Floralesque. Handbags at Dawn. A tale of two bag designers 5

As part of Sligo Design Week, The Model in Sligo held a talk with two very talented Irish Handbag Designers. The talk was called Handbags at Dawn.  A tale of two bag designers  and the two designers in question were Ana Vahey from Ana Faye Handbags and Ashleigh Smith from The Atlantic Equipment Project. Both produce very different, very distinctive bags and I thought that I would share Ana’s career journey and Ashleigh’s road to creating the Atlantic Equipment Project as I found them both so interesting. They will be in two separate posts as both deserve their own space. Part Two – Ashleigh Smith’s journey is below.

Floralesque. Handbags at Dawn. A tale of two bag designers 2

I’ll be honest when I seen that Ashleigh was talking I got very excited – I am in love with my Canvas Rolltop Backpack that my sister brought for me. It is so well constructed and the colour is just beautifully vibrant (link) and there is nothing that I enjoy more than actually being able to hear one of my favourite designers talk about their work. And Ashleigh is so passionate about her work that it is infectious – you can really feel her love for the project when she talks about it.

Ashleigh actually studied as an industrial designer and did a 4 year Bachelor degree in Product Design & Technology. Her top tip and what she has always found that if you are doing something that you enjoy then it turns out better – and she loves her work.

For two years she worked at the Sligo Store ‘The Cat & The Moon‘ (one of my favourite for checking out Irish Design in Sligo as well as Shells Cafe) and it was here that she was exposed to the Irish Design Industry. She learned first hand what consumers will spend money on what they won’t – this type of hands on experience is invaluable and can really be of great benefit to your business if you already have a general understanding of the public psychology. It was while she was here that she realized that she wanted to be a designer and began a 2 year Master in Integrated Product Design.

During this she had to complete 4 projects and through these she really expanded her knowledge base and to my knowledge it is also where The Atlantic Equipment Project has it’s roots. These are the projects;

  1. A Biodiversity Project. This involved a community garden for the under-privileged and integrating it into the community and it had to benefit the environment.
  2. A Concept for ankle sprain prevention. This involved a lot of data collection – ergonomic data and viewing over 300 scans of ankles and putting them into a database.
  3. BlueRise. This was about sustainable energy and the temperature between the top of the water and the deeps and they wanted to build a wet tool. The clients for such a tool would be governments around the equator. Design can achieve a lot regardless of the subject matter and when they applied the basics of industrial design they achieved bespoke results.
  4. The Atlantic Equipment Project. The Atlantic Equipment Project has two main traits (1) Quality Product (2) Strategic Design.

What I find so inspiring about Ashleigh is that she actually thought herself to sew by watching YouTube videos over 3 years ago and now her handiwork is just flawless (in my opinion). To her it is about finding the simplest way, but it may not always be the most reliable way.

Ashleigh didn’t want to work for a large company, she wanted to work for a tiny company because she loved it/them. She did apply to three such companies that she knew but all three applications failed. And this is where she kicked it up a notch where others would be put down. She started to make a ‘cool’ company – that had values and stands for what she believes in.

She had such an interesting view on starting a company; If you are going to start a company – forget the product (well not completely!) but you need to decide what you stand for. Why are you doing this? You need to decide what you believe in and what you stand for so that you can create a really solid brand. For her the Atlantic Equipment Project is about (1) Atlantic Coastal Heritage (2) Shared Exploration (3) Honesty. Such core values should also affect your branding – To Ashleigh branding is about how people perceive your activities.

Floralesque. Handbags at Dawn. A tale of two bag designers 6
And this is what makes her brand stand out

And don’t think that Ashleigh doesn’t have a plan as trust me she definitively has. A 10 year plan in fact! She knows exactly what she intends to do and knows it in such detail that she even knows the colour of the bricks of the building she will have. She believes in nurturing your vision and your dream and that this will help get you through the more difficult times. In the more immediate future – within 5 years she intends to have a 1/2 million turnover and to employ 8 people in Sligo. She is smart and knows the figures – there is more margin in direct sales but currently only 40% of her sales are via her website. The rest are wholesale – she is stocked in Ireland and Japan. Right now she is working on SEO and Social Media to help drive sales to the website.

Just a sidenote on her products – I am sure that many of you are familiar with her amazing satchels. These were actually her first product and it was designed in 2013, and launched in 2014. Her next project is a rucksack by the way 🙂

You certainly HAVE to check out her website (where you can also shop!), and The Atlantic Equipment Project is also on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I am already trying to decide which piece to buy next 🙂

Here is the link to where you can read all about Ana Vahey and her journey to Award winning designer.

And lastly – the official introduction to the Atlantic Equipment Project;



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