two years later the creative couple from Israel brought outdoor sandals onto the market. Innovative drinking systems followed. In 1991 Source exhibited at the ISPO Munich for the first time. Also in 2019 the owner-managed company was represented with a stand at Outdoor by ISPO. Johanna Stöckl visited the company headquarters in Israel for ISPO.com.
Tirat Carmel is the name of the small town with a population of 22,000 located 10 kilometres south of Haifa, where Source's headquarters and factory have been located on a 10,000 square metre site since 1995. This small town in the Haifas conurbation stretches between the Mediterranean coast and the hilly hinterland of the 84 square kilometre nature reserve known as the Carmel Heights.
Here beats the heart of Source, an outdoor brand that has long been able to compete with the big players in the industry as a smart underdog in its special fields. Source produces high-quality outdoor sandals and sophisticated drinking systems. 250 employees work at the company headquarters. Many have been working for the company for over 20 years. Sewing assistant Manal, one learns, has been on board for 30 years as an employee of the first hour.
Spread over ten halls, people of the most diverse origins and beliefs manufacture Source products here. "Our company represents the microcosm of Israeli society. We employ 47 nationalities," says founder Yoram Gill, who everyone here calls "Yoki".
The founder appears dressed casually for the interview. Olive green pants, blue shirt, comfortable shoes. Grey hair tied back. At first glance, one of Israel's most successful businessmen could also pass for a Zen master, but at least as a deeply relaxed yogi.
Gill speaks calmly and with a low voice. In the course of the conversation, one sentence casually falls, which must probably be understood as the motto of life: "Simplicity is the best solution". Because simplicity is the best solution, and sometimes success or luck can be found in reduction, the 60-year-old autodidact has not only applied the guiding principle to his award-winning product range, but also to his life.
Until a few years ago, Gill and his family lived in a Spartan yurt in the nearby artist village of En Hod. For the sake of his 21-year-old daughter, he built a simple house slightly above her and had WLAN installed for her. The materials used in the construction: natural stones from the garden, clay, hemp, clay and wood. Gill drives an electric car. He does not travel by air at all.
How liberating and fulfilling a reduced life can be, Yoki Gill and his wife Danielle, who is primarily concerned with social issues in the company, experienced at a young age on a multi-year "Grand Tour" through the USA, Canada, Japan and South America. "Everything we needed fit in two 15-liter backpacks. The journey has changed our lives forever."
Back in Israel they decided to go into business for themselves. First visions - to open an outdoor shop or to publish guidebooks for globetrotters - were rejected in favour of a much bigger idea: the development of helpful travel utensils and high-quality outdoor equipment. At the age of 13, Yoki received so much money on the occasion of his confirmation, the "Bar Mizwa", that the passionate inventor could afford a sewing machine: "Sewing is interesting because you have to work two-dimensionally to create a third dimension".
30 years ago, in a 1-room apartment in Tel Aviv, the first products were handmade on this machine: belly bags, walkman bags, rain ponchos, etc. Three shops were supplied, which were convinced of Gill's unique specimens. Even sewn belt portemonnaies, large enough to store passports, and foldable wash bags became bestsellers. The demand was great: 40 toilet bags to hang up alone had to be produced daily in the apartment in Tel Aviv.
So Source was born in 1989. The company name is derived from the Hebrew word "Shoresh" and means source, origin or root. The logo designed by Yoki Gill on a notepad at the time - a stylized lotus blossom - lasted until 2010. Meanwhile, the trademark has changed: The word "Source" appears in white on a blue background. The claim "Vagabond Systems" was replaced by the slogan "Human.Nature" in 2010.
In 1991 Yoki Gill introduced the first trekking sandal to the market. "This step was obvious. Israel is a sandal nation." Sandals with the patented X-Strap belt system are still one of Source's core products today. What makes a comfortable sandal? One full-length strap, rubberized antibacterial EVA sole, Velcro closure. The belt system with six anchor points also allows the heel and tension belts to be moved independently of each other. 1200 pairs are produced daily in the factory. On the domestic market alone, 200,000 units are sold annually.
When Israel celebrated 70 years of state foundation last year, the Ministry of Economics determined in a consumer survey "the country's most popular product". The choice fell on Source sandals. The airy footwear is so popular in Israel that the brand name has long since become a generic term. The cult slippers have meanwhile also conquered the catwalks of Israel and as a fancy stylistic break the hipster and fashion world. Yoki Gill has proven several times that he is sometimes ahead of his time. Source sandals are not delivered in a cardboard box, but for 30 years in a coloured fabric shoe bag.
"1991 was a decisive year for us", recalls Yoki Gill, "we exhibited successfully for the first time at the ISPO Munich". In the assortment: sandals, belt bags, toilet bags, rain ponchos and leather backpacks. In the small office of the company founder there is an inconspicuous chest of drawers in the corner. In it meticulously sorted by years, stored in drawers: Photos of important events, sketches, notes, hand-drawn folding catalogues, etc. In the precious goods cabinet you will find, among other things, a picture of the first exhibition stand in Munich. "It was exciting," Gill recalls, "as a start-up we had little money. The exhibition stand at that time had to fit into a suitcase. We bought bamboo poles and accessories on site."
1993 was another milestone in the company's history: After years of development work, the first Source Hydration Pack comes onto the market. In contrast to its competitors, Source does not use polyurethane for its drinking bladders, but polyethylene, which makes a big difference: "Because our material is as smooth as glass, bacteria cannot stick to it and microfilms cannot form," explains Yoki Gill. This makes the drinking bubbles self-cleaning. Source currently generates 70 percent of its outdoor sales with drinking systems. Source's outdoor products are now available in over 25 countries. These include the USA, Canada, Great Britain, France, Switzerland, Australia, South Africa and of course Germany, where they cooperate with Globetrotter and Intersport.
- Source donates five percent of its annual net profit to Tirat Carmel for social and ecological projects. From the donations, the municipality has renovated, among other things, a kindergarten attended by children from socially disadvantaged families.
- The highest salary at Source may not exceed five times the lowest salary.
- Account books and corresponding annual financial statements are open to all employees.
- In addition to its own company, Source obliges suppliers, distributors and dealers to donate one percent of their sales of Source products to the company's "Give One Chance Foundation" for social and ecological projects.
- Solar cells are installed on the roofs of the factory buildings, excess electricity is sold into the grid, waste is recycled in a combustion process. Since 2019, the Source factory has been emission-free.
- In 2014, Yoki Gill, who now advises local politicians on economic issues as well as NGOs, was honoured by the Israeli Chamber of Commerce as a particularly responsible entrepreneur.
More interesting stories from the world of the Outdoors can be found at ispo.com/en/outdoor-society, for example: